Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts; Human Rights

Project Advisor 1

Peggy Ahwesh

Project Advisor 2

Gilles Peress

Abstract/Artist's Statement

The two videos I've created for my project, entitled Bang Bang Cut and O4O, each represent a stage in my development as both an artist and a human rights advocate over the course of my final year at Bard. The first of these, shot in the fall during my semester at the Al-Quds Bard Honors College in East Jerusalem, documents my encounter with a new (to me) cultural, political, and artistic environment. The second, shot this spring throughout New York City's five boroughs, reflects an interaction with a more familiar space, recently altered and energized by a grassroots human rights movement. Despite the extreme difference between my experiences in these two worlds, the videos they produced bear a critical similarity that has come to define my relationship to the processes of film making and advocating for human rights: collectivity and collaboration.

At its core, Bang Bang Cut is the study of a relationship between two artists – two activists – from two different places. It was arranged by the college, at random, that I would live with Salah Shbak and his family during my time in the West Bank. A filmmaker as well, Salah and I immediately began making films together, coming to understand one another through our stylistic decisions. The political conversations flowed naturally from this. My reactions to events we encountered in the field were either condoned or critiqued by my new roommate, fostering regular discussion of the issues that surrounded us: occupation, separation, liberation. Quickly we found that our goals, both artistic and political, were distinctly similar.

And while it certainly felt natural at the time, it is clear to me now that a certain amount of the motivation behind our partnership was driven by necessity, at least on my part. That is, I could not have imagined saying something coherent about such a complicated space on my own, without the guidance of a person from there. Countless individuals and locations we shot – not to mention the impetus for shooting them in the first place – would have been out of my reach had I worked on my own. I would have been lost, out of touch with the population and ideas I was attempting to represent. I needed a partner, whether I knew it or not, and I was fortunate enough to find one of the highest order.

The focus of O4O, too, demanded an effort greater than I could accomplish on my own. The title is the acronym for a housing rights organization, “Organizing 4 Occupation,” which was formed to create a coordinated and popular response to the devastation caused by the housing crisis of 2008. I began working with O4O at its inception, just before I left for the West Bank in the fall, after working with a similar organization based in my hometown of Rochester, NY for a number of years. While I was away, O4O grew in popularity and scope, bolstered by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the broadened social awareness it produced across much of the United States. When I returned, it was to a well-coordinated and focused organization, working in various areas of housing advocacy in order to achieve its goals. Significantly, the banner under which all of these efforts operated held a simple and powerful phrase: “Housing is a Human Right.”

I immediately got involved, primarily as an activist and not as an artist, in order to understand what this movement had become and where it was headed. I met and worked with many activists, lived and learned with many homeowners, and was arrested performing civil disobedience with both. And once I had become a member of this community, it was clear that the video I would make would be a product of that community, and not just of my own vision. Many of the homeowners and activists who work with O4O are also media artists, and they have been working collectively on producing videos documenting their efforts since the organization was formed. Today, I am fortunate enough to be a part of this collective effort, and to see my artistic and political vision both empowered and challenged by those most focused on – and most effected by – housing issues.

In the case of both of these videos, and in particular that of O4O, gaining the benefits of this collective effort has often meant sacrificing some of the control I’ve come to depend on while making my work. More than most film programs, Bard’s department encourages auteur vision in every phase of the process; an intentional and necessary response to the compartmentalization of the commercial film world. It is in this context that I discovered my love for making films, and as a result I have often resisted collaborative work. I believe, though, that there is a necessary balance to be struck between these two impulses – the collective and the individual – particularly with regard to human rights advocacy in filmmaking. A truly just individual vision, one that attempts to provide the most effective support possible to those whose rights have been ignored, can only truly be realized through collaboration with the people from those communities. These videos are a testament to this principle, which I hope guides me throughout my life as an artist and an activist.

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