Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media


Encountering the Invisible

Susanna Helke


Abstract: This paper discusses the potential of art-practice-led and research-in-the-arts methodologies, introducing the idea of the theory–praxis–poetics triangle as a process of catalysing new methods, expressions and approaches in filmmaking, especially in the context of documentary cinema. It elaborates upon these approaches in the context of my own filmmaking practice and in relation to the conventions stemming from the tradition of social documentary. What are the methods of making visible the invisible complexities of present-day societal reality, as poverty, exclusion and societal tensions may not be as visually dramatic as they were when the ethos of “social documentary” was defined? How can the invisible and often-abstract core of phenomena such as the neoliberal paradigm shift in post–welfare-state contexts be made visible? Documentary film as a discourse of sobriety mostly relies on the serious and solemn, but can absurdism and parody more accurately capture the core of paradigmatic political phenomena like the current one? The acute global crises create a need for re-evaluating the potential of documentary film practice as a reflexive and critical endeavour beyond the emotion economy of the hegemonic film industries. As the arts function beyond the pre-existing order of commonsensical reality, the pressing question is: how can reality-material–based art construct a transformational ethical address, one which does not rely on individualistically driven social subjectivity but rather creates experiential spaces for agonistic collisions of differences, the paradoxical, dialectical cinematic approaches that can be claimed to be more complex than a mere “emotive” address? In this dangerously polarized era, it is crucial to distinguish between such fluid concepts as the sentimental, emotional or compassionate, in order to rehabilitate the poetics of documentary art in creating a reflexive political address.


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ISSN 2009-4078

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