JD: This last year after seeing and experiencing models of mutual aid and the solidarity economy both within and outside our ‘industries’, the programmers at BFMAF convened around the idea of ‘mutuality’ https://bfmaf.org/news/guiding-thoughts/
I recently attended a seminar with Stefano Harney and Fred Moten On collaboration within practice research. In it, they talked about the importance of etymology in revealing the entanglements of different positionalities in undertaking any forms of collaborative work.
At one point they pointed out the words ‘owe’, ‘own’ and ‘know’ were all entangled. Listening to them talk transported me back to the first film I saw in the programming process for BFMAF this year which was Jordan Lord’s Shared Resources. The film is about many things, but for me it really sharpened (and continues to sharpen) my thinking around the gulf between intention and practice when we try to change the format, or structure of things.
In the film Jordan Lord is interested in ideas of debt, within the family but also in the field of documentary filmmaking. These ideas are well traversed in writing about filmmaking and will be familiar to those inside programming meetings. The idea of what is owed to ‘subjects’, the meaning of the positionalities of filmmakers, and the ability to receive work outside of lived experience is not new, but so often we rarely go beyond analysis into the practice of what such an analysis requires us to actually do. In Lord’s film I found an experiment in praxis which revealed the stakes of such attempts.
In a pivotal scene Jordan uses a release contract to explore, through practice, what it means to ‘owe each other everything’ – the very basis of what we understand as the unconditional love of the structure of family. But what if our ideas of debt, duty, love are rooted in different ways of seeing the world?. In the scene of the release contract, Jordan attempts to turn this intention of ‘owing’ into a practice and to discard an older practice of ‘owning’. Using what they know of contract law within their field of filmmaking and what they feel about what they owe to their father (who paid for the education that made that filmmaking possible) they attempt to give up what they own of the film they have made.
And their father resists this. Even though a system of accumulation that he had dedicated his life to (as a debt collector) had not worked in his favour, he did not wish the indignity of the loss in social standing that accompanies material loss in a capitalist society on his son. How much is this protectionist paternalism present in the ways we defend or disavow certain practices in the film industry? How much of this is defended as rooted in love?
In our attempts to consider the practice of our intentions during the programming practice, the programmers and I circled around language often. We wondered what histories of colonial extraction haunt words like ‘submission’ and the carceral implication of assembling a ‘jury’ to demarcate those works most worthy of attention (and subsequently further funding). What space is there to practice freedom and mutuality when these words are doing their work in the background? We considered what would happen if we took those words away – how would our practices change? How might our values realign?
We shared some of these thought processes in a statement and a document that was freely available to comment on. We held a public discussion in a gesture and an acknowledgement that for these ideas to move beyond content, they must circulate and be built on by others, collectively.