Thinking the system-world from/with images. Memory, history, decoloniality and globalization from the visual essay
Under the current circumstances of geopolitical complexity, and with some media that appear to construct our precarious (if not already defunct) idea of constructing history, what can cinema do to think about the world? What can we filmmakers do to operate in a system-world where the cinematographic apparatus and media imaginaries appear to be, more than ever, at the service of the elites, despite the multiple gaps through which visual works filter that contradict the hegemonic visual logics?
Is the documentary and its ‘reality effect’ still effective as a political and cinematographic tool, or has the fine line between fiction and non-fiction undermined our faith (if we ever had any) in images as an index of what is real? Has the process of denaturalization of the perspective, for which the critical tools provided by feminisms, decoloniality and historical counter-narratives have been so useful to us, put an end to the possibilities of new cinema to “think about the world”? Can we, from the production and remixing of images, help to generate a strong thinking that is opposed to the closed and blind account of history written by the media? What materialization can divergent memories have in a system where the distribution of images is more opaque than ever, despite the ease that the network can provide? Is it possible to lose the political potency of our counter-imaginaries through over-exposure rather than through invisibilizing censorship?
These and other questions are what I ask myself in my film work, and also and to a no lesser degree in my teaching work. Traditionally, we have understood cinema and, in general, audiovisual production as narrative structures, as forms for telling a story, not as forms for thinking. Traditionally, and following our logocentric education, we “think” about the world, we reflect with words, and we narrate and transmit emotions with images.
“An image is worth more than a thousand words”, says the tradition, but it does not bring the capacity to generate thought, since that seems to be a capacity reserved for words. However, for decades now the different forms of audiovisual production have lit up a notion full of potential, that of the cinematographic essay, an antidote to subjecting the documentary to the idea of representing reality instead of putting itself forward as what it really is, a discourse on reality. The visual essay may be not only a new variant in documentary practice, but also a basic tool to find in cinema not just a tool for storytelling, but a fundamental tool for thinking about our complex reality, a reality in which images are a fundamental political territory.