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The mink meet:



Tuesday June 9th was the inaugural meeting of mink. The group met to discuss Havarie, a film by Philip Scheffner which had been proposed by Michael Holly as a film that warranted examinationand that was likely to provoke discussion. Below is the commentary and a critique both on the film and on the Zoom meeting of the members of mink and of their associates.

The group included; Mieke Vanmechelen, Jennifer Redmond, Michael Holly, Julie Lovett, Tony Langlois, Lisa Fingleton, Lorraine Neeson & Treasa O’ Brien.

The meeting lasted for an hour. As the discussion was still quite unfinished we asked those that could, to write a 'stream of consciousness' to document their thoughts on the meeting, on the film, and on anything else that came into their heads as they left
the 'chat-space'.


The Collaborative Review:


Havarie and deformation.


Editorial: Michael Holly.

In a Zoom conversation with members of mink (Moving Image Network Kerry) on the 9th of June 2020, I attempted to describe the reasons I am attracted to the film Havarie by Phillip Scheffner. Initially my interest was sparked by learning that the filmmaker and producers decided to scrap all of the visual material they had collected during the production, and instead replace it with a single video found on the internet, stretched from the original 3'37" to 93'.

The video is of a small boat drifting in an azure sea, which was filmed by a tourist aboard the cruise ship Adventure of the Seas off the Spanish coast in 2012, uploaded to YouTube and simply titled "Refugees". Havarie uses this image as the constant visual background for a series of stories related to the complex issues of migration, longing, violence and fear, all related through the sounds of voices.

I explained to the group on Zoom that it was the image that intrigued me most, how it jumps along at one-frame-per-second, exposing the fabric of its construction: pixels, frames, time, video interlacing, digital colours, compression artefacts.

Each member of the group who spoke seemed to have a different experience 'watching' Havarie; there were subjective questions, some frustration at the visual pace, questions about the ethics of the image, points made about the context for viewing and an observation on visual drifting.


                               
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Thoughts:

As per usual, as if it's some kind of surprise, my post thoughts
coming away from a zoom meeting cancel out the fear and gut
wrenches of my pre-thoughts.
I was excited about this zoom, the anticipation of meeting the new   people.
What will they be like?
How many will appear? An 8pm zoom though, an 8pm anything for me
is late these days! I feared I'd be out of sync. I am more an 8 am
 functioner.

"But that's ok, it's good to challenge your routines Julie", I
told myself throughout the day, with dread building and building.
Eventually it's time, "ahh familiar faces..there's
Mieke..there's Jennifer – Jennifer looks like someone..who is it???..umm."
Plenty of fast paced thoughts happening now, "Stay with it Julie,
don't get lost in their zoom backgrounds..stop looking at yourself
on the screen...".

I do enjoy meeting people, I love that first impression stage and
how I usually change my mind. I like zoom. It's in front of me but
it's not really, I'm just here in my kitchen. I'm safe here.
We began. I was very aware of my stutter. I wondered afterwards
how obvious it was and whether I should have just said, "oh!I have a
stutter sometimes" and just owned it.
But who cares, eh? No big deal. Makes for a more interesting group
meeting. I was very aware of  the dynamics, who already knew who? Was   I out of the loop? "Umm – Michael calls Jennifer, Jenny...and so does
Mieke.."

Regarding the film discussion, I enjoyed it. It was filled with
all the things I look for. Good balance of debate, opposing
opinions, generosity, ego, honesty, unity. All the good things. I
felt discussing our communal thoughts on a film we all watched is
a wonderful way of sharing our insights on a specific topic but
also an opportunity to get a broader sense of our stances in
general without making ourselves too vulnerable. A common ground
to start from.

I look forward to the development of this group and this
activity...we're lucky people! "I GOT IT..it’s Joanna Lumley..that’s
who Jennifer looks like, it's the mouth!"
"Maybe I'll suggest something mainstream to watch, something
comforting and fluffy, something that takes me back to that safe
place..something like..Beethoven 2". I wondered what the rest of
the groups’ comfort films would be, or if perhaps they are too
cynical to believe in such a thing.

Julie Lovett.

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Havarie effectively brings together deeply uncomfortable experiences of being 'adrift' and powerless. It problematizes the position of being a helpless voyeur of the desperation of strangers.

Being made at the height of the refugee crisis in Austria and Germany in 2016 it raises important issues of relative privilege and power, and focusing on one image for 90 minutes it forbids the viewer from turning away from the issue whilst providing an audio narrative that attempts to humanise the nameless people on the dinghy.

In my view this last objective fails, because in reality the refugees are very unlikely to be Algerian (so this becomes a convenient stereotype rather than a realistic depiction.)

The dialogue is also largely mundane and banal, and rather than juxtaposing image with sound this undermines the scenario of true desperation that we are presented with.

The very length of the film ensures that (politically) it is only likely to influence a very small, and likely already sympathetic
audience. In my view the work would have been more effective narratively, aesthetically and politically if it had been a much shorter film.

In fact, the full work leaves much fewer gaps for the imagination than the original found footage, in which (inadvertently) the cruise ship is presented as a comfortable audience observing helplessly, whilst a human tragedy unfolds before them.

The full film (also inadvertently) presents the tragedy as an exhibit without a credible or coherent narrative. We get no closer to the people on the boat through this admittedly brave intervention.

Argh...too many thoughts!                  



                 Tony Langlois.

                           

The conversation helped me to realise that there is no such thing as a message. And perhaps that is the beautiful thing about a work of art that does not decide to take a defined position or broadcast from an ideological point of view.

Perhaps the only ethical way to make a documentary film about an issue that will never affect you, or about people who will never be entitled to your political or social status is to present noise, and then to invite the viewer to reassemble it into a signal, or a message that means something to them.

                          

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    I want answers. 

Who are they?

How many people are there on that dingy?

Who's going to come and take them, and how will they be treated?

What compelled them to attempt this?

Are they men? they look like men.

Why doesn't someone come?

What's it like on that thing?

I'm glad I'm not on it.

I feel afraid for them.

The stories about arrests, deaths, hallucinations, thirst.

You hear some of what it's like to make that journey.

The whole time you're in the safety of a massive cruise liner - it's

disgusting, absurd, wrong.

There’s an interview of a man with a northern Irish accent…. At first it's disorienting.

But it somehow makes sense.

He's on a holiday, with his wife - a break from the life of a security

guard. Someone who has seen violence - there's violence and strife everywhere.

He spends his days looking for movement on screens - so it explains

why he felt so compelled to film this sighting.
He was looking.

  The durational nature of the film seems to me like a lesson. In our

world of disposable and transient consumer appetite for stimulation

and gratification, we think if we click, post, swipe and 'like' - it's

enough - but nothing really happens, nothing really changes.

We take things for granted - we are removed.

You try to look away but every time you're drawn back to this glitchy

image
,

it isn't going to change.

And if you listen and stare for 90 minutes, maybe it will sink in.


                                   Mieke Vanmechelen.


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In his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan famously identified the distinction between 'hot' and 'cool' media1.

The more defined, the better the quality, the ‘hotter’ it is, the more you see, the less your imagination needs to be used.

Cristopher Nolan’s 2019 film 'Dunkirk, for example, is about as hot as it gets: filmed in sublime 70mm, presented in IMAX theatres with 7.1 surround sound. The message of Dunkirk flows easily into the imagination, carried along by a slick story structure and soundtrack.

As entertainment this is about as perfect as it gets, but McLuhan would argue that because it is so hot, it tells you what to think.



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Voyaging, drifting, swivel suspended.

Night molecules teleport, infiltrate, an infestation.
 
The stream inside the window, trickles slowly and tentatively
towards the sea.

An interrupted, frame encountered, an interrupted framed encounter.

Waves, electromagnetic, rolling, recurrent, continuous

i n t e r m i t t e nt intermission.

Transmission suspended


Lorraine Neeson.


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“…How does one keep from being fascist…How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behaviour?…”

M. Foucault (Anti Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,1983,trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis.)

At first I thought that at 90 minutes, Havarie might be a bit too long. But on reflection it was not so much the length that annoyed me. Having to contemplate something that made me feel anxious and inert was enervating.  I liked the fact that there were many layers to the film. I liked the use of the narrative and the different storylines that ran through the piece. The storylines made me sympathetic to the characters, who are never shown. As a viewer I found that I had the space to conjure them. Sadly, such scenarios normalise the predicament of the migrants.

That solitary, drifting boat in the blue, is mesmeric – meditative.It becomes hard to lift your gaze. One becomes extremely sensitive to any shift in the size or perspective of the craft. The image is degraded. This means that as a viewer you are straining to focus throughout.

Knowing that you are watching other beings ‘in extremis’ piles on the anxiety. In that boat are personified; 'The wretched of the earth'. They are impelled and in some cases compelled to take desperate measures in a bid to survive or to obtain some object of their desire.

This is a maniacal strategy.
Their future depends on their delirium.

My complicity in Postcolonialism is unveiled by this film. The narrative relieves the guilt. It affirms my lucky privileged European identity.  But for how long, in a world of diminishing and degraded resources, can I expect to be in this position? How long before I too, will need to resort to lunacy to survive?

Two world views and two subjectivities are presented in contraposition here. The predominant Western view promotes a materialist society; In the 'democratic' West, we imagine ourselves to be 'free'. If however, we look beyond the social and judicial conventions,  If we regard ourselves in relation to the cosmos, That perspective changes.

In the West, we are and we have been for too long, desiring machines. Ours is a libidinal world.  The perspective of the migrants appears to be rooted in the spiritual.  Their dialog  frequently refers to 'God'. Our speech is authenticated  by fact, by science and by law.

Migrants abandon the societal and legal frameworks that have shaped their lives. In so doing, they unsettle the power relations in their 'home' territories. They begin to practice freedom in a new way. They are intent on carving out a new ethos for themselves. They are thus perceived as a potential threat to stability everywhere.

Our feelings towards these struggling 'others' fluctuates between the'humane' and the paranoid. Confusion and an unwillingness to think is the result.

Havarie critiques this position. Binds you to the spot and forces you to meditate upon the state of your own self-awareness. Your sensibility to your own surroundings – to the state of your ethos. Do the Western idioms and institutions dominate your identity?  Are you more free than those who are adrift (physically and ideologically) from their moorings?
 
Who is free?  What is free?

There is a heart of darkness that stems from our loyalty to oppressive cultural norms.  And also to a consciousness that is  based on territory.

The quote above that leads into these thoughts, keeps revolving around in my head as I think about Havarie. It might be coincidental, but whatever it is, such sentiments are more relevantnow, with every passing day.                                                   

Jennifer Redmond.


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The little cluster of black pixels that stutters across the screen for 93 minutes of Havarie is cold. For me, everything about it is disturbing. We are not watching a boat full of migrants, or refugees, or fishermen, but we are watching the act of watching; the act of image making that in some way defines our contemporary world.

The image makes us completely aware of how we observe our world, from a comfortable, digital distance; what Walter Benjamin prophetically named '
the Optical Unconscious' in 19352
. We are, within the effect produced by the image, watching the deconstruction of what our society consciously considers as reality.



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Notes


1. McLuhan, Marshal. Understanding Media. London : Routledge, 2005.

2. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Penguin UK, 2008.