Volume 1, Issue 32: Wikipedia

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Do you know that there’s a Wikipedia page about video essays!? Here it is.

I didn’t know about the page until a few months ago. To my surprise, I was on it! And featured alongside one of the best journals in the business: “In 2018, Tecmerin: Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales began publication as another peer-reviewed academic publication exclusively dedicated to videographic criticism. The same year Will DiGravio launched the Video Essay Podcast, featuring interviews with prominent video essayists.”

I’m not gonna lie, this made me feel pretty cool. Though, The Video Essay Podcast was actually launched in 2019, in case anyone out there wants to issue a small correction. And that actually brings me to an important question: Who edits this page? I’m serious! Are you a reader of this newsletter? A listener of the podcast? If you’re comfortable, please reach out! I’d love to chat about the origins of this page and the thinking behind it. A quick view of the edit history shows that more than one user is behind the page, which was last updated on February 1, 2021:

Of course, there are a number of similarities between Wikipedia and video essays, namely that each form is partially rooted in a desire to democratize knowledge. Listeners of the podcast will know that I often quote Catherine Grant’s great phrase, “working in the flow.” Grant uses the phrase to describe how videographic critics work within the broader film ecosystem that exists online, where we constantly share, revise, and solicit feedback on our work. The Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist, which someone kindly added to the Wikipedia page earlier this month, is one such example. Is the screenshot above not a perfect example of working in the flow?

Last week’s newsletter was about what is not a video essay. One of my first newsletters was about Letterboxd and what the inclusion of video essays on the platform meant for thinking about video essays as films in their own right. It seems likely that someone new to video essays may turn to the Wikipedia page for a definition of the form. According to Wikipedia, “A video essay is a piece of video content that, much like a written essay, advances an argument. Video essays take advantage of the structure and language of film to advance their arguments.”

What do you think of this definition?

I think it’s pretty good! It would be impossible to fully capture the nuances of the “video essay,” which, as we’ve said before, is a term that mostly defies definition. The word “argument” is certainly a loaded one, particularly when it comes to video essays. So I guess the first question I would have for the person who wrote this entry would be, What do you mean by argument? And, of course, a video essay does not need to be about film, but I do really like this phrase, “take advantage of the structure and language of [the media object].” It’s just vague enough to not limit the video essay to any one form or style, but specific enough to identify what makes videographic criticism different from other forms of criticism.

If you’re someone involved with maintaining it, please get in touch! I’m very excited to see how the page continues to grow.

Student Spotlight: Sergio Martínez Esqueda

Is there a student(s) or former student(s) of yours you would like to see highlighted? Email willdigravio@gmail.com.

Sergio Martínez Esqueda completed this video essay under the supervision of Leigh Singer at the National Film and Television School.

You made nearly all of this video on an iPad, and you show us the iPad interface throughout. Why did you choose an iPad over, say, your desktop, for example? What did the iPad allow you to do with the video that you otherwise could not?

I've always been a big iPad fan. Since the last year, I started to use it as my main computer and my relationship with how I approach my information consumption and work production changed drastically. In contrast to a desktop computer or a laptop, the iPad is much more flexible in terms of easy access to different tools - this is often called productive multi-tasking - and I wanted to do a video essay that reflected that flexibility. It was easy to go for Playtime, as it is one of my favourite films of all time and also because I think it's hilarious how Tati critiqued the use of ridiculous modern gadgets; I felt that doing a video essay about one of the greatest comedies about technology on an iPad was very funny.

It's such a great moment when you liken the apartment scene in Playtime to Instagram. The use of the iPad and various apps so clearly invites us to reflect on the film's relationship to today's technology, and in particular the ways in which we "look" at one another online. When did you make this connection between Instagram and Playtime? Did creating the video essay challenge or change your own relationship with technology, and social media in particular?

The connection between Instagram and the window scene in Playtime came almost naturally. I guess looking at many "squares" - the windows - on my iPad, while editing the video essay, felt almost like scrolling down on social media. A similar scene happens in Edward Yang's Yi Yi, where the camera is placed outside apartments buildings and we can through the windows. The feeling Yang and Tati created by doing this, challenges us a viewers, specially now, when the social media removed the curtains of our privacy; and that was a constant question I was asking myself while writing and editing the video essay. 

You talk about (and show us scenes from) creating the video essay in the final video essay. How did the video evolve throughout its creation? What is something you learned about Playtime through the process of creating the video?

At the beginning of the writing process, I was very sure it was going to be much more academic, concerning a concept André Bazin developed called "the democracy of the viewer". Basically, Bazin said that the viewer needed freedom to place his attention to whatever detailed he preferred, without the guiding hand of the director. However, it didn't really worked for me, so I changed my main "reference" from Bazin to "Where's Waldo?". Deciding since the beginning that I was only going to work on my iPad, gave a natural playful approach to the video essay that I wasn't exploring more having an academic approach. So I decided to just have fun and experiment with the different options that the iPad provided.

Playtime is such a rich film. One could watch it hundreds of times and still take away something new each time. I feel the same way about your video essay. For me, one of the most exciting things about videographic criticism is that our own work often teaches us something about our object(s) of study, even weeks, months, and years after we've completed the video essay. Have you found this to be true? What have you learned by watching your own video essay?

I think that is absolutely true. The process, from the research to the editing, is a big learning curve; not just about the film or the themes you are exploring, but also from a personal point of view. I had the great opportunity of watching my and all my classmates' video essays at the cinema at the National Film and Television School. I was so used to watch my video essay from my iPad so when I watched on a big screen, I felt as it was something new. I discovered Tati disguised at the restaurant scene. How could I had totally missed that? When I watched the film many times and did zoom in and out to everyone. I felt very moved because in a way, that was exactly what my video essay was about: exploring films from different screens, and finding something new on a new screen was just a confirmation of that.

Episode 23. The Listeners & Learning on Screen’s Video Essay Guide

Last year, listeners of The Video Essay Podcast were assigned the five videographic exercises developed for the Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop as "homework." Listeners made more than 60 videos as a response to the homework assignments. Episode 23 features audio reflections from eight listeners who created videographic exercises: Jemma Saunders, Cormac Donnelly, Roberto Carlos Ortiz, Charlotte Crofts, Alan O'Leary, Ben Creech, Max Tohline, and Ariel Avissar. Will also talks with Dr. Estrella Sendra, an academic based at the University of London and the University of Southampton, and Bartolomeo Meletti, the Education and Research Executive of Learning on Screen. Estrella and Bart are the team behind the "Introductory Guide to Video Essays," a brilliant new resource published by Learning on Screen.

News & Notes

I need your help curating this section! Have things I should include? Email me at willdigravio@gmail.com.

  • Check out this exciting call for applications for the Essay Film Studio at the vnLab of Łódź Film School. The deadline is February 26, 2021.

  • Students at Charles University Prague created found footage experiments in a workshop on Audiovisual Materiality taught by Johannes Binotto. You can find them in this Vimeo Showcase, “Video Essay Workshop: Minor Instances, Major Consequences.

  • The free event, “Resisting ISIS – Art Against Political Violence” will be held on February 27. The event will feature Khalid Albaih, Morehshin Allahyari, Chloé Galibert-Lâiné, and Kevin B. Lee, and is co-organized by Larissa-Diana Fuhrmann and Dr. Simone Pfeifer. More here.

  • All of Ken Jacobs’s Star Spangled to Death is now available for free on Vimeo. (h/t Anthology Film Archives)

  • Canyon Cinema Foundation invites proposals for a new curatorial endeavor: Canyon Cinema Discovered. More here.

  • The latest issue of Media Practice and Education, edited by Catherine Fowler and Sean Redmond, is dedicated to “The Audio-visual Essay as Creative Practice in Teaching and Research: Theories, Methods, Case Studies.” Read here.

  • B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies is running an online workshop on 24 February for students and scholars interested in using video essays as part of their research. More here.

  • Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays has put out a call for video essays as part of the 7th issue. The deadline is March 15. More here.

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