Volume 2 - Issue 5 - Editorial

(Un)real: Versions of Experience

War is no longer declared, but rather continued.
The outrageous has become the everyday.
The hero is absent from the battle.
The weak are moved into the firing zone.
The uniform of the day is patience, the order of
merit is the wretched star of hope over the heart. – Ingeborg Bachmann

The absent image. The gestures that are not caught... This issue of Vertigo concerns itself with the ceaseless varieties of human experience – whether personal, social, political and even transcendent – and how individuals and groups have sought to deploy the moving image to bring such experiences close, closer to the viewer. How these experiences/histories and the insights that can be drawn from them have been bought into the light. From the un-scene to the seen. From the (un)real to the real.

Often what they show is contentious, open to interpretation and debate. Frequently, the images have been marginalised or overlooked prior to their searching them out. In this sense many of the makers and activists featured in this issue, whether independent or system-supported, are pioneers, path-breakers, takers of risk. They pay attention.

In her new book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag considers photographic images of atrocity and how they work on us. How they shock, sadden and appal. How they can fail, with time, to shock. How they can galvanise and/or numb. How they become repositories of memory, evidence of great wrongs and how, when there are no images of an event, of a violence – private or public, recent or dustily past – it is that much harder for our collective, image-shaped consciousness to anchor the terrible results in our imaginative empathy; to feel at image-remove the bullet or bomb and recognise this is one of our own, and then, this is not as things should be.

Whatever their status, the fact that the films/videos considered in this issue have, against varying odds, been made, means that at least discussion can begin, that the subject is on the table, or rather, on the screen. It is before the eye. It is.

Yet, implicitly, this issue is just as much about that ‘absent’ image, those unfilmed experiences of people struggling to survive (or simply living), in countries whose history and the social fabric are unravelling around them. It is about the myriad, unseen daily brutalities of Occupation, about the ‘disappeared’, whether in Iraq, Palestine, Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, who have been taken from streets and sight, and this in a global society dependent on the visual as its primary mode of information exchange and, like it or not, understanding. Thus, it is about the urgent need to document as widely as is possible. To produce adequate imagery, as Werner Herzog has so accurately articulated (see page 9).

What we see and what we don’t is a matter of policy, funding and political will. On July 12th Vertigo and the Cambridge Film Festival presented the first Independent Film Parliament to bring together committed filmmakers, funders, producers, distributors, exhibitors and educators to discuss the impact of current film policy on the so-called specialist film sector. This sector requires support and vision both to express and to find its audiences, although this backing should not give it a secondary status or negative value in the false oppositions made between the so-called cultural and the commercial. Vertigo has been engaged since its first issue with the promotion and defence of this sector since it was founded, and the speeches and proposals from this important first assembly are published here (see p.10).

Finally, lest we forget, this issue is, explicitly, a celebration. Of all this work and effort, of remarkable lives and achievements, not least, of those to whom this issue is dedicated. If our focus is on the (un)real, then it is also one of gratitude for what has been made and enriched us and for what can, by synchronicity, be caught, to alert us. The man on our cover is Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli technician who, in 1986, revealed details of Israel’s covert nuclear weapons programme and was subsequently kidnapped by Mossad in Rome, drugged and returned to face a secret trial in Israel. This picture was taken on the 22nd December 1986 as he managed, briefly, to convey his predicament to the media (the lines of his life quite literally on his palm). He was sentenced to 18 years in prison (11 of them spent in solitary confinement) for 'treason' and 'espionage', although he had received no payment and communicated with no foreign power. He is due to be released this coming 22nd April, 2004.

It is not enough simply to be angry. In (un)real times, it might not even be enough to act. But, as Elia Sulieman, director of Divine Intervention, observed at the 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival Parliament, ‘Risk is a precondition for love and passion. When fear rules the soul, films don’t pass the checkpoint’.

Vertigo would like to thank all contributors. We welcome work for consideration and contact from individuals/organizations who share our concerns and intentions.