Volume 2 - Issue 3 - Editorial

This issue of Vertigo, assembled with the desire to explore and celebrate the various landscapes of that elusive territory known as ‘cultural diversity’, comes at a time when an openness and generosity to difference itself is under threat across Europe and beyond. Whether in Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, the French presidential elections or disturbing policy entrenchments in numerous Parliaments of the North, institutional prejudice, historical revisions and galvanised populist xenophobia appear to be undermining the once well-heeled aspiration to a global commonwealth of mutually co-habiting and respected systems, be they cultural, social or faith-based.

The real distress caused on the ground – and often on-screen – by such events, sits uneasily with the still widely-touted belief, often by those very administrations whose actions or legislation are unravelling communities, in a filtered tolerance, equality and opportunity for all. In this latter realm, ‘diversity’ is the hub through which we all pass on the journey towards self- and collective-understanding, the common ground of a shared experience: united in our difference so we stand.

The ‘otherness’ at the heart of this diversity has always been politicised, inevitably and often explicitly. This committed difference can often be a chosen affirmative gesture, as Julie McNamara and Catherine Fowler analyse in the following pages. However, since September 11 this constantly shifting ‘other’ has become demonised, negatively charged, simply for being itself. And this difference, whether embodied or defended, can quickly shade into dissent, with all the now attendant assumptions about such a position we have seen demonstrated in recent months.

In such a climate respect for diversity is not merely a choice, nor even simply desirable but rather an absolute necessity, as much so in the realm of the moving image as on the streets and in the minds of citizens world-wide. However, in the brave new complexity of inter-relations we inhabit, traditional definitions of groupings in the ‘big tent’ of diversity are becoming increasingly redundant, as migrations of all kinds across all manner of borders continue apace. Reporting on this year’s Documenta XI Art Festival for Time Out London, Sarah Kent quotes the event’s chief curator, Nigerian Okwui Enwezor, who has written that “the post-colonial present is a world of proximity, not an elsewhere”[1], an observation that Shekhar Kapur echoes in this issue with his appreciation of Asia’s growing cultural influence.

The labelings familiar from 80s Channel 4 and the like – centred around straightforward delineations of ethnicity and colour – while necessary at the time to counter explicit marginalisation or actual exclusion, are still generally maintained today at institutional levels even when both the maker and the work are clearly not so monitored. Attention needs much more to rest on what is written/filmed and the way distinctive cultural experience translates into particular hybrid forms, mongrel manifestations of inter-connection and exchange. The merging rather the boundary should be the focus of our gaze.

Indeed, as producer Jacques Bidou unequivocally illustrates, there is emerging now a stratum of international film-makers, where the perfect archetype of identities simply does not exist; great tributaries of cultural influence have streamed in even before the first frame is shot. Today, rather than thinking of ‘ethnic minorities’, it is perhaps more helpful to conceive of cultural diasporas within, as well as without, the borders of this country and others. Ben Walters takes these ideas further in relation to the successful engagement of the Turkish and Kurdish communities in east London’s film scene.

"Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one" – John Berger

Talk of audio-visual inclusion, however, can all seem rather academic when confronted with the rapidly diminishing dimensions of our now rather less than ‘broad’-cast networks. As Sarah Kent tellingly observes, “now that documentaries have all but disappeared from our screens, ironically, the information age is characterised by ignorance about other nations’.[2] Elizabeth Wood and Amy Hardie develop this argument for documentary film, but the unknowing attached to such structural reduction extends beyond documentary. While the English, it seems, know little about their continental neighbours (not to speak of further afield), neither do they know much about the people next door, if Robert Chilcott’s research on Welsh cinema is anything to go by.

This lack of receptivity to stories told in languages other than our own extends to the aesthetic imperatives of diversity. The innovation and experimentation of the kind exemplified by the likes of the late Derek Jarman is rare indeed. Without ignoring the inspiring cinema of Andrew Kötting, Patrick Keiller, Lynne Ramsay, Chris Petit, Sally Potter or John Maybury, to name a few, there’s no denying the almost complete absence of foundational support for such explorations.

This structural lack lies, of course, at the heart of all discussions about diversity. Nurturing, producing, distributing and exhibiting the works - that illuminate ourselves and others - in all the diverse ways that these myriad visions require, is undeniably a challenge. Balancing local and regional initiatives with international reach; unitary national bodies with community networks; established delivery with the potentials of new technology: these are significant questions, addressed variously in these pages by Janet Harbord, Ben Woolford and Pat McCarthy.

It’s not all occasion for doom-mongering of course: crisis can mean opportunity, as the Mandarin tells us. Whether it’s Jem Cohen’s Chain project, the resilient hope of smashed Palestinian TV station Al Quds or the UK alternatives assisted by Alex Usborne at the Film Council, people persevere, endure: things continue to happen. And can there be any better example of how diversity is maintained, and made productively complex, by those very forces seemingly intent on erasing it, than Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat, from an oral culture to its preservation via DV in one generation.

Process, product, place and position: a historical consciousness is essential, aesthetically and otherwise. ‘The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’, wrote Milan Kundera. The past, presence and future relevance of the moving image is guaranteed only by constant change, creative doubt, a plurality that resists appropriation. The acceleration of the times might seem to mitigate against the considered and committed enquiry, favouring rather the black and white, quick-fix visions of a Camp X-ray. But for those citizens of this saturated image-nation, who dwell also in the wider realms of the imagination, a genuine diversity only comes from such a whole-hearted and unflinching engagement. It’s the old story, with the same obstacles as always, just more brightly lit this time around. Art and commerce, markets and movies. Money on the screen, money into light. Culture and society dancing an endless tango on the moebius strip of optimism and despair, each leading the other on. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

For details of two significant events to be presented by Vertigo at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival and exploring the issues raised in this editorial, please see the inside back cover. The editorial board would like to thank all the contributors to the current issue. The magazine welcomes feedback and dialogue on any aspect of the publication and its contents. Vertigo also actively seeks unsolicited submissions for consideration. In either instance, please email or write to the address given.


[1], [2]. Sarah Kent, ‘Eleven Plus’, Time Out, pp.20-22, Issue 1663, 3-10 July 2002