Closing Thoughts on UnionDocs’ “Praxis!”

Happy New Year from UnionDocs! Cheap

We’re regrouping this week to compare our Christmas loot and Dreidel winnings (Werner Herzog box set anyone?) but also to finalize our 2009 winter season running from January through April focusing on films that concern Neighborhoods, be that our own in Williamsburg, that of others throughout Brooklyn and New York City or otherwise. More information is coming (shortly!) regarding the full season’s schedule and information about the UnionDocs short films event taking place the weekend of Feb 28.

As we wrap up our Fall program, “PRAXIS!” a season of politically engaged documentaries and films, we the curators at UnionDocs have been reflecting on an amazing season of evenings of both outstanding work and insightful discussions with filmmakers and audience members. We first approached the season’s theme through a shared interest in representations of politics in recent documentary work and furthermore in exploring the various roles of the political film itself (on a spectrum from historical document to expose to propaganda) and how much does this rely on the filmmaker him/herself?
This mingling of subject and agent and the affect of a documentarian’s approach on how a film functions and presents itself to an audience led us to the title, “Praxis.” As a concept, Praxis in the simplest Aristotelian understanding means ‘applied theory’ or activity informed by thoughtful experience. But the word carries a moral dimension as well so that theory and application (production) operate in tandem towards the best possible end.

In programming the season then we sought out films that embodied this ethos in content or form. We devised a questionnaire to frame our discussions:

How has theory inspired your process and your work? In what ways can filmmaking be a political act? If a dramatic story is more cinematic, how does the documentary maker inherently have an agenda divergent from the subject’s? How do a film’s aesthetics and politics interact and can they be at odds? How does non-fiction work inspire action and political change? Can it?

The manifestations of Praxis throughout the season were remarkable and fueled a number of dialogues both in and outside of the screenings. The all-too-rigid rhetoric of Jim Finn’s recreation of a Shining Path prison yard; the nearly absent narrator’s meditations on empire and identity in post-communist regimes of Mark Street’s ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’; Paper Tiger Television’s early double-subversion of television’s hegemonic control of news media through both alternative content and an irreverent DIY aesthetic.

The myriad approaches to engaging political material also extended beyond a filmmaker’s hand and to their presence itself: Frederick Wiseman’s film ‘State Legislature’ is so devoid of authorial character (thus itself becoming a trademark) that one might begin to suspect that they are not in fact watching a film but are themselves personally involved in the quotidian workings of the Idahoan state government whereas Nettie Wild is never far from our thoughts throughout “A Place Called Chiapas” in which she frames her investigation and foray into the rebel Zapatista movement through her experience as a primary witness to the events immediately following the rebels’ shaky peace accord.

For an arcane Greek concept, Praxis translates quite well into filmmaking and specifically documentary filmmaking. What defines a film has as much to do with its subject as with its maker’s own inspirations, critical abilities and approach in representing a subject and the dialogue engaged with it and then communicating that in a way that speaks to an audience but also towards a more universal experience of the world.

We’d like to offer many thanks to all of the filmmakers, speakers and audiences that participated in this season’s screenings and the insightful and provoking discussions they inspired. Hope to see you around the upcoming season! Pills Buy Pills