Burning Thoughts

I really liked the rough cut of this film so far and am interested in seeing how it develops. Some of my thoughts on it are organized below.

I really like the main characters and would like to hear more from them and perhaps others about certain things. For example, why do they think that people fight them so severely to stop them from crossing? There was some mention of racism, but do people think there are other factors? (Neo/colonialism and capitalism come to mind, though others may not use these terms). What and who do they think caused the situations they are trying to get away from? What do they feel should be done? Do they ever hear from people who cross? And what do they do during the day—much of this is probably trying to get food and find some work to get money—but they also do have times when they are not doing this stuff. Here I’m mainly thinking of the kids at the camps, since we see quite a bit of characters in the living areas.

It might also be useful to draw on comparisons to previous periods of policing of borders, and historical patterns of fear and oppression. The one I know most about is when Irish, Italians, Catholics and others were feared in the USA in the 1800’s and 1900’s (and also not considered “white”). The modern day counterpart is the US would be Mexicans/Latinxs.

I also think it could be interesting to hear from the film makers regarding their thoughts and experiences. Though I am not sure exactly how this would fit in, I do think it could be done in ways that don’t distract from or crowd out the story that is being shown.

One point that was very interesting was this constant use of human rights rhetoric by various people in the film.

Is the system illegitimate because it does not grant us rights or because it cannot?

Are “rights” even the best way to think about things? What about in terms of needs and ability to meet them? Doesn’t the fact that these governments are breaking their own laws show how meaningless those laws are?

Laws exist to control other people and resources. Those with power set and control the laws. Any law that becomes a threat or nuisance to them will soon be thrown out. Any reform can be taken away just as easily—no, far more easily—than it is accepted.

I do think this stuff about rights is a bit more than just semantics and shows some underlying foundations in how we conceptualize the world. We think about States as being necessary to secure our livelihood, well being, and “rights” even going so far as to conflate them with [all] “society” itself (Clastres 1987). These words, categories and meanings shape the ways in which we think, feel and perceive.

At one point a policeman says “Morocco is a sovereign country.” What does this mean? What is the reality? This is a very interesting word: it indicates a kind of “authority” but just whose authority is it exactly? I wonder if the actions of the guardia, government and seemingly indifferent golfers and rich[er] people really represent the views and wishes of everyone in Spain and the EU?

Instead of buying into this rhetoric about “sovereignty” and “rights” and “the will of the people” we should see these for the smokescreens that they are used as to deflect attention from who really holds power, controls resources and makes decisions about our lives and world. We should think in terms of human needs and desires, and our actual ability to meet them so as to get directly to the point.

Finally, there are some questions I think this film can hone in on to magnify its impact:

Why do we have borders?

It seems like such a simple question, but do we ever really ask it without assuming the answers are obvious?

In whose interests are borders really manufactured and policed?

Are we really separate from everyone else? Do we have different interests? And is that why we have borders? Or… are borders what cause us to believe we are separate and have different interests than the rest of the people–and living beings–on this planet?

Perhaps it’s the borders themselves which are problematic, and indicative of much deeper flaws in our society, thinking and ways of living. Like the border between those who can make decisions and everyone else. The borders between those who have money and those who do not. Those who “own” things which they do not themselves use, and everyone else who must then sell themselves bit by bit for access to a means of getting what they need to live and enjoy life.

An interesting point is raised about how discourse about the Sub Saharan Africans’ precarious positions on the Moroccan Border is absent from the media, unlike the plight of Syrian Refugees. I imagine the attention given to the Syrian crises over the Sub-Saharan African migration reflects American and European political and economic agendas. The middle east is an oil rich area with many regimes that are potential enemies to western States and multinational corporations. Drawing attention to the region can also be used in part to justify further intervention and control over the region. The lack of coverage to Moroccan & EU borders not only hides problems and defects inherent to the system and protects governments’ reputations, but demonstrates how these and other areas which lack resources desirable to these entities are ignored, regardless of the suffering that results. (Why USA didn’t go into Rwanda during genocide, as admitted by Bill Clinton, for example).

Who and how are people resisting borders and oppression? What is being done? What can we do?

There are people resisting, calling and acting for “no borders” [2, 3] who recommend donating not only supplies like food and clothing to people who need them, but also film equipment so that people forced into these desperate situations can tell their stories and document what is happening [4]. Some also engage in more directly confrontational tactics to aid migrants and break down borders.

Here you can see some images that people took of the remains of their camp after a raid

This is another video from an October 2015 raid with some dialogue. The person filming describes what used to exist there and what it was like to experience the police raid.

References

Clastres, P. (1987). Society against the state: Essays in political anthropology. New York: Zone Books.
[2] http://noborders.org.uk/aboutnoborders
[3] http://noborders.org.uk/news/no-borders-manifesto
[4] https://beatingborders.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/we-need-support/#more-1329

“The Mapping Journey Project” by Bouchra Khalili

tumblr_no4w98fnde1utnggjo1_400Artist Bouchra Khalili was born in Casablanca and studied Film at Sorbonne Nouvelle and Visual Arts at the Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy but now lives and works in Berlin. She works with various mediums such as film, video, photography and print, exploring language and subjectivity but most importantly geographical explorations.

Her artwork “Mapping Journeys” Video Art Installation is what could be described as a mixed-media installation that combines eight videos and a printed map. Yet, as simple as that might sound, the project has much deeper meaning behind it and falls under social practice art. Interestingly enought, the project also challenges the audience to go against the normativity of cartography and really look into the hidden geographies.

1415620383-bouchra_khalili_the_mapping_journey_project_exhibition_view_1While allowing individuals to tell the stories of their crossings, in their own voice, Khalili uses art as a means for social activism for increasing awareness of the migrant crisis. She offers the audience a different perspective on the notions of space, borders, mobility and the greater political ideologies that play part in this constant power struggle.These people’s journeys show how lives today cannot be defined but cartographic contours also known as boarders. By using the experiences of the storytellers as a starting point and not seeing them as exceptions, Khalili challenges the audience to look at maps differently and reflect on the reality of migration and global movement.

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My Take on the History of Visual Anthropology Films

The various excerpts watched in class today really helped me get a better understanding of the actual transition and evolution underwent in the process of film and its relation to anthropology, more specifically the changes that underwent the creation of visual anthropology. One really important thing that I thought was kind of an overarching theme was this idea of converting from written ethnography to visual as a means to better expose the masses to anthropology through the use of visual media. There was also the use of maps and long introductory text within the films at the very beginning that served as an indicator as to the visual medium being an anthropological film.

nanook-of-the-north-poster The first film or excerpt that we watched by Robert Flaherty entitled “Nook of the North” was actually really compelling. I enjoyed watching it and part of the reason why would definitely be the fact that it was like a picture book, with text then the video. The boat scene in particular was very amusing and the fact that there was no talking or sound but just the music kind of reminded me of a Charley Chaplin movie and again was amusing and compelling to watch. Yet one has to keep in mind that he did in fact have staged events and scripted scenes but they were that of the Eskimo’s everyday lives.

Another film that struck out to me was the one by Margret Mead called “Bathing Babies in 3 cultures”, which I thought was a great concept to compare 3 different cultures with regards to one single act. I really enjoyed the comparative approach between cultures and the way in whichmargaretmead she used her voice to give analysis and observation especially with regards to the treatment of babies and the connection to their mothers. It clearly emphasizes the strong cultural differences. Yet, I feel like there seemed to be a little bias in the way in which she referred to other cultures as opposed to the American, especially in the African case.

 

The other piece that really stood out to me was the “Reassemblage” by Trinh T Minh Ha in which she uses sound and cuts in an exaggerated manner which made the entire piece feel more like a sort of collage or art piece as opposed to a documentary. It gave off a minhhamore artistic vibe like “poetry on screen” with the disoriented scenes that she intentionally wanted to do in order to criticize documentaries. It really guided the focus on her as the creator as opposed to the entire film, which was greatly due to the fact that the audience was not presented to a linear narrative but rather chunks with her voice over.

Imba Means Sing

One strategy the filmmakers used to make “Imba Means Sing” a documentary film for young audiences was to allow the students of the African Children’s Choir tell their story instead of a narrator or an adult do so instead. Additionally, the film limited the amount of adult screen time and instead included activities such as card making and visiting new places, which are more relatable to children than having an adult speak about such activities and events.

One pattern I noticed throughout the film, was that before each performance, their teacher, Mark, would always remind the students that the audience has paid to come see them perform. This acted as a reminder for why the children, as individuals and as a group, were performing with the African Children’s Choir and therefore highlighting the transactional aspect of the experience of the choir and the significance of sponsors.

African Children’s Choir Featured in Documentary ‘Imba Means Sing’

“Imba” Means Conflicting Feelings

After viewing “Imba Means Sing”, I was left with mixed feelings; I consciously know that enabling African children to get an education is a good thing, but while watching the film, it was hard to shake the feeling that something about this path to education was wrong. During several parts of the film, I felt distinctly uncomfortable but I found difficulty trying to attribute my discomfort to one specific thing, especially when the organization being filmed is supposed to be a beneficial one. I thought that my feelings would be refined and clarified after the the subsequent interaction with the producer, Erin Bernhardt, but I left feeling even more confounded by the duality of emotion the film evoked from me.

The African Children’s Choir is doing work that is positively impacting the lives of the participants. The legacy of the Choir is one of prestige, and obviously the alumni valued the program, because they continue to return in order to contribute it.

And though that legacy is one that should not be overlooked, it is difficult for me to ignore some of the details of the film that were quite strange.

The experience of these African children is directly bound to American churches. Pretty significant parts of the film showed the children performing (in stereotypically “African” costumes) for a largely white congregation. The juxtaposition of the simple churches the children attended in Africa against the massive churches they performed in were shocking. These children lived with members of the church during the days they stayed in the town; even this interaction seemed like a novelty for the people housing the African children. The members of the congregation seemed to know very little about the cultures where these kids came from. They dressed them up in play-clothes and played with Barbies. I know that those activities gave the children joy, but there was something so absurd about young girls using African children as a means of dress up. Maybe it was the sense of exploitation?

That was a sense I felt from a large part of the film. The children were repeatedly told not to “disappoint” anyone; there was an immense pressure upon the children to deliver the performance these Americans wanted to see. This idea giving the people what they want was directly tied to the costumes they wore. The costumes looked almost tribal in nature, and very much subscribed to the western perception of “Africa”. The children never wore anything of a similar nature whilst in their home environments in the actual continent. The children were always asked to smile as big as they possibly could, and enunciating their english well was of importance. It’s as if the performance was aimed at presenting the exotic appeal of the African continent while attempting to separate the poverty and danger that accompanies living there.

In a way, I know that the children’s physical presence elicits more money from congregations. However, it’s difficult for me to understand why these children specifically have to dance. I wonder if its more of a formality; if the american public, specifically people in protestant christian churches, expect people to have to work for charity.

My most important question about “Imba Means Sing” is tied to the bigger picture, and the relative ignorance of that picture by the majority of Americans supporting these students. If children in Africa cannot afford an education, is there not a bigger issue? If these kids have to sing and dance like puppets in front of white people to be considered worthy of schooling, isn’t there clearly a systematic problem? While the African Children’s Choir is attempting to solve an issue, it seems as if the solution needs more than 20 kids who have to sing.

The bigger question is, how do we deal with systematic issues that require solutions that may not show progress in the short term? What is the way in which the US, as a nation of privileged people, should get involved in solving these problems? Are programs like the African’s Children Choir distracting people from getting educated about much bigger issues? Or is it better to have something like the ACC to solve problems in the short term? Can long term and short term solutions like these coexist?

Imba Means Sing Reaction

The images of the village in Uganda compared to the homes in the United States are interspersed throughout the film to undoubtedly show the stark contrast between wealth in the two countries. This technique of going back and forth between images of Uganda and images of the United States creates feelings and sentiments like “how lucky these children are to experience this opportunity” and “what a great cause.” While these sentiments are valid, they are only half the story.

Imba Means Sing did a great job of emphasizing the benefits of the African Children’s Choir in that it gives African kids an opportunity to come to the United States and pursue an education. However, this documentary felt more like an advertisement for the African Children’s Choir rather than a complete narrative of this organization. After meeting Bernhardt, I realize that this documentary was made because she loves the organization who she volunteered for and wanted to show audiences in America (specifically younger audiences) about the organization as well. While all documentaries have some sort of narrative or side taken by the filmakers, I felt as though Imba Means Sing only addressed the American view of the benefits of the African’s Children Choir.

I would imagine that not everyone in Africa supports this organization because not all of the kids in the village are given this opportunity, which can lead to potential problems in status and power, and it creates a community dependence on the United States to sponsor their children. While the benefits, such as giving impoverished children an education, teaching American youth about African song and dance, and allowing African children the chance to pursue their dreams, of the African Children’s Choir as seen by the Americans are evident in the film, I would have also liked to see how the community in Uganda perceives this organization. The intended audience for the film is clearly Americans; however, I think it would have benefitted from addressing potential problems of this non-profit such as community restructuring in villages in Africa who have many of their kids on this program. I wonder that if this other side to the picture was presented, they could offer suggestions for how to make the successes more sustainable for the communities in Africa and not just the individuals.

A Reaction to Imba

I felt rather intensely disappointed at the end of Imba Means Sing, perhaps unfairly. Is it unfair to critique art on what it could be, rather than what it should be? But if we do not engage art critically by asking questions and challenging its hidden assumptions and biases then there is surely no reason for it to exist.

I didn’t take issue with the storytelling or editing, which was beautifully done. I didn’t struggle to find to message and purpose of Imba-it was quite clearly to draw attention to the poverty in Uganda and the empowerment of the children through the African Children’s Choir. I was also not necessarily disappointed by that message but, rather, by its myopia.

From the stark contrast between the Ugandan homes and the children’s American host families to the rhetoric of the program’s aunties and uncles, the film was entirely uncritical of the message of neo-liberal prosperity through consumption. It didn’t question how colonialism and capitalism had caused Uganda’s crippling poverty in the first place. It didn’t spend much time on the White Savior complex inherent in the sometimes sickeningly patronizing attitudes of the Western megachurches or even the concept of prosperity gospel and the connection Christianity has to neo-liberal economics.

It feels unfair to critique Imba for failing to address issues that were outside of its scope but its uncritical stance allows for the normalization of these socially structured problems and therefore fails to make a meaningful social change. I know that many, many people donated to the African Children’s Choir after watching Imba; I probably will too because, for all of its problematic aspects, it does fund the education of children in need. However, if Imba had been directly critical of capitalism, colonialism, and the dubious logic of prosperity gospel, perhaps some of those many, many people would have become aware of the hidden messages in this otherwise inspirational stories and done more to combat their root causes.

People Like Dan

I found myself almost in tears while watching the video about Dan Eldon’s life, and what specifically caused The Creative Visions Foundation to exist in the first place. It was enigmatic, and almost unbelievable that a person with the most giving heart and soul like Eldon could live in a world like ours.mf12-artist-dan_eldon

We all say that we want to give to others. We want to believe that we can change society for the better and make a significant impact upon our world… but not many actually take the time to do it. Dan was one of them. Learning about Dan Eldon’s life and what he aspired to do for everyone– to show people, and make the world listen and see the truth in his photographs– it was eye-opening, and quite inspiring to me personally. I would love to aspire to be someone as selfless as he was. Also hearing from Erin and being able to meet her in person was really amazing as well. It made documentaries such as Imba Means Sing all the more real and life-changing. Seeing her in the flesh really made the “dream” to make someone notice an issue in the world utilizing a creative aspect even closer to touch.

This year I created an on-campus organization called “The Purple Circle,” which is dedicated to raising awareness amongst millennials in regards to Alzheimer’s Disease, and specifically raise donations for the national organization. It is one that effects people of all races, all genders, and all socio-economic backgrounds. This club is one very important to me personally, and one which I was originally very proud to have created and be a part of. But after meeting Erin, and discovering all she went through to make this documentary that she called her “baby,” I realize that I must do so much more to change at least a single mind within a community. In order to be even somewhat comparable to Dan or Erin, I must look past everything, and do everything it takes to make someone look… make someone notice an issue in the world. That is my dream.

Art and Social Impact

As an artist myself, being a dancer, I find so much value in using art as a way to bring about social change. I believe there is so much power behind art, in any form, and its ability to communicate and convey important messages to a larger audience. It possesses a strong ability to inspire and influence others. However, I will argue that one of biggest problems in the arts today is a lack of funding. Although many organizations exist that link social change to art, artists still struggle to find the necessary funding to get their art out there and make an impact in the world. It’s no question that there isn’t much money in art, and unfortunately not as much importance is always placed on the arts as on other fields. Arts education, for example, takes a back seat when it comes to planning school curriculums and putting money towards what should be taught in schools. But an arts education can play such an important role in the development of any child. Personally, the arts have been an enormously prominent and influential part of my life, and it makes me happy to see organizations such as The Creative Visions Foundation fund artists and important projects. It is organizations like these that help promote the arts and make them known as something beneficial and impactful for our communities and the world in general. I think it is so important, as individuals, to support the arts and advocate its importance. I admire The Creative Visions Foundation for doing so, and I only hope that more organizations continue to rise in the future so that the arts continue to be recognized and fully appreciated.

Imba Means Sing and Dan Eldon Reaction

When I first was watching Imba Mean Sing I found myself having a very joyful experience. Considering that I’ve been feeling down lately, it means that the documentary was very successful at transmitting the children’s feeling as they discovered a new world and explored their own potential. However, regarding the content, I was constantly thinking about the contrast in life-styles that the children would experience once they went home. These children were taken out of a low socio-economic environment and taken to a totally different one, then expected to have a vacation in the former. This displacement of conditions can have big effects on a child. Moises was told he was American once he got back home, but then Nina was happier to be back than at Disneyland. It’s a very complex situation but it seems like the organization has had success in education many African children in the past, so it is hard to judge the overall effect of the initiative. Is it more worth it to break a nuclear family for the sake of a future hope of breaking the poverty gap? I am not sure, it is a subjective experience depending on each child and family, and whether they do actually succeed through the pressures of school.

Speaking about something else, I found (and I’m sure that was the point) Dan Eldon’s story absolutely inspiring. More than that, I felt understood. I have experienced a long frustration with not finding a way to channel my observation of social issues and not finding a community who would support film/photography as a medium for social activism. Yet, now I know that there’s a whole world out there where people find that music, dance, and visual art are powerful tools to open people’s minds and hearts, and push for change.