• David Fresko

The 20th century witnessed the disintegration of the 19th century’s imperialist order, a global transformation whose manifold effects continue to this day. The worldwide paroxysms wrought by two world wars, the attendant collapse of Europe’s colonial empires, and the Cold War geopolitical compromise that took hold between the United States and the Soviet Union in the post-war period mark instances of crisis and transformation that fundamentally impacted social, historical, and political experience. What is more, the rise of the so-called Third World, today alternatively termed the Global South, appeared to grant the politically disenfranchised and economically exploited voice and agency where once they lacked both. Throughout, pre-existing social compacts found themselves unmoored, formerly sacrosanct assumptions about life and justice came under question, and peoples’ experience of and connection to an increasingly difficult to define reality became untethered. When reality proves elusive, our fascination with it grows and results in an increased desire to document it. Film, photography, radio, electronic images, even the written word–all the media that enable us to capture the world likewise participate in its creation. Documentary media not only record reality and the historical events that unfold within it, they make, think, and analyze the very processes propelling history’s transformation.

The first session of Indiana University’s 2016/2017 Sawyer Seminar, “Documentary Media and Historical Transformations,” which was hosted by the Media School’s Center for Documentary Research and Practice on September 15 and 16, explored how documentary media shaped Europe’s colonial projects as well as their afterlives following independence. Entitled “Documentary and the Legacies of Colonialism: Images, Institutions, and Economies,” organizers Joshua Malitsky (Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies and Director of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice) and Marissa Moorman (Associate Professor of History) assembled a host of scholars, filmmakers, and activists to discuss the multiple and competing roles played by filmmakers, media practitioners, and activists in shoring up and tearing down the West’s colonial and imperial designs at home in England and the United States and abroad in places such as Cameroon, Mozambique, and India. Speakers included film scholars Lee Grieveson (Reader in Film Studies at University College London) and Priya Jaikumar (Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts), the Chicago-based anti-apartheid/South African activist Prexy Nesbitt, and the filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno. Films screened include a selection of colonial and post-colonial films from India curated by Jaikumar, Teno’s 1992 essay-documentary Afrique, je te plumerai (Africe, I Will Fleece You), and 1978’s Mueda, memória e massacre (Mueda, Memory and Massacre), which was directed by the celebrated Mozambique-born filmmaker Ruy Guerra and is considered to be the first full-length feature completed in Mozambique after it achieved independence

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