The Other, the Same: The Subject of Documentary 2009

The Other: The SameThe Other has by tradition been the assumed subject of documentary. From Robert Flaherty’s seminal Nanook of the North to current TV fare, documentary filmmakers have brought home to our screens the spectacle of the Other: the Other defined as someone fundamentally different from ourselves, as a representative of a given category--be it the Indian, the Worker, the Madman--observed from outside. It is only quite recently that filmmakers have begun to see themselves portrayed in their relationship to the Other. The alien may turn out to be uncannily familiar. And just as pretending that I know the Other can be a variety of arrogance, to take for granted who I am may be self-delusion. Predicated on the complexity of the self–that of their subjects or of themselves--the work of the filmmakers featured in this year’s program inevitably challenges cultural assumptions and political imperatives both at home and abroad.

The Other has different ways of rearing its head. Susana Barriga’s depiction of Cuban road workers in Patria, hauling rocks hopelessly, like Sisyphus, echoes her own failed attempts to reach out to her estranged father, a Cuban exile in London, in The Illusion. In Aquele querido mês de agosto, Miguel Gomes set out to find real people in the Arganil region of Portugal to cast as actors in a feature film. When the financing fell through, he decided to film a documentary instead, featuring those same people’s real lives. But fiction –the Other of documentary?- came back in through the rear door. In Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo, Yulene Olaizola undertook a portrait of her eccentric grandmother, who operates a run-down hostel on the corner of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo streets in Mexico. But the project took an unexpected turn. In Juizo, Maria Augusta Ramos describes the workings of a juvenile court in Rio, but the legal impossibility of filming minors led her to replace the young offenders with other kids from similar backgrounds. Vivi Tellas is not a filmmaker but a theater director. In a sense, theater may be seen as “the other” of documentary, which makes her “documentary theater” somewhat of a paradoxical proposition.


El otro, el mismo. The title is borrowed from a collection of poems by Jorge Luis Borges, whose meditation on the metaphysics of identity will hopefully illuminate the proceedings.

-  Andrés Di Tella


Sponsors

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures, The Program in Latin American Studies, The University Center for Human Values, The Council of the Humanities, and The Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies

  • This conference is funded, in part, by a gift to the University Center for Human Values in honor of James A. Moffett ’29.
  • All films to be screened in the original language with English subtitles.
  • All screenings and festival activities are free and open to the public.

The Princeton Documentary Festival was created to bring attention to the current creative explosion of documentary filmmaking in Latin America and Spain.  Through public screenings, commentary and discussions, the festival provides its audience with exceptional, cutting-edge films that would not be otherwise available.  The aim is to contribute to a more comprehensive vision of the cultures from which this work springs, while encouraging a more informed debate on the specific topic addressed in each series and on the current state of documentary production.