Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Montage as a Radical Ethical Act: Revolutionary Film-making from Eisenstein to Anakiev

(Journal of Creative Geography)

Stuart C. Aitken

Department of Geography
San Diego State University

Over twenty years ago I wrote an essay that focused on montage as it is contextualized in what I called the image-event of film. Within this context, I defined these events as “images in motion over time through space with sequence” and produced an elaborate diagram to illustrate the process (Aitken 1991, 109). As a prosaic film technique, one of the primary intents of sequencing image events through montage is to condense space and time in particular ways – usually in short bursts – that leave an audience with an abridged but understandable narrative. Alternatively, as an extraordinary film technique, I wrote about image-events as creative processes where certain images when juxtaposed with others heighten awareness as a precursor to transformation and change; I was concerned about how montage shocked audiences into new realities. This was the original intent of Russian filmmaker, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein, who pioneered montage as a "collision" of shots used to manipulate emotions (Eisenstein 1949). 

He believed that an idea should be derived from the juxtaposition of two independent shots, bringing an element of collage into film that told a new and different story. Eisenstein first used montage effectively in the Odessa steps sequence of Battleship Potemkin (1925) where a massacre by Tsarist troops is portrayed through a juxtaposition of images of neatly ordered soldiers firing repeated volleys of shots at the top of the stairs, Cossacks charging the crowd at the bottom of the stairs and, on the stairs themselves the montage jumps from an old woman wearing glasses, a young student, a schoolgirl and, famously, a mother who loses control of the pram containing her baby. The scene comes together to leave the audience with feelings about the undeniable brutality of the imperial Tsarist regime. This, I think, is the power of montage: it can take us beyond the mundane to an intense emotional and political engagement.

Run-of-the-mill filmmakers use the technique to abridge and condense narrative. Good filmmakers use it to engage audiences and shake them out of their sensibilities. Gilles Deleuze (1986, ix) suggests that movies grab us because they present preverbal intelligible content, which is not about any kind of existential or psychoanalytic lack or repressed desire but, rather, is about desire that is always positive. This takes Eisenstein in a different direction, because not only does it remove us from the bind of desire as a hole or lack we try to fill, but it positions us as active and positive in the creation of our own identities. Well, almost. Thankfully, Deleuze does not fall into the neo-liberal trap of burdening us with complete responsibility for our desires. He acknowledges that there is also something distinguishable from us (perhaps external but integrally tied to who we are) that affects our desires (It is Lacan’s big Other, Guy Debord’s society of the spectacle, Fred Jameson’s political unconscious, or whatever you want to call it). Here’s how Deleuze characterizes the internal/external processes interwoven through image-events: movementimages are comprised simultaneously of a perception-image that moves us from indistinguished knowledge at the periphery of our universe to a central subject position, and an action-image that is about our perception of things at the center of our universe and grasping the ‘virtual action’ of those things. Concurrently, there is the affection-image that “surges in the center of indetermination” between our perceptions and our actions (Deleuze 1986, 65). This is very much what Eisenstein had in mind when he talked about montage as a dialectical process. It is also precisely about the spatiality of montage; it is an affect that alludes to the “motion part of emotion that sloshes back and forth between perception and action” (Aitken 2006, 494). The effect of montage, then, points to an intensity that exceeds representation, but is also about shocking us into action. Montage, when done well, is more than just about condensing a series of images to proffer information efficiently.

As I sit in the movie theatre I want to be moved; I want to understand bodily and viscerally in ways that do more that suspend my disbelief, I want them to take me to new revolutionary places. I want the images speak to my poetic soul, and to the activist part of me that desires change in the form of radical ethical acts.

Eisenstein was working his magic with montage in the post-revolutionary communist Soviet Union. Dimitar Anakiev is a Serbian-born film-maker working in post-independence democratic Slovenia.

Both filmmakers are revolutionary in their politics and film practices. Amongst Anakiev’s films are three documentaries that portray the plight of the 25,671 people (including 5,600 children) who were officially erased from Slovenia’s permanent residents’ register and, as a consequence, lost basic human rights to health-care, education, housing and so forth. As a Slovenian of Serbian descent Anakiev was erased as part of the 1990s purge. Rubbed Out (2004) and Citizen A.T. (2010) tell the story of activist Aleksandar Todorović and other activist members of the Association of Erased Residents. Slovenia, My Homeland (2012) focuses on Irfan and Nisveta, who suffered horrendous abuses and privations during their erasure. Slovenia, My Homeland (2012) begins with a scene from Bled, an iconic picture-postcard lake in the Julien Alps used for touting Slovenia’s beauty, and a choir singing “Gloria in Excellus Dio.” The scene then switches to a ramshackled room where an American filmmaker is interviewing Irfan and Nisveta as they describe some of the abuses they suffered with erasure. Later, in a particularly poignant scene, Anakiev’s camera bounces between Irfan and Nisveta who are now in their respective apartments talking about the joy of their youth in Tito’s Yugoslavia and how their families were torn apart by the erasure. With each corresponding shot the camera pans in until we are focused on Irfan and Nisveta’s eyes. The whole movie is a powerful montage between state violence, erased people’s plight, official ambivalence, the destruction of youthful dreams and families torn apart. We are opened to Irfan’s joy in memories of youth when he was part of Yugoslavia’s Youth Work Brigade; Nisveta’s strength is seen as emanating from her Islamic faith and anger at being unable to return to Bosnia for her mother’s funeral. There is juxtaposition with the resilience of erased people and their willingness to organize politically and fight back. The final, powerful juxtaposition comes at the end of the film when we realize that Nisveta is one of the Catholic choir-members singing “Gloria in Excellus Dio.” Her ability to transcend religious differences between her Muslim culture and the Catholic choir are in sharp contrasted to the state violence against difference in the “ethnic cleaning” (to quote Todorović) of erasure.

As part of my embeddedness in Slovenia these last six months I’ve been talking to erased children and their families, as well as to filmmakers like Anakiev. I’ve also read everything by Slavoj Žižek that I can get my hands on; a tough task given that he writes faster than I read. Žižek (2014) latest tome is about events and transition, which speaks in some ways to the power of montage. He writes that “an event is [about] the effect that seems to exceed its causes – and the space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its causes” (2014, location 63 of 2411). In this book, as elsewhere, Žižek is indebted to Deleuze. He also points out that there is something miraculous about events in terms of the ways they disturb the sensible (“the pure flow of (non)sense” (2014, location 96 of 2411)) and this is where he gets to political ruptures and radical ethical acts. Radical ethics are elaborated best by Žižek’s (2010, 326) Marxist focus on the “base” of freedom that disrupts “a traditional ethic of common sense and common decency among ordinary people,” As a neo-Lacanianist, Žižek wants to find ways to topple the big Other. He argues that this is only possible when there is simultaneously change from within that also changes “ensuing and pursuant external forces through un passage à l’acte” (Žižek 2010, 326) that radical transforms the subject and all her contexts.

By moving from despair to hope through activism, Nisveta, Irfan and other erased people radically transform themselves and those around them; last week (March 15, 2014) the European Court found in favor of the Slovenian government paying reparations to erased people who had filed suite, opening the door for more reparations and reconciliations. As an erased person, Anakiev’s radical ethical act was to give up practicing medicine to become a film-maker. He helped educate a generation of Slovenians through powerful films that juxtaposed the actions of politicians and rightwing nationals with the day-to-day privations of erased people. His use of montage reflects Eisenstein’s revolutionary dialectics and, ironically, Anakiev’s film practices raise awareness of the brutal imperialism that is sometimes embedded in what we have come to think of as democracy.

Aitken, Stuart C. (1991). A Transactional Geography of the Image-Event: The Films of Scottish Director, Bill Forsyth. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers. New Series. Vol. 16 (1), 105-118.
Aitken, Stuart C. (2006). Leading Men to Violence and Creating Spaces for their Emotions. Gender, Place and Culture. 13 (5), 491-507.
Deleuze, Gilles (1986). Cinema 1: The movement-image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Athlone Press.
Eisenstein, Sergei (1949) A Dialectical Approach to Film From. Essay in Film Form. New York. Accessed March 16, 2014. uploads/2010/08/Film_Form.pdf
Žižek, Slavoj (2010). Living in the End Times London and New York: Verso.
Žižek, Slavoj (2014). Event: Philosophy in Transit. New York: Penguin Books (Kindle

Thursday, November 6, 2014



Photography by Ivana Todorović

Dimitar Anakiev


Between 5 and 11 October, in Brest, Brittany, the 13th Intergalactic Alternative Image Festival (Festival Intergalactique de L'images alternative) took place. In its thirteenth edition it was dedicated to alternative cinematic creativity in the Balkans, that is, on the territory of former Yugoslavia. This festival differs from other mainstream conceptual revues, first of all, by its activist character resulting from the working methods of the organization Canal Ti Zef – The Independent Video in Brest which asks for alternative film images and different approaches to reality in diverse regions of Europe. The activists of this organization have themselves traveled through the lands of former Yugoslavia in order to get an insight into social situations, authors and their films as well as local institutions and festivals. Such a thorough and profound interest in film as well as social state of affairs in which authorial works are being created is very unusual and it bespeaks the value of an activist approach to society and art. This is the reason why, for sure, the achievements of Brest Festival are more complex and profound – and their reach further - than those of conventional film revues, whether national or international, which mostly regard works of art at the level of their language and formal aesthetic meaning while the social aspect does not only elude them but is very often undesirable. The same stands for the attitude towards authors and authorship which is presently reduced to the manufacturer/market ratio by the mainstream commercial culture. But the activists of the Canal Ti Zef in Brest are building their festival upon authors’ interactions, discussions, socializing and common self-organization. One of the more spectacular results of the Intergalactic Alternative Image Festival in Brest is a specific renewal of Yugoslav film, most of all, of alternative film, i. e., the film of social criticism which was known, at the time of socialist Yugoslavia, by the name “Black Wave.” The appearance of a new Yugoslav “Black Wave” in Brest (that is, linking and simultaneous presentation of the post-Yugoslav “Black Wave”) is a testimony of vitality and continuity of the authorial film in post-Yugoslavia. (The expression “authorial film” denotes a specific author’s view freed from stereotyped thinking so that it is akin to the expression “critical film” since no freedom from stereotypes is possible without critical thinking). Many critics consider “Black Wave” as a historical phenomenon though there used to be and still there are authors, like Želimir Žilnik, who have gone on being authors of critical or authorial film even in the days of the “Red Wave” (of the socialist Hollywood) or even later, up to now, thus defying the concept of a temporary, historical character of the “Black Wave” and confirming the critical and authorial film as firmly implanted in the regions of former Yugoslavia.
In this context, the 13th Intergalactic Alternative Image Festival is a place of revelation, awakening and verification of a new post-Yugoslav “Black Wave” which we, authors of the critical film, have not been fully aware of due to the circumstances of general decay, wars and the state’s disintegration. In Brest, though, we have seen some valuable works in the spirit of the “Black Wave” created by authors belonging to various generations, namely:
Kristina Rizoska (1991), Macedonia - “Prologue”, 4 min, 2012
Sashko Potter Micevski (1990), Macedonia - “(Extra)terrestrial Lee”, 21 min, 2012
Elena Avdija (1987), Kosovo/Switzerland - “Is It Better Here or There?”, 33 min, 2013
Ognjen Glavonić (1985), Serbia - “Živan Makes a Punk Festival, 63 min, 2013
Nika Autor (1982), Slovenia - “Report on the Situation of Asylum Seekers in Republic of Slovenia January 2008-August 2009”, 37 min, 2010
Đuro Gavran (1982), Croatia - ”The Big Day”, 11 min, 2013
Ivana Todorović (1979), Serbia, “When I Was a Boy, I Was a Girl”, 30 min, 2013
Dimitar Anakiev (1960) Serbia/Slovenia, - “Slovenia My Homeland”, 50 min, 2012
The characteristic of this group of authors is an independent and unaffected attitude to reality. The topics they deal with are “student’s life” (Rizoska), “escapism – provincial state of mind (Micevski), “attitude towards tradition and the past” (Avdija), “life in poverty” (Glavonić), “asylum seekers” (Autor), “tribal nationalism – provincial state of mind” (Gavran), “sexual liberties in provincial society” (Todorović), “erased – chauvinism as ideology of capitalist transition” (Anakiev). What is eye-catching is scarcity of those from the generation of the sixties and seventies whose authorship took place at the time of the war in Yugoslavia; however, the author’s continuity was still upheld throughout the disintegration. A dominant expressive form of this group of authors is a portrait which Glavonić expands into a story about an event while Anakiev interweaves two portraits into a story about the erased and Gavran creates some sort of collective portrait. The approach to the protagonists is, with Glavonić, Torodović and Anakiev, interactive – similar to that of a feature film – with the director participating in the creation of his protagonist’s situation while the majority of the others opt for an “objective” approach within which, still, various subjective processes are taking place. Thus, for instance, Avdija in her documentary inserts a family video material which deepens her theme. Obviously, the author’s truthfulness is not at all brought into question by the author’s creativity. The heroes appearing in the works of the critical authors are, as a rule, so-called “small people” through whom the authors speak about their own times. Mostly the authors opt for a realistic approach to their themes and protagonists though some of them still turn to stylization which, in the case of Rizovska, Micevski and Glavonić, takes the form of a discreet dose of humor which makes easier to access the theme. Somewhat older authors, like Anakiev and Todorović, already possess an established authorial continuity while the other authors are yet to further confirm their authorial affiliations.

At the 13th Intergalactic Alternative Image Festival also shown are documentary films about the happenings on the territory of former Yugoslavia made by foreign directors as well as those of home authors which could not be ranked in the category of critical (or authorial) film. These films are posited as a mirror to the authors of post-Yugoslav “Black Wave” and thus they enable a complex insight into Yugoslav reality. But, why aren’t films like “Cinema Communisto”, “Zabrđe, A Village Without Women”, “Cosmo” or “I Am Here!” ranked as alternative films but as those of the mainstream tendency? The reason is that the authors, instead of their independent view of the theme, use a certain ideological position, a certain stereotyped worldview, no matter if it is the matter of adulating the ideology of nationalism, dealing with the theme sensationally or commercially or affirming certain politics.
The activists of Canal Ti Zef have put together an intricate mosaic of Yugoslav film in post-Yugoslavia in their attempts to understand social developments as well as to show a variety of cinematic tendencies which is of historical importance for our region. The 13th Intergalactic Alternative Image Festival is a true festival of Balkan and Breton culture that was given a special impression by likewise high-quality music programs in which the performers of the Balkan music were Bretons (along with the presentation of 33 films and many discussion sessions, 6 concerts were held). The interaction of Bretons and Balkan people through film, music and common self-organization have, to sum up, left an indelible impression of friendship and mutual understanding which is, after all, a mission of art.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


From:     Društvo slovenskih režiserjev (Google Groups)
    Subject:     Google Groups: You've been added to Društvo slovenskih režiserjev
    Date:     October 30, 2014 1:40:06 PM GMT+01:00
    To:     Dimitar Anakiev

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