2020 Winner: Inspiration Point / Filling the Imaginary Void: Addressing "Documentary Distance" in the Representation of Historical Violence (FILM AND PAPER)

Project Information
Inspiration Point / Filling the Imaginary Void: Addressing "Documentary Distance" in the Representation of Historical Violence (FILM AND PAPER)
Film and Digital Media, Integrated Critical Practice Concentration
The Western attitude toward history is one of distance: a paradigm in which the mere passing of time renders insignificant the connections between yesterday's colonial atrocities and today's structures of power. For the victim of colonialism, this illusion of distance does not exist. The presence of historical trauma in one's DNA - coupled with engineered socioeconomic disadvantage - makes it clear that the violence of the past is always present in contemporary life.

My senior thesis (a film and research paper, each influencing the other) confronts this problem of imagined distance as it pertains to documentary representations of historical violence.

(Filling the Imaginary Void: Addressing "Documentary Distance" in the Representation of Historical Violence)
This essay investigates the treatment of historical violence by documentary film. I first establish that the issue of distance is inherent in the documentary medium; ironically caused by the conventional documentary mode's insistence on realism, which necessitates a construction of spatial, racial and temporal difference between viewer and subject. The paper identifies a number of documentary films which successfully combat "documentary distance," analyzing both form and content in order to define specific approaches which radicalize the documentary treatment of historical violence. Ultimately, I advocate for the careful use of audio and video editing that generates a vaguely postmodern sense of "atemporality." By destabilizing the traditional documentary expectations of objective realism, a filmmaker creates space for more expansive thought on historical violence.

(Inspiration Point)
A short that combines elements of essay film and experimental documentary, Inspiration Point grapples with past and present violence surrounding the Native American reservation community of Covelo, California. The film contains encounters and interviews with a number of community members, including two affiliates of the local tribal council; however, its narration remains grounded in the voice of a consciously subjective outsider.
True to its title (named after a local vista point), Inspiration Point avoids the invasive lens demanded by conventional documentary, instead opting to "speak nearby." Offering only fragmentary historical information, my work aims to shift the viewer's thoughts toward the broader cultural factors convening on the location: old-west aesthetic, modern consumerism, marijuana farming, land ownership, recent colonization, and our slippery grasp on history.
In accordance with the ideals expressed in my research paper, my film's formal construction - namely the use of low shutter speed that causes blurred motion, grainy Hi8 footage typically associated with home video from two decades ago, and nonlinear editing - attempts to defy any sense of grounding in linear temporality and history. Inspiration Point offers a revised template for documentary meditations on historical violence.
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  • Keanu Ramos (Porter)