This week’s edition of In Media Res features a selection of work that was presented at the 2019 Poetics + Politics Documentary Research Symposium. Poetics and Politics is a practice-led research symposium, held every two years, that explores the interconnections between art and knowledge as they are expressed in documentary practices, broadly conceived. As curators of the 2019 event, we put out a call and assembled a program that critically reflected upon the role of ‘story’ in contemporary documentary cultures and practices. Even a cursory look at the current field of non-fiction media funding and exhibition reveals a widespread requirement for the identification of ‘characters’ and the delineation of ‘story.’ What does this narrow definiton of a "good story" facilitate and what does it foreclose? What are the political implications of this trend? What are the poetic or aesthetic consequences? As documentary media makers and scholars, we are quite invested in story and its relationship to expanded concerns such as affect, narration, history, identity, rhetoric, criticality or pedagogy, for example. So we provocatively subtitled the symposium: Against Story–in homage to the long tradition of contrarian artistic and scholarly production, that on the one hand, seems to take a highly critical position but, on the other hand, always originates from a place of vested and intimate proximity.1 ‘Against’ can mean opposition but it can also describe nearness and touch; and it is in the space between these two definitions of the term ‘against’ that our symposium resided.
For In Media Res, we invited several of the maker-scholars who presented at Poetics + Politics to share their own work, reflecting the sensibility of the symposium and demonstrating the breadth of contemporary documentary work that is being produced outside of narrow industry definitions.
This week’s first installment features an excerpt from Sindhu Thirumalaisamy’s film, Kere mattu Kere (The Lake and The Lake). Thirumalaisamy’s film, from one perspective, depicts a Bangalorean reservoir. But the film—and this is quite evident in the excerpt— is not content with one perspective. As the on-screen text instructs us: this is not a film about a lake, this is a lake-film. The film dwells in a patient space of observation that glimpses the open complexity of the space-time assemblage that is this body of water, in this location, at this moment in time.
The rest of the week promises to be equally intriguing and thought provoking, with work from Lana Lin and Megan Moodie; Rick Prelinger; Iphigénie Marcoux-Fortier, Amy Magowan Greene, and Meky Ottawa; and Paige Sarlin.
1. See, for example: Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (1966); Paul Gilroy’s Against Race (2002), or Michelle Tea’s Against Memoir (2018)