Introduction by Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer – Memories in Dialogue
In the first volume of Once Upon a Screen, which appeared in The Cine-Files in 2020, we asked our contributors to create videographic explorations of personal, “traumatic” screen memories from their childhoods. By putting deeply personal memories at the forefront, the issue pushed the boundaries of academic objectivity, or, as Christian Keathley noted in his response, the tendency of scholarship “to repress […] or at least to back away from” intense emotional experiences “for the purposes of distanced, objective analysis and interpretation in a discourse marked by a full and firm hold on external reality”(Keathley 2020). Rather than merely challenging this scholarly (dis)position, however, Once Upon a Screen also provided conceptual, formal, and methodological bridges: between scholarly perspectives and artistic expression, and between personal stories and cultural (screen) histories.
After the positive feedback we received on the first collection, we decided to go one step further in bringing together personal and collective memories and to experiment more radically with notions of collaborative authorship in videographic practices. For Once Upon a Screen vol. 2, we asked our colleagues to first submit a short text, describing a formative screen memory from any point in their lives, without naming the media source to which they referred. We ended up with 16 such texts, which we then re-shuffled and distributed anonymously among the group, so that each one received a text that was not their own, and was asked to make a video based on that text. The video makers were allowed to request (through us) a voice-over recording of the text by the author, which very few took us up on. We did not specify how closely or loosely the video needed to adhere to the text. The identities of the authors were only revealed to the video makers after the videos were finished. The resulting videos will be published in two installments, beginning with the current issue of [in]Transition. The videos appear alongside three texts each: the text on which the video was based, a creator’s statement by the video maker, and a brief reflection on the video by the author on whose text it was based. The issue also includes a response from Catherine Grant.
The process of making a video based on someone else’s personal memory provokes a certain guessing game: what might the author’s age, gender identity, nationality be? When and where did the memory they describe take place? What kind of medium or what specific film might they have written about? The making of these videos therefore involved multiple processes of literal and figurative adaptation, translation, and transformation. The majority of videos draw on relatively well-known European and American films. While this commonality might in part go back to the national and cultural backgrounds of our contributors, who predominantly come from North-American and European countries, were born in the 1970s and 80s, and have extensive film-historical training, it might also speak to a search for a shared canon through which to engage with each others’ fragmented or cryptic memory reflections. One can assume that this canon (or the search for it) would look and sound significantly different among different demographics and generations. Given the increasingly niche content, audiences, genres, and platforms that have proliferated in the post-cinematic and the streaming age, a shared canon, even within a relatively homogenous demographic group and more so in heterogeneous groups, cannot be taken for granted. Shared cultural memory highly depends on various axes of identity, including nationality, region, race, class, and gender. It would be interesting to perform this Once Upon a Screen experiment on a larger sociological level and compare the responses of individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds (especially regional and national).
We were faced with a particular challenge when one of the contributors withdrew their text and video from the collection relatively late into the process. We decided to use it as an opportunity to take the idea of interpersonal associations and multi-authorship to another, playful level, asked our contributors to send us their audiovisual associations evoked by Barbara Zecchi’s text, and on that basis we made a collaborative, perhaps most radically co-authored video: “Mirror, Mirror.”
In a similar spirit, one can look at the entire collection as a mutual interplay of images, shots, sounds, words, and memories that are all part of the same mosaic. Nonetheless, the eight videos included in this issue vary significantly in terms of proximity to the text, from taking it as a mere starting point for a more or less independent, in some cases more analytical videographic quest, to fairly close depictions of the written memory, and to imaginary dialogues between maker and author that included deeply personal reflections from both. In many instances, the video makers found links between the textual memories and their own screen experiences. Likewise, several draw connections between their own texts and the texts they received.
The texts themselves evoke a vast emotional and experiential range, from joyful to painful to traumatic. Several deal with early experiences of shame, of visceral reactions, and of watching, feeling, and/or experiencing something you are not supposed to. The majority of videos do not focus on a single film but connect the text and their own associations with multiple films. Many also focus less on an individual media text and more on the viewing experience, the context of spectatorship, and the larger implications of the “offscreen.”
Emerging in the midst of the pandemic, it is worth noting that this collection is the product of extensive virtual communication. We conceived of this experiment in service of fostering the videographic community and as a particularly personal way to engage with each other in our shared practice. As such, the videos in this collection were all made for an audience of one (the respective author), as much as for the larger public, with which we are excited to share the results.
Keathley, Christian. 2020. "Response to Once Upon a Screen: The Personal, The Emotional, and the Scholarly," The Cine-Files (15), Audiovisual Essays edited by Ariel Avissar & Evelyn Kreutzer. http://www.thecine-files.com/response-to-once-upon-a-screen/
Ariel Avissar is a PhD student and Tisch Film School Scholar at Tel Aviv University. His videographic collaborations include Once Upon a Screen (co-edited with Evelyn Kreutzer) and the “TV Dictionary.” He is an associate editor at [in]Transition and has also co-edited Sight & Sound’s “Best Video Essays” poll (2019-2021).
Evelyn Kreutzer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, where she leads the project “The Digital Video Essay,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). She also serves as an associate editor at [in]Transition. Her written and videographic work has been published in journals like The Cine-Files, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, NECSUS, Research in Film & History, and [in]Transition.