The Essay Film as a Self-Representational Mode
Ekphrasis – Images, Cinema, Theory, Media, Vol. 26, Issue 2/2021
Issue editor: Fátima Chinita
Guide for authors:
The language for this issue of the journal is English.
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Articles: 5,000-9,000 words, including a 300-word abstract, 5-7 keywords, a list of references, plus footnotes. Notes should be used with frugality; if something is worth saying, it usually is worth saying in the text.
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Acceptance notice: April 20.
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Publication date: December 2.
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In cultural anthropology, subjectivity is an inherent part of the human condition; our perception, affects and sense-making stem directly from it. It exists at an individual level because human beings are sentient and thinking subjects reflecting upon themselves and upon the context in which they are inserted. At a social level, subjectivity depends on large scale cultural formations which predetermine choices and behavioural patterns imbuing them with political overtones. In cinema, these two components of subjectivity may be expressed through what Lisa Lebow calls first person documentary films, which designate a mode of address and not a filmic genre: “[…] these films ‘speak’ from the articulated point of view of the filmmaker who readily acknowledges her subjective position” (2012, 1).
These films include a broad range of practices: the essay film, the self-portrait and the video diary, among others. Historically, essay films have been directed at least since the 1920s and the cinematic masterpiece Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) is actually placed in this category by many film theoreticians. From the 1970s onwards it proliferated across different geographies and cultures, spreading in the world cinema landscape. Generally considered a hybrid and creative form of cinematic expression, the essay film eludes a single and irrefutable definition, which makes it an interesting topic for research and ever more so nowadays that film is mixing with other sculptural art forms and invading the gallery and the museum. Commentators’ positions on the essay film vary in relation to its form as well as its contents and mission, but it seems relatively safe to perceive it as being located in a universal in-betweenness having to do with typology, artistic or ideological goal, documental or critical stance, narrative or factual condition, interstitial framing, and so on.
Essay films, as a type of first person cinema (although Laura Rascaroli in 2009 distinguished between these two film varieties), may be poetical or accented, artistic or political, personal (literally about a person or self) or collective (about a community of whatever sort), covertly or assumedly autobiographical, descriptive or reflexive. More than other films − which are per se authorial statements inasmuch as all works reflect their authors − these films are made to be explicitly about the filmmakers. “The matter of knowing ourselves or coming to consciousness about ourselves is not only a central ontological question […] but is also at the centre of the project of self-representation” (Lebow 2012, 4).
These films may range from the self-presentation of the author and/or their artistic praxis to the questioning of social realities subjectively perceived from the author’s perspective. In fact, for the purposes of this publication both are considered self-representation. Therefore, this journal issue will focus on essay films with a twofold perspective, simultaneously artistic and political/sociological. Using the concept of self-representation as ideology and dealing with authorial self-representation (a specific person/people, lives, family, internal experiences, artists’ professional engagement) and authorial ideological engagement (which corresponds to one’s world vision through an ideological choice of form and contents), we are opening this call for papers as a way of writing about oneself in the world and writing about the world through oneself. Both perspectives can be made to coalesce, the essay film as an art form being the uniting factor, independently of the author’s films main goal(s).
We are aiming at a heterogeneous collection of transnational articles and accept both theoretical and/or practical study cases. We strongly encourage articles about world cinema and lesser known filmic works, as well as articles with novel approaches.
Possible topics of interest include, but are not limited, to the following:
(a) Artistic Films: the art, the medium.
Self-reflexive forms and practices of the essay film.
Poetics and personal methodologies of the essay as pedagogic strategies.
Essay film as an in-between cinematic position.
Self-representation in contemporary audiovisual art/culture.
Essay films about film/art and authorial creativity.
Reception and relationship with film viewers.
Essay films for gallery and museums.
The essay film across disciplinary borders.
(b) Subject Films: the personal, the familiar, the cultural.
Autobiographical representations and self-examination.
Affinities/divergences with the self-portrait.
The self in memories or the archive.
Branding: self-representation and authorship.
Female, queer and minorities’ creative gestures.
Self-consciousness and the body.
First person cinema and video confessions.
(c) Accented films: ideology and politics.
Gendered, postcolonial, diasporic, political cinema.
Contesting/interrogating the world through the self.
Relationship with other branches of knowledge.
A world phenomenon dealing with local or transnational themes.
Dialectic arguments: thesis and antithesis.
The essay film as an instrument of change.
Socio-political interests of the author.
Alter, M. Nora. The Essay Film After Fact and Fiction. Columbia University Press, 2018.
Alter, Nora M. and Timothy Corrigan, editors. Essays on the Essay Film. Columbia University
Bellour, Raymond. “Autoportraits,” Communications, no. 48, 1988, pp. 327-87.
Bensmaïa, Réda. The Barthes Effect: The Essay as Reflective Text. 1986.Translated by Pat Fedkiew, Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987.
Bergala, Alain, ed. JE est un film. ACOR, 1998.
Corrigan, Timothy. The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker. Oxford University Press,
Esquenazi, Jean-Pierre and André Gardies, editors. Le Je à l’écran. L’Harmattan, 2006.
Grange, Marie-Françoise. L’autoportrait en cinéma. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008.
Hollweg, Brenda and Igor Krstić, editors. World Cinema and The Essay Film: Transnational Perspectives on a Global Practice. Edinburgh University Press, 2019.
Lebow, Alisa, editor. The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary. Wallflower Press, 2012.
Lejeune, Phillippe. Le Pacte autobiographique, new augmented edition. 1975. Éditions du Seuil, 1996.
Liandrat-Guigues, Suzanne and Murielle Gagnebin. L’Éssai et le cinéma. Éditions Champ Champ Vallon, 2004.
Moore-Gilbert, Bart. Postcolonial Life-Writing: Culture, Politics, and Self-Representation. Routledge, 2009.
Mouëllic, Gilles and Laurent Le Forestier, editors. Filmer l’artiste au travail. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013.
Papazian, Elizabeth A. and Caroline Eades, editors. The Essay Film: Dialogue, Politics, Utopia.
Wallflower Press, 2016.
Rascaroli, Laura. The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film. Wallflower
—. How the Essay Film Thinks. Oxford University Press, 2017.
Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Sayad, Cecilia. Performing Authorship: Self-Inscription and Corporeality in the Cinema. I.B. Tauris, 2013.
Thumin, Nancy. Self-Representation and Digital Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Williams, Deane and Julia Vassilieva, editors. Beyond the Essay Film: Subjectivity, Textuality and Technology. Amsterdam University Press, 2020.