Ramallah Doc 2019

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"Out of Sight" Symposium on Visual Culture in Palestine

Ramallah DOC team cordially invites you to a public symposium entitled “Out of Sight” which aims at investigating the conventional ways of seeing in the visual culture of Palestine. The symposium is organised as part of the “Out of Sight” project, curated by Adania Shibli, on the 25th of March, at A.M. Qattan Foundation's Cultural Centre - Ramallah, Al-Tira. Speakers include: Amira Silmi, Lara Khaldi, Robert JC Young, Amer Shomali, Kamal Aljafaari, Andrea Luka Zimmerman, and Ben Gibson.

The symposium will be in English and in Arabic, with simultaneous translation into both languages.

Out of Sight

Symposium Programme and Abstracts, 16:00-21:00, 25 March 2019


Session I: Seeing in Revolt, 16:00-18:00

This session reflects on possible ways and means to confront the situation of being simultaneously visible and invisible, in the context of Palestine. It further asks how to position oneself so that they are able to see reality as it is not willed to be seen, but rather as a series of acts of resistance that seeks to change that which is established as reality.

Instances where images become part of revolutionary action and not a documentation nor a record of it will subsequently be discussed. Contributions include: Darkness Visible, by Robert JC Young; Breaching the Colonial Narrative: Knowledge as an Act of Resistance, by Amira Silmi, and Medium and Revolution by Lara Khalidi.


Session II: Visual Counterparts, 18:30-21:00

Moving from a film being ‘directed by’ to a film being ‘directing with’ is one manifestation of the process of filmmaking in Palestine, where a collective social direction emerges as a continuation of revolutionary actions. Further filmic manifestations of ethically engaged, culturally resonant expression of acknowledged humanity, and co-existence with larger ecologies (beyond human-centred subjectivity) will be explored, through a poetics of making, a right to dream, and a restless tenderness of expression. However, contributors will also address questions on wether we are inherently disadvantaged because our existence is trapped in a system of seeing, and wether images in oppressed societies can actually combine the tasks of challenging and replacing the images enforced upon them by media, as one such system of seeing and showing. Contributions: Co-Directing With, by Amer Shomali; Being, Seen, by Andrea Luka Zimmerman; Contemplation Without a Purpose, by Kamal Aljafari, and On a Possible New Film Form, by Ben Gibson.



Darkness Visible- Robert JC Young

“Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he’s made poetry out of being invisible. I think it must be because he’s unaware that he is invisible”. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

“I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects”. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

Two texts from 1952 put together the paradox of the raced body in a colonial situation: in the world of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the black man in the USA is simply not seen by the white majority population around him, as part of the underclass; by contrast, in the world of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, the black man in France stands out, is pointed at by the white people amongst whom he moves. On account of his difference, he is “sealed into that crushing objecthood” and defined from without. While this doubled structure of being simultaneously visible and invisible is the case for any colonial situation, it does not merely rest there. For in their own lives the colonized are at once over scrutinized as part of the security state, and yet at the same time, in the world beyond the colony where the colonizer controls much of the media and international relations, the colonized people are often invisible, ignored, disregarded, forgotten; or if they are not, then demonized, as if their treatment under colonization was a just punishment for their transgressions.

Palestinians in Palestine exist at the limen of perception. How does the film-maker respond to the ways in which Palestine and the Palestinian are simultaneously visible and invisible? In my presentation, I shall be reflecting on possible ways and means to confront this existential situation of “darkness visible”.


Breaching the Colonial Narrative: Knowledge as an Act of Resistance- Amira Silmi

This intervention argues that a liberating knowledge cannot take the form of a discourse even if it is an opposing or counter discourse. Discourse is an ideological product; it consists of rules that define what can be said and what cannot be said, what is to be known and what is willed to be not-known. On the other hand, acts of resistance, in their multiplicities, their continuous breach of the order of things, their displacement of any established frames, become the main force through which Palestine can be known as a site of a liberation struggle instead of an alternative project of institutionalization.

Discourse is based on a blindness to truth, even when it is seeking it. The reality that is depicted by discourse is defined by ideological rules, which are embedded in colonial power relations.

These relations in effect constitute discourse and draw the invisible boundaries of its framework, which reformulates the reality not only as a reduced part of what it is, but also as a part whose meanings have been reformulated to conform to the ideological message sought by discourse.

This paper therefore poses the question about liberating reality and ourselves from a willed knowledge, confronting the limits set by discourse is one form a counter knowledge takes, but in the case of the colonized, the question of a liberating knowledge, as one of necessity, poses the question about how to position ourselves so that we are able to see reality as it is not willed to be seen, so that knowledge is no longer an institutionalized entity that seeks to perpetuate what is present, but rather a series of acts of resistance that seeks to change that which is established as reality.


Medium and Revolution- Lara Khalidi

The presentation offers an analysis of Videograms of a Revolution (1992) by Harun Farocki through examining changes in artistic practice in Palestine during the First Intifada (1987-1991). It touches upon central questions pertaining to what is revolutionary art, and the centrality of the medium of the camera in the production of a self image during the revolution and revolutionary action in itself. The film Videograms of a Revolution deals with the informal footage of the mass protests in 1989 Romania and the taking over of the TV station by revolutionaries, revealing how images became operative during a revolution. During the First Intifada a shift occurred in Palestinian artistic practice. Whilst artists saw their mission as both producers of the image of Palestinians and as mobilizers before the uprising, they realized they couldn’t compete with the self produced image that came afterward, and so their practice became revolutionary through the use of medium. If as Farocki proposes operational images are “images that do not represent an object, but rather are part of an operation”, in both cases images become part of revolutionary action and not a documentation nor a record of it. Can images take part in an emancipatory project? What political and social change could images bring?


Co-Directing With- Amer Shomali

In my talk, I plan to reflect on the process of directing my feature film The Wanted 18 (2014). I grow up outside Palestine, in Syria, where the main connection to Palestine was formed by images of the Palestinian struggle during the first Intifada. As I arrived in Palestine, the images and the imagination they formed on the place, were confronted by reality which I encountered. Was all I saw in images and imagined was fiction? Some suggested I could find a trace of truth of that in the past. However as I was unable to return to the past in reality, I had to return to it through fiction. Against this backdrop I embarked on my film project The Wanted 18. The process of working on it, though, had repeatedly put the assertion “my film” under scrutiny. In essence, I sought to recall a memory I did not have, but others did. Eventually, not that I had to gain access to a memory then make it mine, but to give up the idea that this film is mine, or that I, alone, directed it. What ensued in reality, was a process of collective social direction; of ‘directing with’ rather than ‘directed by’.

Being, Seen- Andrea Luka Zimmerman

I will explore, through my own approach to making films, the various manifestations of and challenges to “power” (especially in its ‘behind the scenes’ identity, from covert military operations to city planning). Power is evasive, slippery. Its counter is what is often termed a narrative of powerlessness; a feeling that accompanies the sense of being invisible, insignificant, a voice that does not count. This is why I draw on the idea of obstinacy, instead of simply resilience. How can we resist being framed exclusively through class, gender, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and geography even? How can we express our own fullest possibility, creatively and collectively? How can we hold onto a curious gaze, one that resists what might come - with its own pre-ordained rules, intentions and registers of sight - to our place of being?

In such a location, this fixed looking would, for example, view a dishevelled street dog as abject, while our warmer attention might appreciate it as an emblem of love and endurance. To those in Europe, the fate of such animals is perhaps a reminder of the violence of modernity, where all that did not belong to its idea was banished from view. When contentious ideas and actions enter socially mediated space, all too often crude binaries (of action and reaction, oneself and other etc…) are created. These are, as is evident across the world today, extremely dangerous. I seek an ethically engaged, culturally resonant expression of acknowledged humanity, and a positive co-existence with larger ecologies (beyond human-centred subjectivity) through a poetics of making, a right to dream and a restless tenderness of expression.


Contemplation Without a Purpose- Kamal Jafari

In 2006, someone repeatedly broke the window of my sister’s car, which was parked in front of my family’s house. My father then bought a camera and for one month he recorded the scene, day and night, for twenty-four hours, seven days a week.

We seldom take time to contemplate or reflect on our own lives. In my father’s videos, the camera has the time to contemplate and reflect on us. It determines each second and minute it captures and when to lose the signal and go to black. We exist for small moments, giving us delight and wonder. It seems that this is the only way of making a film, a ready-made one. On camera, it seems that every being has a chance to exist. Each step, action, movement is imprinted, whether it is seen or not. Unaware, unconscious, and without a purpose by a machine.

Only a machine may comprehend a life in-motion, summing it up for us in a short matter of time. Are we inherently disadvantaged because our existence is trapped in a system of seeing?


On a Possible New Film Form- Ben Gibson

This talk examines the impact of international broadcasting on the everyday values we all come, in some uneasy way, to accept. On the one hand, there are networks that have thrived on conveying so much ‘information’ (CNN, BBC Wolrd, Al-Jazeera) while systematically creating distance and misunderstandings. Other networks (e.g. Bloomberg) have adopted one systematic task within globalized capitalism: to rate and report the potential safely of foreign investment and security for First World corporations and their executives. The question that follows is: How can media in oppressed societies actually combine the tasks of challenging and replacing the conventional news agenda, and re-setting the value system to a subjective human level? And which film forms can combine two important imperatives: counter-information (within the fixed agenda style of 1st news) and counter-culture (re-setting the parameters of who is allowed to be represented as living a complex and worthwhile life)?

I argue that part of the answer to these questions lies in the space between what gets called an “essay film”,that emphasizes both the consciousness of an argument to be assembled, and the presence of a narrative voice which is openly complex and characterful, and the dominant ideas present in “observational documentary” and “reportage”. So this will also involve discussion of the questions: What are we making films about? What kind of ‘authenticity’ are we trading in, and is it our own sense of it or a borrowed one? Which alliances between activist and cultural communities can support new forms of total and imaginative engagement with life and struggle?

The Ramallah Doc project, in partnership with A.M. Qattan Foundation, Film Lab, Goethe-Institut Ramallah and the French Institute in Jerusalem, aims to support Palestinian documentary filmmakers by providing them with the opportunity to present and pitch their documentaries to a forum of international film producers and TV representatives.