By request we are posting here below Arjun Shankar‘s introductory remarks for Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, The Law in These Parts, which inaugurated the 2015 Screening Scholarship Media Festival.
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Good evening and thank you all for joining us today for the inaugural session of camra’s 2015 Screening Scholarship Media Festival. I’m Arjun Shankar, doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and one of this years director’s of camra along with Sandra Ristovska. I’d like to start by thanking Corrina Laughlin, Veena Vasudevan, and Nora Gross for organizing this year’s Screening Scholarship Media Festival, which I think is going to be truly outstanding.
It’s a real pleasure for me to introduce Ra’anan Alexandrowicz and his film The Law In These Parts today. And to begin I just wanted to explain a bit about camra’s mission and vision and how it was we decided to invite Ra’anan for this evening’s event. We’ve been around for three years now, and we started in a really humble way, in a class taught by our directors – Dr. John Jackson, Dr. Stanton Wortham, and Amit Das. In that class we were tasked with a single question: what would it mean to develop filmic and digital products that were as rigorous and as legitimate as their textual counterparts? And it was that question which drove us to start camra, really for any graduate student across the university who wasn’t satisfied with traditional scholarly practices or simplistic disciplinary confines.
During that first year – 2012 I think it was – a group of us had the privilege to attend Full Frame, Duke University’s showcase film festival and it was there that we first got a chance to see Ra’anan’s film. And for those of us who got to see his film during that festival, it really left an indelible mark and its why I like to say that its really been a two and half year long dream to get the Law in these Parts screened at Penn.
Today, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz lives and works in Jerusalem, Israel. He teaches film at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and has served as a directing advisor for the Sundance Documentary Film Program. The Law in These Parts, won several distinguished awards internationally, including: the Sundance 2012 International Documentary Grand Jury Award; a 2013 Peabody Award; and Hot Docs 2012 International Competition Jury Prize. Alexandrowicz’s earlier films include the fiction feature James’s Journey to Jerusalem (Director’s Fortnight, Cannes 2003, Toronto 2003), and the documentaries The Inner Tour (Berlin 2001, Sundance 2002) and Martin (Berlin 1999, New Directors, New Films 1999, MoMA permanent collection).
And perhaps just to set up why The Law in These Parts is so intriguing for camra, I’d like to start with a dilemma which we continue to face as we extend camra’s vision of digital research and that’s the question of ‘impact’ – as Dean Jackson constantly reminds us – impact of what type, impact for whom, and impact how. As scholarly mediamakers we are constantly grappling with the question of who we want to speak to and the implications of that decision. Do we want to reach wide audiences or create works catered specifically to other university scholars? And if we do decide to create products which have a broader reach than the academy will we be taken seriously by our university colleagues? I think this anxiety of being taken seriously is perhaps felt most profoundly by graduate students and junior faculty, who don’t yet have the same academic cache as tenured professors and therefore have a greater tendency to limit what they create and how they create.
And that’s perhaps the best way of also understanding why the Law In These Parts is so intriguing to us. On the one hand, it is a film which has an incredibly wide reach and impact, pushing for real political change in its message and stance, in its insistence at pointing directly at the legal frameworks in a part of the world which is deeply divided and, to put it mildly, in real social and political upheaval at the moment of this screening. And in this sense Alexandrowicz’ filmmaking follows, perhaps, in the lineage of great documentary filmmakers like Errol Morris and John Grierson whose activism drive the meaning of their films. At the same time, his film also does the work of theorizing the visual, providing the kind of insights into the documentary film form that scholars crave, taking the work done on visual representation by scholars such as Trinh Minhha and Fatimah Tobings Rony in productive new directions. In other words, Raanan’s film seems to provide a middle path, one that holds both sensibilities in balance and provides a strong example for the kind of work we seek to undertake as members of camra.
Now I’ll end with a reminder from Prof. Ruth Behar, who we got the privilege to hear speak at last weeks Performative and Visual Ethnography Conference. In some of her closing remarks she reminded those of us who were there that the best scholarship, like great art, is “unforgettable, filled with passion, and deeply personal” and she challenged us to begin thinking of our scholarship with that criteria always in our minds. And I think that’s the best way to describe the Law In These Parts, its unforgettable, filled with passion, and deeply personal… And with that I’d like to call Ra’anan Alexandrowicz to the stage to give a few brief remarks about his film.