Film By Other Means: Monument Group at, ‘Forcible Frames’

I wanted to reflect briefly on last Tuesday’s workshop with the Monument Group: Four Faces of Omarska. In their introduction, Jelena Petrović and Milica Tomić described the Monument Group/Grupa Spomenik as a collective who convened ‘working groups’ to engage with an archive of materials and histories concerned with the war in former Yugoslavia, and indicated social sculpture as their underlying methodology.

The working group, Four Faces of Omarska, is concerned with a specific geopoliticised site that has passed through four distinct phases, overlaying it with multiple co-existing narratives. Omarska is simultaneously:
  1. a metal deposit in a region of former the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina that emerged after the war as part of the (ethnically cleansed) Republika Srpska.
  2. the site of the Omarska concentration camp which lasted from May–August 1992, facilitating the genocide of thousands of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) whose remains are still on the site.
  3. a current mining complex operated by the steel manufacturing conglomerate ArcelorMittel.
  4.  a film set for the World War I ‘ethno-historical blockbuster’ St George Slays the Dragon (2009), which received significant funding from the the governments of the Republika Srpska and Serbia. 
We were given a hasty overview of the archive, as an already complex and contested history that I think most of us felt uncomfortable and unqualified to speak about. However, Jelena and Milica signalled some ways for us to engage with this difficult material. ‘Film by other means’ emerged as one such strategy derived from a supplied text Kapo from Omarska (2009) by the film theorist Pavle Levi in which he reasons his decision not to watch St George Slays the Dragon as an ethical imperative, declaring ‘In the name of cinema, I have not seen and will not see this film’. The Four Faces of Omarska approached Levi’s text as a set of instructions for a work of conceptual art, which they drew in relation to a performance art piece devised by film director Milčo Mančevski, 1’74”. In his instructions for the piece Mančevski deconstructs a common understanding of cinema with a set of questions that might also speak to structuralist/materialist film practices, that I had transcribed as: 
  • Does film have to be exposed? 
  • Does film have to be screened? 
  • Does film have to be tape (celluloid)? 
  • Does film have to have a story? 
  • Does film have to exist in order to be a film? 
Compelled by Levi’s refusal to watch St George Slays the Dragon, the working group is urged to find ‘the images behind the images we reject to watch.’

If cinema is understood to be the definitive language of the twentieth century, the idea of ‘film by other means’ suggests another approach to cameraless film making, based on the deconstruction of the common language of film itself. Departing from the formalist notion of film making as sculpting light in time and space, cinema might also be understood as an articulation of actions, affects and duration. As such, the camera is no longer the principle device (or signifier) that brings cinema into being, but rather it is the artist-audience as an apparatus that frame, edit and co-produce the unfolding cinematic event.

The previous day’s exercise, Following Piece and Looking and Listening, effectively instructed the participant to behave as a camera and concluded by linking the act of observing to speech. The working groups formed for the Four Faces of Omarska were informed by a notion of ‘collective editing’, or rather the act of speech that drives the cinematic event, suggesting a discursive form of cinema. This understanding of cinema as a practice emphasises acts of translation, interpretation, debate and consensus.

The results of our workshop with the Monument Group’s Four Faces of Omarska were presented to the public as a set of separate, but interrelated vignettes. These encompassed interviews that veered towards interrogation, a concept for an actual film, performative actions and discussions of very specific aspects of the archive that as a group we had accessed very fleetingly. Furthermore it became apparent that this ‘act of cinema’ could only be realised with an audience — those outside the processes being presented, that nevertheless played an active role in the event’s becoming. The exchanges between the co-producers of the event — the sociability between performer and audience — is then the material of a discursive cinema.

Continuing to think through a discourse of cinema, what might a notion of discursive cinema bring to bear on the opposing and diverging threads of film history and praxis; as documentary, as drama and representation, and as investigations of its material and structural qualities?

Milica Tomic. 2010. Four Faces of Omarska: Memorial as a Social Sculpture – Artwork as Common Good and Property.
Grupa Spomenik/Monument Group.
Pavle Levi. 2009. Kapo from Omarska.

Published no-w-here Open Studio Blog, 6 July 2013.