Abstract by Ohad Landesman
This lecture will show how any discussion of digital technology’s technical potential to the documentary cannot be separated from an assessment of its hands-on practice, contextualized within the history of documentary and compared across different media. The digital camera will be theorized not as a film technology abstracted from the culture in which it is produced and has predictable effects on, but as a technological platform constituted in hybridities and continuities, placed within an ongoing dialectic of old and new, and emerging as an effect of social and cultural determinations.
I want to suggest that DV in its early days played a role in constructing textual cues for the viewers watching puzzling and hybrid films, and encouraged them to embrace a documentary mode of engagement. DV cameras, technologically refining older lightweight equipment (16mm, Hi-8, Betacam), entered upon their release an already developed and familiar tradition of camcorder aesthetics. In several of the films made upon the first years of the technology’s inception — films made by Abbas Kiarostami, Pedro Costa, or Lars von Trier, to name a few — these cameras were used strategically to achieve a strong degree of intimacy and immediacy with an associated aesthetic of drabness that granted a criterion of credibility to the image.
I will also show how DV as an emerging technology changed the traditional ways of looking through a film camera. The use of an LCD screen in a DV camera, often in complete substitution to a standard camera viewfinder, not only afforded immediacy in analyzing shooting results, but also generated a new spatial relationship between documentarist and subject, where “the eye of the lens is replaced by the I of the documentarist” (Michael Chanan). This is an encounter where no strict and clear framing separates the filmmaker from what exists outside of his filmic gaze, a meeting between the on-screen and off-screen spaces, which necessitated filmmakers like Agnès Varda or Abbas Kiarostami complete rethinking of documenting strategies. The shift from a viewfinder to an LCD screen was a technical trigger that moved documentary further away from an inherently observational outlook, where the camera functioned as a window to the world, towards a participatory style where a documentarist interacts with the world in which she is located, and responds to the visual and audial fields where her camera is placed.