DISSENT ! Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige

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9 October 2016 14:00 Cinematek Brussels

Screening of El film el mafkoud (The Lost Film) (2003, 42′) and The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012, 93′), followed by a conversation with Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige in the context of L’Age D’Or Festival 2016.

“We have always feared that it would start again. In fact, we never really believed it was over, hence our focus on latency, on the state of what exists in an unapparent manner but can, at any time, manifest itself. Traces, recollections that become ghostly and haunt, the photographs, the films and the documents, whether true or false. This latency coincides with an ambiguous relation to images, as we have been working on them since the end of the Lebanese civil war.”

What are the stories that can be told about a region that continues to be submerged in turmoil and chaos? What narratives are left to write when the thread of History is broken? How to devise fictions that can give new visibilities to places that have been overdetermined by images of violence and suffering? From places like these we tend to expect testimonies of suffering and death. We are used to consume info-bites larded with descriptive captions and knowledgeable commentaries. In the films and installations of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige we get none of that. Instead, their work attests to what the violence inflicted by war has in common with the violence inflicted on its images: absence. A Perfect Day (2005) tells the story of a woman who has to decide whether to pronounce her long-disappeared husband deceased, entailing a transformation of a lack of visibility into a residue of words. In Khiam (2000-2007), a detention camp in South Lebanon, of which no images exist, is represented by way of spoken testimonies of six former prisoners. The Lost Film (2003) documents the artists’ search for a copy of their first film which has disappeared in Jemen, resulting in an interplay of images that are allowed and those that are forbidden, those that have been suppressed and those that have been preserved. Since the beginning of the 1990s, as Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war came to an end, Hadjithomas and Joreige have explored the prism of invisibility and latency to tear the representation of their native country away from the dominant regimes of tele-information and propaganda that never stop producing images of war and wars of images. In defiance of the voices that lament that there are “too many images” or those that mourn that there is “nothing left to see,” their work has persisted in producing ways of seeing differently. This operation also involves the re-introduction of fiction in a landscape that supposedly no longer allows it. In Je Veux Voir (2008) fiction is introduced by way of two bodies, belonging to two different actors who play themselves: Catherine Deneuve, the French film star who wants to see the effects of the war of 2006 with her own eyes, and Rabih Mroué, the Lebanese artist-performer who acts as her guide while admitting to feel “like a tourist in his own country.” Together these two out-of-place bodies carve out a singular trajectory through the landscape of ruins and rubble, at the same time recomposing its visibility and displacing the expected sentiments of good-willed commiseration and reductive generalization. In The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012), the search for fictions takes us to a past time of dreams and aspirations, in particular to a moment when a group of students and researchers attempted to develop a Lebanese space program. How does this echo from a forgotten history resonate in a time when the dominant imaginary evokes missiles rather than rockets? Hadjithomas and Joreige take this question to its limits by building a rocket identical to the original and moving it through the streets of Beirut. Introducing fiction in the present by giving presence to what is absent: this remains the main principle of what has established itself as a singular art of resistance, an art that keeps on redrawing the landscape of the visible.

14:00 The Lost Film
15:00 The Lebanese Rocket Society 
16:30 Discussion with Hadjithomas and Joreige

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

Figures of Dissent // book

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2016 / 256 pages / 21 x 14,8 cm
Published by AraMer

This manuscript came about in the framework of the research project Figures of Dissent (KASK / University College Ghent School of Arts, 2012-2016). Research financed by the Arts Research Fund of the University College Ghent.

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? This question was the starting point for Figures of Dissent, a four-year research project that was initiated in February 2012, with the generous support of the Arts Research Fund of the University College Ghent. In an attempt to tackle this vast conundrum, which has been pondered and pontificated upon since cinema’s beginnings, an extensive series of public encounters and screenings was organized in various locations in Belgium and abroad. The principle aim of this series, which came about by dint of a broad network of organizations and institutions, was not to define or illustrate a singular theory that could somehow shed light on this cumbersome relationship, but rather to give impetus to a culture of exchange that would allow for a variety of views and insights to be shared. The challenge taken on was thus not so much to determine how cinematic forms might be able to measure up to political ideas or ideals, but rather to create resonance spaces that could give expression to the infinity of resistant emotions, perceptions, movements, gestures and gazes that the universe of cinema has to offer. Not in order to learn how to decipher and calculate the meanings that might inhere in them, but simply to bring about a circulation of sense, a circulation of fictions and frictions that might have their own role to play in the rearrangement of our sensible world.

This project came into being at a moment when a wave of collective mobilizations erupted on the global political landscape. The year before had started off with the Arab Spring and had culminated in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, shortly to be followed by protests in Bulgaria, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere, as well as manifestations of movements such as Los Indignados and Aganaktismenoi, to name but a few. In conjunction with this wave of insurgency and the growing concern with emancipatory thought and practice, more and more artists seemed to take upon themselves the responsibility to fill the void created by the consensual practices of governmental politics and attempt to invent new forms of intervention and participation. This so-called “political turn” could to some extent also be felt in the world of cinema, not only in a retrospective fascination for the past ventures of “militant cinema,” but also in the endeavours of numerous contemporary artists and filmmakers to give cinematic expression to the injustices and inequities perpetrated on a global and local scale, as well as the struggles aimed to defy them. In light of these invaluable efforts, Figures of Dissent could not pretend to offer anything but modest echo chambers which allowed for some of these efforts to find a multiplicity of resonances and dissonances, whether in the form of appearances or in the ring of words. The dozens of public showings and exchanges that were proposed did not profess to be able to directly participate in the much-needed organization of collective political dissent — they merely sought to bring about communal situations where time and attention could be paid to remote figures brimming on the surface of the screen.

How to make sense of these “figures”? Do they bespeak the represented characters and embodied emotions that invite immediate identification, or rather the mute shapes and flickering shadows that tend to resist identification? Do they denote the material presence of bodies and objects or the apparitions and operations that tend to diverge from this presence? The forms of life that appear in front of the camera lens or the forms of art that are produced by the filmmaker? And what about the “figure” of the artist as producer of aesthetic appearances, as author of the work carrying her or his signature? Oscillating between the personal and the impersonal, resemblance and dissemblance, the polysemy of the word “figures” seems to underscore some of the fundamental ambiguities and paradoxes that are inherent to the art of cinema, as well as the political promises and efficiencies that have been ascribed to it. Are political effects to be located within the cinematic work itself, in the intention of the filmmaker or rather in the subjectivity of the spectator? Can a film have a dissensual potential in and of itself or is it contingent on a broader disposition of sensible experiences? How to negotiate the relation between appearance and reality, between recognition and disruption? How could the mediation of cinematic appearances possibly make a difference in light of the immediacy of the real? Trying to come to terms with how these questions can be dealt with today cannot but lead to an inquiry into the ways in which they have been met in the past. That is why, from the outset of the Figures of Dissent project, it was clear that tackling the conundrum of cinema and politics required a deep plunge into the topographies of positions and arguments that have attempted to define the capacities and incapacities of cinema and those of its spectators for making sense and significance.

The writings that are assembled in this publication are a tentative outcome of this plunge. They have taken the form of five letters addressed to five people whom I have met in the context of the Figures of Dissent project. Each letter was written as an exploration of certain shared paths through the landscape where the territories and geographies of cinematic appearance intersect and collide with those of political actuality. The first letter, addressed to Evan Calder Williams, was written as an intuitive inquiry into some of the questions and confusions that had remained lingering in me after having organized The Fire Next Time conference, which was set up as a revisitation of the practices and theories of “militant” cinema, in particular those that were associated with the upheavals and movements that swept the world in the 1960s and ’70s. What were the conditions that made these particular modes of thought and action conceivable and effectual? What makes something thinkable in one era but inconceivable in another? These questions were refocused in a subsequent letter to Mohanad Yaqubi, in which I tried to figure out some of the changes in form and attitude that can be discerned in cinematic engagements with political struggle, in particular those that have been dedicated to the Palestinian struggle. Central to the investigation is a film that Mohanad and I had been discussing in the course of earlier encounters, a film that returns in several of the letters: Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville’s Ici et Ailleurs. My writing to Barry Esson too was triggered by an impression that one particular film had made on me, an impression that caused me to rethink my work and role as a so-called “curator.” I saw this film, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, as part of one of the “Episodes” that Barry has been organizing with Arika, a Scotland-based political arts organization devoted to the cultivation of a collective practice of study. The letter was composed as an attempt to make sense of this experience while at the same time questioning expectations of what cinema can do and what we can do with cinema. I was inclined to engage with this challenge once more after meeting with Sarah Vanhee, who spoke to me of a “crisis of the spectator.” She was speaking from her experience as an artist who tries in her own way to create modest fissures and fractures in the texture of the sensible landscape by disputing widely held antinomies between art and non-art, activity and passivity, activating and spectating. I responded by coupling my own wrestling with these antinomies with my impression of a film I have been regularly showing in the past years, Handsworth Songs by the Black Audio Film Collective. A fifth letter was drawn up as a reaction to the perception of yet another “crisis,” which a friend has referred to as the “depression of fiction.” Why is it that the traditional forms of cinematic fiction seem to have trouble to give expression to the injustices that haunt our times and the struggles that aim to defy them? Which network of expectations, arguments and paradoxes underlies this perception? These questions, which enkindled a fragmented journey through the history of the meeting grounds of art, cinema and politics, were addressed to Ricardo Matos Cabo, whom I have been exchanging thoughts with ever since we met in the company of Pedro Costa, a filmmaker who takes up an important position within these writings. Finally, in May 2016, just before this manuscript was supposed to go to the printer, I decided to add a sixth letter in which I followed up my correspondence with Barry Esson with a general reflection on the Figures of Dissent project. The issue in particular that elicited this addendum was a demand addressed to me which has for some time taken me aback: a demand to clarify my position as “spectator” or “producer.”

Some of these letters, which are published here in chronological order of writing, found their motivation in the experience of specific film works, others tried to work their way through an entanglement of discursive strings. Some set out to untangle particular knots that bind the forms of a cinema of politics with the outlines of a politics of cinema, others zeroed in on the challenges and ventures of curatorship or spectatorship. Some might have a more intimate and even emotive ring to them than others. But all of these letters have in their own way sought to give resonance and continuance to unfinished conversations and dangling thoughts, without any certainty of outcome or response. Far from being the result of well-planned journeys, these writings have unfurled as aleatory trajectories that join a variety of impressions, associations, derivations, convulsions and digressions. Rather than the accomplishments of a determined search for certainties, they remain speculative forms of study that stem from the wanderings of a bricoleur who has attempted to put things into play and construct a meaningful meshwork of thoughts and half-thoughts, interpretations and misinterpretations. Their zigzagging and meandering motions, with no appropriate destinations in sight, bear witness to the development of an erratic learning curve, one that has by no means reached a finality. Like the many encounters that have been made possible over the past years, the writings that have accompanied them are but provisional explorations of an inexhaustible question which provides for a multitude of departures, junctions and disjunctions. Like messages in a bottle launched into the vast expanse of possibilities, they are merely waiting to be furthered.

DISSENT ! Abbas Fahdel

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11 June 2016 13:00 Bozar Cinema Brussels. In collaboration with Cinemaximiliaan.

Screening of Homeland: Iraq Year Zero (2015, 334’), followed by a conversation with Abbas Fahdel. Please note that this film will be screened with a 30-minute intermission between Part 1 (Before the Fall) and Part 2 (After the Battle). The conversation will start around 19:00.

“En tant que cinéaste, je pense que le plus important se résume en deux mots : « regarder » et « garder »… J’ai regardé quasiment tous les documentaires irakiens. Le documentaire, c’est quoi ? On interviewe les personnalités qui sont impliquées dans la guerre irakienne : ex-ministre, ambassadeur… Ils racontent des choses, c’est vrai, mais ça ne nous apprend rien sur l’Irak, sur la vie en Irak et le quotidien. Ma démarche est complètement différente de celle d’un documentariste. Je veux montrer ce qui se passe vraiment là-bas, sans commentaire et sans voix off.”

“With this film I wanted to give a face to the Iraqi people,” says Abbas Fahdel about his most recent film, the magnificent Homeland: Iraq Year Zero. What does it mean to give a face to a people? How can cinema accomplish this trying task? Twenty-five years ago, while commenting on the coverage of the Persian Gulf War, Serge Daney remarked that one crucial element was missing: the eyes of the other. This was a conflict, he argued, that was basically a face-off between two ways of not making an image, as both camps pulled back to their own “visual,” consisting of nothing but a calculated flow of clichés and stereotypes which no longer testify to anything “other.” Shots without reverse shot, visualizations without information, winners without losers: nothing but an optical verification of power. In this sphere of pure signalization, nothing resists any longer.

Were things any different when, eight years later, the “coalition of the willing” decided to invade Iraq? Did we get see, here in “the West”, anything else but current event reports that participated in the installment of a palpable sense of insecurity and inevitability, anything else but non-stop non-information expressing the urgency of an invisible threat and the necessity of a calculated response? It’s not that there were no images, it’s that the images we saw were all too often anticipated by their meaning, reduced to illustrations of the words of those who decide which images are valuable and claim the authority to explain what they mean, trapping them in slogans, headlines, captions. It’s that most of these images were already part and parcel of the ubiquitous rhetoric that staged the righteousness of those avengers who waged war against the axis of evil in the name of infinite justice, a war that has cast a whole part of the world in a terrible chaos whose dreadful consequences are still with us. What was missing, what remains missing, are the faces and voices of those who are often spoken about, without being given the space to speak for themselves. Here lies the greatness of Homeland: in giving us to see so much of what is missing, in making us experience how the other is the same, bearing the same capacities of speaking and listening, but also how the same is itself other, always engaged in the measure of distance.

Measuring the distances and proximities between here and there, between now and then: this task might have also been what has led Abbas Fahdel to make the film. Born in Babylon, he moved to Paris at the end of the 1980s, when the war between Iraq and Iran was still raging, to study cinema at the Sorbonne (where one of his tutors was Serge Daney). It was only in February 2002 that he returned to Iraq to capture everyday life as his country prepared for war. Working clandestinely, he zeroed in on the intimate lives, daily activities and domestic conversations of his friends and family members, in particular his 12-year-old nephew, Haider, who would become the heart and motor of the film. A few days after Abbas Fahdel had returned to Paris, the war broke out, on 20 March 2013. When he managed to go back to Iraq a few weeks later, Baghdad had already fallen and hope for change for the better was quickly fainting. Against the grain, he went on filming the struggle for existence amidst turmoil and ruination, an endeavor which came to a tragic end when Haidar was killed by a stray bullet. Saddened by this violent loss, it took the filmmaker ten years to be able to watch the images that he had made and eventually make them into a film. After the work of mourning came the work of memory. The task of testifying to the lived reality of a past that continues to rumble in our present. The responsibility of bearing witness to the recent history of a country whose markers of memory have been systematically demolished. The quest to give the people of Iraq something other than the abstract and reductive identities that have been assigned to them: to give them a face of their own, a face that dazzles in all its persistence and resistance. For this and so much more, Homeland is not only praiseworthy: it is necessary.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

Figures of Dissent : Pere Portabella

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5 May & 12 May 2016 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. Presented by courtisane.

5 May: Informe General (1976, color, Spanish, Catalan and Basque spoken with English subs, 154’)
12 May: Informe General II. El nuevo rapto de Europa (2015, Spanish, Catalan and Basque spoken with English subs, 126’)

“Politics is inseparable from cinema, in a very obvious way. Even a Doris Day comedy has an ideological charge to do with morals, ethics, behaviour… Rather than lock myself in an ivory tower and peek out only rarely, I jumped into the street right from the start. That’s what you need to do if you really want to get involved and question social codes in a context of change. Codes affect everything.”

For over five decades, Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella (°1929) has ranked among the most important protagonists of Spanish cinema. He began his career in cinema as the producer of Carlos Saura’s Los Golfos (1959) and Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961), the latter of which was awarded with the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but banned by the Spanish authorities under the Franco dictatorship. After having his passport confiscated as punishment for his involvement in the film’s production, Portabella started to search for ways of making cinema independently, outside of the government controlled system of production and distribution. This led him to explore the possibilities of a film language that would be able to at the same time reflect the political reality of his country and counter the conventionalism of an official cinema that was not prepared to go against the grain. In magnificent films such as Vampir – Cuadecuc (1970) and Umbracle (1972) Portabella set out to deconstruct cinematic myths and codes, in particular pertaining to horror and vampire films, in order to arrive at critical reflections on the monopolies of both political dictatorship and mainstream cinema. Following these investigations into the politics of representation, he went on conducting concrete examinations of the representation of politics in films such as El Sopar (1974), a clandestinely produced observation of a discussion between a group of former political prisoners. Shortly after Franco’s death, Portabella documented the last gasp of the Franquismo regime in Informe General (A General Report on Some Matters of Interest for a Public Screening, 1976), a nearly three-hour inventory of the political situation in Spain during a phase of radical change, bringing to light the debates amongst politicians, labor unionists, activists and artists that centered on one solitary question: How does one go from a dictatorship to a democratic state? The year after, Portabella was elected state senator in Spain’s first democratic election, which led to his participation in drafting the new Spanish constitution. He has also been a member of the Parliament of Catalonia and is since 2001 the president of Fundación Alternativas, a think-tank which aims to act as a channel of political, social, economic and cultural thought. These years of experience in the arenas of politics and culture have doubtlessly informed the making of Portabella’s new film, which serves as a kind of a sequel or companion piece to Informe General, closing a diptych that bridges almost forty years. This second “General Report”, subtitled The New Abduction of Europe, offers a kaleidoscopic fresco-in-motion of another time which in his view is “historic and unrepeatable”, an unhinged time when the institutional political landscape is reconfigured by a diagram of multiple open and changing nodes that respond to the profound systemic crisis that has taken a hold on Europe and beyond.

In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)”
KASK / School of Arts

DISSENT ! Kamal Aljafari

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THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED

Conversation with Kamal Aljafari, preceded by a screening of Recollection (2015, PS/DE, 70’).

28 April 2016, 20:00 Studio Skoop Gent. In the context of Eye on Palestine (22-29 April 2016, Gent).

“For many years, I have been collecting Israeli fiction films shot in Jaffa as early as 1960. These are films in which Palestinians are disappeared, yet also exist at the edge of frames, visible in traces. Preserved also is a city; alive again in moving images, its gradual destruction over the  decades chronicled film by film. From the footage of dozens of films I have excavated a whole community and recreated the city. Though out-of-focus, half-glimpsed, I have recognized childhood friends, old people I used to say good evening to as a boy; my uncle. I erased the actors, I photographed the backgrounds and the edges; and made the passersby the main characters of this film. In my film, I find my way from the sea, like in a dream. I walk everywhere, sometimes hesitant and sometimes lost. I wander through the city; I wander through the memories. I film everything I encounter because I know it no longer exists. I return to a lost time”.
– Kamal Aljafari

Elias Sanbar once said that “Palestinians have dwelled in two worlds, the world of invisibility and the world of disappearance.” How does one engage with what has already disappeared or is in the course of disappearing? How does one reclaim what is occupied, ruined, erased? How does one articulate the presence of an absence, in defiance of narratives that continue to proclaim the emptiness of a land and deny the existence of a people? For Kamal Aljafari, the space for reclaiming is cinema. In searching for what is lost, it is cinema that comes to resemble a place called “home”. It is cinema that becomes a space that allows to inhabit what is no longer there, or what is readily vanishing. The place that he aims to cinematically reclaim is the city where he grew up, Jaffa. Located in the south of Tel Aviv, Jaffa used to be the most important Arab city in Palestine during the British Mandate. In 1948, most of its houses were either evacuated or destroyed and the ancient city was incorporated within the municipality of Tel Aviv, as the Palestinian population was reduced from 80,000 to 4,000. Today, a violent process of gentrification is taking place, carrying out a systematic demolition of the remaining Palestinian houses to make room for new city developments. In order to counter this continuous undertaking of erasure of presence and identity, Aljafari has paradoxically conducted another act of erasure, on that directly intervenes in the cinematic representation of his city of birth. From dozens of films that were shot in Jaffa between the 1960s and 1990s, the majority of which excluded all Palestinians, he removed the main actors in order to give attention to the figures that have remained in the background: the ghosts and traces that testify to a presence that is declared absent, the presence of those who, as Aljafari says, have been “uprooted twice – in reality and in fiction”. In respons to Jaffa’s disappearance from both geographical and imaginary landscapes, disappearance is redeemed as an act of reemergence, an act of “cinematic justice” reclaiming the territories that have been dispossessed. Gestures of erasing and reframing become a form of recollection, one that resurrects from the landscapes of the past the very traces of an existence that was purged from them: the existence of the Palestinians.

The visit of Kamal Aljafari has been initiated by Eye on Palestine and Menarg- Middle East and North Africa Research Group. On 27 March (17:00-19:00), Kamal Aljafari will also give an Eye on Palestine Keynote Lecture in Cinema Paddenhoek, Gent.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.