Volume 1, Issue 12: Guides

Tecmerin CFP, Portrait of a Lady On Fire, Voiceover

Hello! I took a much needed break from the newsletter last week to focus on some other projects, but I am very happy to be back. I was thrilled to be able to publish Alan O’Leary’s short essay on “Who Ever Heard…?” by Matt Payne two weeks ago. I’m equally pleased that Ariel Avissar made his own version of Payne’s video, following what Alan outlined in his essay. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

As I have mentioned before, my goal is to open up this portion of the newsletter to short essays by readers. I hope Alan’s piece provided a sense of the kind of work I would like to publish. And Alan has also just published “A Manifesto For a Parametric Videographic Criticism,” which is a great follow-up to his essay.

One of the projects I have been working on is the Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist, co-edited with Kevin B. Lee and Cydnii Harris. Thus, curation is something I’ve been thinking about more and more. There are endless examples of curated lists of video essays. They range from themed issues of scholarly journals, like last spring’s issue of The Cine-Files, Beast Fables,” co-edited by Tracy Cox-Stanton and Catherine Grant, to the dossiers assembled by David Verdeure of Filmscalpel. I myself have written a number of “video essay guides” for Film School Rejects (aka One Perfect Shot).

The guides I assembled there were often short articles that I wrote in between working on longer essays, and thus were written in a haste without too much thought, or originated after I watched a video essay on a certain topic and then simply began searching for more. Topics included Paul Thomas Anderson, Citizen Kane, and Hitchcock. In other words, they featured video essays about films and artists who do not need any more of a boost! Of course, I’m not saying that guides about those artists are not valuable or worth compiling (I have plans for a Hitchcock curation projection I will someday finish). In fact, there are so many video essays about directors like PTA that it is undoubtedly useful to isolate and highlight the best of the bunch.

However, I think it is important that we find new ways of highlighting videographic work through curation. That’s why going forward, I hope to use this space to publish not only short essays on video essays, but also video essay guides. Here’ s the template:

  • a paragraph or two introducing the list

  • a selection of 5 - 8 video essays on a single topic

  • 50 - 100 words accompanying each selection

That’s the format I’ll be following, so if there’s anyone out there who wants to make a guide of their own, please feel free to do so. I’m also open to topic suggestions: directors, genres, themes, etc. Let me know what you think.


Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist

Cydnii Harris, Kevin B. Lee, and I are continuing to update the Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist. Please continue sending in videos! Going forward, I will highlight a piece from the list each week:

P.S. Thanks to Michael for giving us a shoutout!


News & Notes

I need your help curating this section!! Have something that should be featured? Email me: willdigravio@gmail.com

  • Not directly video essay related, but I encourage all to read this manifesto from the SCMS Precarious Labor Organization.

  • I’ve really enjoyed perusing Kevin B. Lee’s new website, which contextualizes his essays and films and includes links to a variety of resources and videos, including Kevin’s own body of work.

  • New book from Edinburgh University Press: “Creative Practice Research in the Age of Neoliberal Hopelessness” edited by Agnieszka Piotrowska

  • ScreenWorlds and [in]Transition have partnered on a call for video essays, “African Screen Worlds in Conversation with Other Screen Worlds.” Learn more here. The deadline is October 1, 2020.

  • The audiovisual essay journal Tecmerin issued a new CFP and is accepting submissions until August 1, 2020. The journal also recently released a special issue of video essays on “Censorship & Media,” with work by Niamh Thornton, Agustín Fernández, Daniel Ferrera, Manuel Palacio and Ana Mejón.


Student Spotlight: Q&A with Martina Probst

Each week, the newsletter will aim to feature a video essay made by a student(s) along with a short Q&A. Is there a student(s) or former student(s) of yours you would like to see highlighted? Email willdigravio@gmail.com.

This video essay, “Tear Away, Turn Back, Breathe,” was created by Martina Probst and Chantal Hann. The video was nominated by Kevin B. Lee, who co-taught an intensive eight week video essay seminar at the Lucerne School of Art and Design (HSLU) in Switzerland, organized by Prof. Florian Krautkrämer. The sessions were taught alternately by Lee, Krautkrämer, Johannes Binotto, Chloé Galibert-Laîné, and Michael Baute. Probst and Hann made this video essay in a workshop taught by Baute, who required all students to work with Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

The answers below were given by Martina Probst.

How did you arrive at the idea for this video essay? It seems that even though the film was released only last year, video essayists have already been drawn to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. What drew you to the film? Is there something about the film that makes it suitable for videographic work? 

Michael Baute teaches an approach to video essay making that departs from a very detailed analysis of a scene or even a second of a film. He inspired us to investigate a short moment of the film in a text consisting of precisely one hundred words. By writing the texts and discussing them in our group we discovered many things that laid dormant under the surface of the film. This exercise was the very starting point for our essay.


It’s not surprising that Baute — as somebody who declares himself a “sucker for repetition” — chose that piece of film for us to immerse ourselves in, as the story itself is being narrated in a feedback loop or circuit of remembrance: from art to memory and back again. Thematically the film is about two women and their love relationship in a conservative surrounding. With that narrative the film exploits grand questions of cinema itself: questions of the gaze (the seductive force of the gaze), the relationship between the bodies in space, of hand (gestures) and object, and so on and so on … . There is definitely something about the film that is meta-cinematic or essentially cinematic and therefore makes it a prime candidate for cinephile fetishism.

The use of black screen is incredibly effective. How did you arrive at this decision? How, in your view, does it enhance the piece and achieve your desired effect?  

Not long before I visited Michael Baute’s workshop I read a book by Alain Bergala with the French title La création Cinéma. The book offers an approach for understanding the movement that is caught on film by what Bergala calls “L’intervalle.” The scene we chose (the separating of the two lovers) is – among many other scenes in the film – a brilliant example for that play of the bodies in space. Intuitively by cutting I chose to play with the elements of the performance – the walk and the breathing – the scene exposes so marvelously. In other words I chose to play on the interval by going a step further: by filling and emptying the screen by introducing the flicker-style black canvases. But only now that I’m explaining my approach do I get a grip around it. While cutting I didn’t think about it, I just played with the images and the sounds.

The video is brilliantly paced; short yet rich. Is it harder to make a concise video? Did you always imagine making the video this length? 

When we started experimenting we didn’t have any guidelines or binding rules for the form or the length. The video essay simply underwent a trial-and-error-process; by simply doing we found out what worked and what we should rather leave aside. I’m not a great fan of the ‘praying’ some video essays perform over the images, because of my experience as a subject being prayed upon – as a devout christian child until the age of 10 and a devout schoolgirl until the age of 20 – that shaped my notion of the viewer as an agent of his / her own. The images as well as the spectator want to move out of their place they are fixed upon and in that sense I long for reduction in the form and the words to leave room for the viewer to take a chance and involve himself/herself with the images.

How did you go about collaborating on this piece? Did you each take on different roles? How does collaboration enhance the creative process and the video essay itself? 

The workshop with Michael Baute took place during quarantine and was mainly conducted over Zoom, Etherpad, etc. As a working couple we were also separated in space and had to challenge the task to somehow bridge the distance between our laptops / editing suites. Each of us experimented on her own, but we found time together to consult each other and discuss our experiences over the phone and Zoom. These working conditions already laid the basis for a working method of montage and demontage and the patchwork aesthetic of our final video. At a moment, I found myself in front of a very neatly composed rough cut, a close-reading of the scene Chantal had performed over the images. I was stunned by the resonances I found in her composition and tried to built my own reading of the scene around it. So I chopped bits out and inserted others – I guess this bit-by-bit structure is clearly discernible in the final cut of our essay.


Homework: Voiceover Narrations + Abstract Trailers

Don’t forget to make voicover narrations! Here are the instructions from The Videographic Essay(Grant, Mittell, Keathley; 2019):

For this assignment, we asked participants to select a continuous video sequence from their media object and record a voiceover to accompany it, with the final video running no more than three minutes. The voiceover should relay an anecdote, tell a joke, read from some piece of writing, or otherwise provide an independent verbal channel of material not overtly related to the chosen media object. The content could be the participant’s own original material or something that others had written/spoken. … The video should be one continuous sequence from the film; duration and/or scale could be manipulated, but it could include no new video edits.”

Here’s one from Clair Richards:

The final assignment is an abstract trailer. Here are the instructions from The Videographic Essay (Grant, Mittell, Keathley; 2019):

This form asked participants to consider features of both the scholarly abstract (subject and critical approach) and the motion picture trailer (style and tone). One key goal of this video, as with a movie preview, was to make others want to see your final project. We asked participants to spend the weekend producing an abstract trailer, lasting no more than two minutes, of their final videographic project.

Like I said on the last episode of the podcast, send in these trailers whenever! And if you didn’t get a chance to make one of the exercises, feel free to make one or a few and send them to me via email and I will add them to the podcast website.


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