directors lounge monthly screenings
johanna domke with marouan omara
Crop is an astounding video piece about a state-owned newspaper building in the center of Kairo. Filmed in 2012 shortly after the Arabic revolution in Egypt, the video represents an interesting, historic moment in time, and it is at the same time a reflection on image making and image representation in times of political changes regardless of local bounds or temporality.
Set at the press house of Al Ahram (the Pyramids), a conservative newspaper that has been the national official press organ since President Nasser, the viewer is guided to explore the rooms of the house from the top down, following its hierarchy of places, literally from the representative offices down to the cellars with printing machines and packaging of newspaper bundles. While the camera unfolds step by step the complexities of a building, a photo-journalist talks about the beginnings of photo reportage in Egypt. He tells us he missed the revolution staying at the hospital. He speaks about the restrictions photo journalism has had to face from its beginning both from a conservative islamic society, and a regime controlling every publication. At first the journalist seem to be one person, but that is a fiction. His narration actually is a composition of 19 statements of different interviewed journalists, whose opinions differ in complex ways. The sound track of the film is comprised of two separate layers: the ambient sound that goes along with the passage of places that we follow inside the building, and on the other side the voice-over of the interviewed journalist. This voice-over creates a real contrapuntal montage in the sense of Eisenstein's statement on sound film, whereas the ambient sound creates a poetic flow of images, a narrative of space.
The film, a collaboration between the video artist Johanna Domke and the film director Marouan Omara, was in several ways a lucky moment. Domke had planned her residency in Kairo at Townhouse Gallery before the beginning of the Arabic revolution, and the filming itself, including all the preparations and necessary permissions, was only possible in that short period of time of changes before the new regime took control again. The film thus represents a unique time in history while at the same time it gives a comprehensible glimpse of what it is like to work as a journalist under the restrictions of censorship. As Johanna told me, the team always asked for where the censorship actually had taken place, and were always referred to a different department. There was no official censorship office or censorship management, it was just part of the system as a whole. In certain ways, the press house depicted in the film truly resembles Kafka's castle, where the power never manifests. Watching the film on the other hand may also give the impression of utterly familiarity with the building and its subdivisions, its poetry of space, the familiarity of bureaucratic space. In "Poetics of Space" Gaston Bachelard talks about the philosophy of space using a big family house as an example, something I always felt to be imperfect at least in reference to modernity, and in certain ways, the film "Crop" completes the picture of a modern poetics of space.
Thursday, 29 May 2014
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