Initial review notifications have commenced, and Visible Evidence 18 is shaping up to be an exceptional gathering. The number of submissions to this year’s conference was unusually large. Close to 400 individual proposals were carefully considered, reconsidered, and considered again by an array of esteemed readers and the tireless members of our review committee. Charged with the impossible task of whittling an impressive block of work down into something that might fit into the space of 4 short days—and concerned with kindling interesting face-offs and melodious pairings among this year’s submissions—the committee was forced to pass on a significant number of worthy papers. But such selectivity bodes well for a stimulating lineup in August! Thanks to our new conference organizing software, you can take a sneak peek at the growing list of accepted papers (but please ignore the inaccurate system-automated groupings) here.
Please take note: we are still in the process of compiling the complete listing and the program, so do check back later to get the full effect.
With the most difficult decisions nearly complete, the energy in New York has turned to questions of form and format. The perennial task of arranging the thematically and methodologically broad work of VE participants into a coherent conference experience has begun. The New York committee has followed in the tradition of VEs past and has welcomed work related to any and all aspects of documentary, and they’ve also tried to foment (or let organically emerge) a few timely and site-specific themes to supplement this format. But with a larger-than-usual conference shaping up for New York, the grouping and panel-making of themed and non-themed work is not proving to be a light undertaking. The scale of VE, as an arrangement of panels, plenaries, workshops and screenings, has been a perennially mutating question for conference organizers. A lively, growing conference makes necessity of simultaneity and overlap—whether one likes the multi-stream format or not. But it has traditionally been up to conference committees and directors to design a program that strikes an artful balance between intimate and overwhelming.
Past conferences have taken different tacks on matters of theme and scale.
VE Bochum, for example, tried to highlight several themes, particularly re-enactment and performance, in their open call for the 2007 conference. Their program committee, comprised of a number of scholars and makers from the German documentary film community, met early in the process over meals in Bochum and Berlin to hash out the details and debate the merits of individual paper proposals. Described by Vinzenz Hediger as “one of the greatest pleasures in organizing this conference,” these lengthy and lively committee dinners gave way to the conference lineup. Thinking through their themes, Gertrud Koch had the idea to invite Marina Abramovic to be a keynote speaker. And Werner Ruzicka joined other organizers in suggesting films for a screening list which would expose the VE community to a number of remarkable German films, including Philip Schefner’s Halfmoon Files (2007). The committee also tended to panels and screenings that touched on questions of film and industry—questions that were quite topical to the conference’s locale. And so to the former industrial heartland of Germany, the Ruhrgebiet, came screenings of films like Michael Loeken’s Losers and Winners (2006) wherein an entire Ruhr area steel factory is shipped to China. When asked to reflect on the process of forging and arranging such a set of themes, Hediger noted that the VE14 program “certainly reflects the intellectual temperaments of the committee members, but that was something that we wanted, and I think achieved.”
In Lincoln, in 2008, conference director Brian Winston preferred to let themes emerge after the submissions process was complete and the national conference committee had cast their electronic ballot. “I suppose I still [had] the original model of VisEv very much in mind: a show and tell to see what everybody was up to,” said Winston in response to a query about VE15’s organization. Winston’s preference for maintaining a freer conference model, without preconceived rubrics, resulted in the arrangement of four broad categories—national documentary expression, new technologies & documentary, past documentary practice and current concerns. These were painstakingly threaded together from accepted work and then built (with an eye to conflict avoidance) directly into the navigation system of the conference program itself so that attendees could plan to make the most of their time in Lincoln. VE15 also tried to feature film screenings more prominently in the lineup by scheduling them in the body of the conference itself, often in timeslots traditionally reserved for panels and plenaries. Panel discussions were broken up by full sessions devoted to films such as Esfir Shub’s newly recovered early synch-sound Komsomol Patron of Electrification (1932), Kim Longinotto’s Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go (2007) and a variety of pre-Drifters British films from the archive. Funds were also secured to treat VE15 attendees to a special celebration of Ricky Leacock’s 87th birthday. The conference was the first in history to garner a screen credit, when Leacock, along with Michael Renov, Stella Bruzzi, Paul Henley and Seth Feldman were all filmed for the production of Winston and Mac Dara O’Curraidhin’s film, A Boatload of Wild Irishmen. VE15 organized accepted work into 56 panels of 3 to 4 presenters each spread over 16 two-hour sessions and gave singular attention to 5 additional plenary gatherings.
VE16 director Michael Renov struck a balance in 2009 between, as he put it “smaller, more intimate single-stream meetings” and “ letting a thousand flowers bloom” in Los Angeles. Work by artist/practitioners such as James Benning’s “Milwaukee to Lincoln, MT” and a tribute screening of Chick Strand’s Soft Fiction (1979) held featured ground next to approximately 46 panels and workshops of 2-3 (and occasionally just one) presenters each spread over seventeen sessions and 5 conference days. The VE16 team received a growing number of submissions around the themes of new media and online practice and tried to highlight these in their organization of accepted work.
In 2010 in Istanbul, Alisa Lebow and the VE17 committee lent a regional flavor to the conference by featuring two plenaries on Kurdish and Iranian documentary and a screening list comprised of Turkish documentaries such as Bu Ne Güzel Demokrasi! (What a Beautiful Democracy?, Belmin Söylemez, Berke Ba?, Ha?met Topalo?lu, Somnur Varda, 2008), and Aya Seyahat (Journey To The Moon, Kutlu? Atama, 2009). The Istanbul conference arranged accepted work, much of it in the areas of transnational and political documentary, into 47 panels of 2-3 presenters each (as well as the 2 featured plenary panels) and spread these out over fifteen sessions.
With the sizeable submission-scape this year, the New York conference will most likely include upwards of 60 panels, a handful of featured plenaries, and an autonomous conference cinematheque. We received a nice mixture of proposals from artists, filmmakers, academics and archivists in response to both the freeform call and the thematically arranged calls (Life During Wartime, Transnational Cities, Radical/Experimental New York, Archiving/Preservation/Material Actuality of Documentary, and Documentary Sound). How will the VE18 team turn the growing list of accepted papers in these diverse areas into a coherent whole? Stay tuned…..
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