Reconstitution: On the Contingent Screen of Rania and Raed Rafei

Fotografisk Center inviterer d. 19. november 2015 kl. 17-19 til FotoForum med screening af filmen  74 – The reconstitution of a struggle af Rania Rafei & Raed Rafei.

Filmen vil blive introduceret af Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld som er billedkunstner og PhD stipendiat ved Københavns Universitet.
Kollektive udforskninger af, hvordan historiske brudstykker kan skabe nye affektive sammenhænge, er udgangspunktet for Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfelds kunstneriske forskningsprojekt Time in the Making: Rehearsing Reparative Critical Practices. Her udvikler Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld begrebet om den reparative critical practice – forstået som en kollektiv assemblage af fragmenter, i forhold til det det digitale billedes erindring og affekt.

Kapitlet “Reconstitution: On the Contingent Screen of Rania and Raed Rafei” er en dialog med filminstruktørerne Rania og Raed Rafei om tilblivelsen af filmen 74 (The reconstitution of a struggle) om studenter oprøret i Libanon i 1974. Katrine diskuterer hvordan uforudsete events under optagelserne til filmen skaber et kollaps af forskellige tidsligheder i selve det filmiske billede, hvor fortiden ikke re-enactes men konstitueres i nuet.

I de følgende afsnit kan du læse introduktion til artiklen.

Out of the cinema darkness the blurred contours of a young man emerge. His features, red-blond hair, beard and green army jacket come into focus by means of a Canon 5D Mark II, with 50 mm lens. Addressing the camera directly, “Nassim, tementash azar alf w teseemieh w arlbaa w sabaiin”, the young man tells us his name is Nassim, it is 18 March 1974 and the students have taken over the campus of the American University of Beirut. For five months now they have occupied the university to protest the ten per cent increase in tuition fees. The security forces have surrounded the campus…

Nassim slips in and out of the cinema’s darkness and is replaced by his fellow student activists:

Sandra

Molotov

Asaad…

The portraits of the young activists hang in a timeless space of the black frame. Denuded of any visual support or documentation, my own mental camera begins to project conflicting imagery of present-past events onto the screen. Chronology of events falters. The image on the screen flickers between that which it documents or represents from 1974 and that which it reconstitutes…: today…2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015…

 

 Reconstitution

on the contingent ecrán [screen] of Rania and Raed Rafei

­

Dear Rania and Raed

I have been wanting to write to you for some time now, to follow up on the conversations we had concerning your film-project on the student movement in Beirut, when you completed Prologue[1] in 2011 and following the screening of 74 (The reconstitution of a struggle)[2] in 2013 in Denmark. Since then a great many things continue to happen around us, which are the reason why I cannot get the films out of my head.

Allow me to begin with an image, a feverish image, of you and me, Rania, at the beach on a deserted island in Oman, New Year’s Eve 2010. I recall of my feverish state (I literally had a 40-degree fever) that we were taking turns. Each one of us would state his or her wish for the coming year – 2011. I remember yours. It was revolution. You and Raed had started working on the film project Prologue and were researching the student movement in Beirut in 1974. You were sitting on the beach calling for revolution, as if you wanted to bring that past moment alive again through your research and through the film.

After that night each one of us returned to our usual destinations. You went back to Beirut. Some remained in the United Arab Emirates and I went to London. And then it all happened. Just like that. Ben Ali fell in Tunis – Egypt was on fire. We were overwhelmed by Internet and TV news, and endless Facebook chats and online discussions.

Mubarak fell in Egypt – the impossible had again become possible – it was as if the world was gripped with a sensation that a thousand lines with a thousand aberrations were opened up anew and could take new possible routes for new possible worlds to emerge… but only for a moment and then the initial hope and optimism were replaced by their opposites.

Motivated by my encounter with your films, in this essay-letter I want to draw out some useful moments or methods gleaned from the initial optimism and hope that we were gripped with. To do so I will construct a scaffold of different theoretical and filmic practices and intersperse those blocks with my own experience as an observer of your films; snippets from conversations we have had on the work over the years; and the experiences which the audiences have shared in discussions after the screenings.

Introduction
What is really interesting is that back then, when we started the casting (of real activists), there were no revolutions in the Arab world[3].

74 (The reconstitution of a struggle) [henceforth: 74] opens with a black-and-white photograph of the student strike in 1974, with the strikers gathered outside the College Hall of the American University of Beirut (AUB). The photograph is the only “real” document of the actual events that we get to see for the next 100 minutes. The image bears a resemblance to any student strike of the 1960s and 70s. And if it were not for a few details that reveal AUB’s eclectic architecture, the photo could have been taken anywhere in the world.

Zoom in slowly. Fadi Abi Samra’s voiceover provides scant information, as if he is reading the news headlines:

March 19, 1974: Massive student gathering in the American University of Beirut;

March 26 Kissinger in Moscow: Difficult and Important talks

March 29 25.000 demonstrators demand the nationalisation of bread production

April 8 Israeli Phantom shot down in South Lebanon & two Pilots taken prisoner… [4]

Wittingly or unwittingly, before the film has even begun, we start to project our own imagery of the entire context: the student movement, the Cold War, the Arab Nationalist movement, the continuous war with Israel on the Southern border…even our imagery and relation to those events might differ radically.

In 1974 the students of the American University of Beirut occupied the university’s campus for 37 days to protest against rising tuition fees. The protest quickly became entangled with the various other struggles in which Lebanon and the wider region were becoming embroiled during that period: the Palestinian resistance, the Pan-Arab movement, the workers’ movement, and the communist movement (to name but a few). 1974 was a year of cultural, intellectual and political ferment, but the initial hope and optimism was followed in 1975 by the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1991).

In 2010 when you started researching what, at the outset, was supposed to be a straightforward documentary on the student movement of 1974, new student protests erupted at the American University of Beirut. You decided to use this momentum to cast real activists to re-enact the events which had taken place years before they were born. Prologue became the screen test or rehearsal for the later feature length film 74 (The reconstitution of a struggle). In Prologue you filmed your own casting process of the student activists, who would later continue improvising in 74.

While shooting Prologue and 74 the events unfolded again on a different scale. The Arab uprisings broke out across the region. And as you moved into the post-production of 74, the original hope and optimism were being overshadowed by war and disillusionment.

In 74 we encounter the student activists or what appears to be a central committee, the revolutionary spearheads of the struggle, in the heat of the battle, barricaded in the office of the AUB’s president Samuel B. Kirkewood. Here they write bulletins, communiqués and hold meetings in what seems like an endless rehearsal for a struggle. Prologue is filmed in a black space and each activist is mostly filmed alone, interviewed by your voices – off screen – directing the casting of the activists. 74 is shot in one room, which is not at AUB, but could be. In neither film is any context revealed, while props and historical artefacts from that era are limited, and sometimes rather fake or untruthful. No real action is seen, the events outside and the crowds of students, and the many political factions that the student union was divided into, are never seen[5].

Images of the actual events are left to our own imagination, apart from what is afforded by either the complete darkness of the screen in Prologue or the single room in 74.

When I recently saw 74 again, I was initially irritated by the fact that the “outside” (the windows) is somehow burnt or overexposed in many of the scenes. Taking into consideration how hard it is to shoot in Lebanon in the summer, mid-day, when the sun is burning outside, and since the whole film was shot during a few days of intense experimentation and improvisation, I guess you did not have the privilege of halting the shoot just because the sun’s location in the sky was incorrect. But now it occurs to me that the burning of the outside in 74 or the obscuring of the outside in Prologue results precisely in the “outside” becoming enfolded into the image. Restricting yourself to the use of one location and one room, and confining the activists and the film-crew to that location for days while improvising allows the “outside” to become more and more enfolded in the semi-claustrophobic atmosphere, without directly portraying or representing that outside[6]: Questions of the Palestinian resistance, the workers movement, the communist movement, the general strike etc. get enfolded into the screen, but without being represented by any direct object.

In 1974 the American University of Beirut was turned into a microcosm of all the various factions and interests at stake in Lebanon and the Middle East, but in your films it is as if the screen itself becomes that microcosm of a larger relationality of shared struggles, contexts and temporalities. But that outside – the context – is not bound to one location, one geography and one specific space-time. By means of your method and montage we, the audience, are turned into active participants in enfolding different contexts and situations onto the screen and as the film is screened in different contexts, other contexts, other struggles and other contexts are enfolded too….*

 

* This is an excerpt from the article “Reconstitution: on the contingent screen of Rania and Raed Rafei” which forms part of Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld’s PhD thesis: Time in the Making: Rehearsing Reparative Critical Practices, University of Copenhagen 2015.

Rabah, Makram. A CAMPUS AT WAR: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut 1967-1975. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Nelson, 2009.

Rafei, Raed, and Rania Rafei. 74 (La Reconstitution D’une Lutte). Film, 2012.

Rafei, Rania, and Raed Rafei. Interview with Rania and Raed Rafei. Interview by Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld. Audio wav, May 2011.

———. Prologue. HD, Documentary Fiction Film Essay, 2011.

Salhab, Ghassan, and Jim Quilty. ‘On the Ironies of Light and Tragedy | Arts & Ent , Culture | THE DAILY STAR’. Accessed 3 April 2015. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Arts-and-Ent/Culture/2015/Apr-01/292855-on-the-ironies-of-light-and-tragedy.ashx.
——————————————————–
[1] Rafei and Rafei, Prologue.
[2] Rafei and Rafei, 74 (La Reconstitution D’une Lutte).
[3] Rafei and Rafei, conversation with Rania and Raed Rafei 2011.
[4] Rafei and Rafei, 74 (La Reconstitution D’une Lutte), 1,40 min.
[5] The student movement in Lebanon was divided into different political factions including pro-Palestinian, PLO, Fatah, PLFP, Rabita (The Lebanese Student Movement), Pan-Arab Nationalist, Communist, and various religious fractions to name but a few. See Rabah, A CAMPUS AT WAR.
[6] See also Salhab and Quilty, ‘On the Ironies of Light and Tragedy | Arts & Ent , Culture | THE DAILY STAR’.

———————————————————————

Øvrig bio: Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld har en MFA fra Kunstakademiets Billedkunstskoler og en MA i Contemporary Art Theory fra Goldsmiths College University of London. Hun har lavet videoinstallationen Leap into Colour (2015), movement (2012), Tid: Aalborg/ Sted: 2033 (2010) og Djisr (The Bridge) (2008).

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