Just Powers Podcast

Amateur Video & The Challenge for Change — S2E2

In this episode we will be reading “Amateur video and the challenge for change” by Dr. Janine Marchessault. This text is included in the collection “Challenge for Change”, edited by Thomas Waugh, Michael Brenda Baker & Ezra Winton and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2016.

The collection offers an examination of the radical politics and cinema of the legendary documentary film program — Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle — which ran from 1967 to 1980 and produced films in both French and English, challenging audiences, subjects, and filmmakers to confront sexism, poverty, and marginalization in the hope of developing community as well as political awareness and empowerment. Here, Dr. Marchessault returns to an essay she wrote in the early 1990s, in order to offer a critical perspective on one aspect of Challenge for Change, namely, the way the program underplayed structures of power by emphasizing the immediate and seemingly unmediated nature of communication forms that were being animated by the NFB filmmakers involved in the project at the time.

“While anthropology’s nefarious “participant observation” seeks to resolve power relations by positioning the observer inside the field to be investigated, the Fogo process sidestepped power altogether. It inscribed not a self-reflective gaze, one that takes account of the observer’s contradictory status of belonging, but a self-reflective observation that eliminated boundaries altogether. Using film, participants could observe their own behaviour on the screen a posteriori. Low theorized that the media – film, and as we shall see, especially video – could be made to function as a collective mirror, enabling communities “to view themselves, discover their strengths and bring their ideas to better order.” Thus , what came to matter was not so much the final product but the use of media ”as a sparkplug for process” (Low, 1973). Aimed at strengthening community communications, the process involved building consensus and advocacy around particular issues”  (Marchessault, 2008, p. 358).

Challenge for Change is available through McGill-Queen’s University Press. (link: http://www.mqup.ca/challenge-for-change-products-9780773536623.php)

Reference: Marchessault, Janine. “Amateur Video and the Challenge for Change.” Challenge for Change. Eds. Thomas Waugh, Michael Brendan Baker and Ezra Winton. Montreal: MQUP, 2010. Print.