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States of Emergency

Documentaries, Wars, Democracies

2000
Author:

Patricia R. Zimmermann

States of Emergency

A passionate argument for the importance of radical documentary and experimental filmmaking in the face of rapid technological and political change.

States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies is a passionate and analytical treatise of the status of the independent documentary genre. Professor Zimmermann's reconstruction of the history of noncommercial media provides a life raft in the midst of a constantly shifting environment of globalization and technological revolution. Stored onboard the raft are the tactical weapons, information, and supplies needed to navigate the rough waters ahead. The subdivisions of her text, “Wars” and “Ambushes,” are the captain’s log, a record of engagements that have reshaped the mission and strengthened the political will. This text should be required reading for every student of communications and a field guide for the artist activist in combat.

Pearl Bowser, Founder of African Diaspora Images

Today’s political, technological, and aesthetic landscapes are rife with landmines. In this embattled milieu, leftist filmmakers and conservatives struggle for control of the national imaginary. Amid unprecedented mergers and consolidations, political conservatives have launched major attacks against the National Endowment for the Arts, the Public Broadcasting System, state arts councils, and other sponsors of oppositional programming. Meanwhile, developing technologies like satellites and the Internet have not only altered and globalized communication but also offer untapped possibilities for reconstructing democracies. All of these events signal a radical transformation in how we will view the world in the decades to come.

In States of Emergency, Patricia R. Zimmermann describes the shifting terrains socially engaged documentary artists and experimental filmmakers encounter in the aftermath of these changes. Public space has been chiseled away and politically conscious documentaries forced to go underground. Viewing an array of subjects (including the wars in Bosnia, Chiapas, and the Persian Gulf; Japanese internment during World War II; homelessness; race; and reproductive rights) through technologies ranging from high-end video, camcorders, cable access, digital imaging systems, and media piracy, Zimmermann creates an explosive montage of colliding ideas and events. In combative terms, she charts the intricately layered relationships between independent documentary, power, money, and culture, and also analyzes how media artists use new technologies and radical media practices to undermine cuts in support and conservative backlash.

States of Emergency anchors documentary into a social and historical context that shows the complex connections among audiences, filmmakers, funders, and subjects in the fascinating and fraught milieu in which they coexist. Zimmermann passionately and convincingly argues that the survival of democracies and public spaces is inextricably fueled by the robust endurance of documentary and other insurgent forms of communication.

States of Emergency

Patricia R. Zimmermann is professor of cinema and photography at Ithaca College and the author of Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (1995).

States of Emergency

States of Emergency is an invigorating and intellectually stimulating read. It offers stinging critiques of recent governmental policies and corporate mergers, and closely investigates their past and potential effects on both independent cinema and public space. Zimmerman incorporates compelling close-readings, compassioned political commentaries, and aggressive (sometimes abrasive) assertations to make the following declaration: ‘We need to reimagine and reclaim public spaces with multiple technologies and pluralized ideas. We need to rescue collective will, energy and passion from post-Cold War inertia. We need to denationalize documentary to create alliances across identities and nations. We need to pirate commercial culture to remake it. We need to remember that every contradiction is worth the conflict if something new can emerge.’ . . . Divided into two sections, States of Emergency first introduces the various assaults being waged against the independent documentary, and then proceeds to offer concrete moves that can be taken to retaliate against those who threaten the art form.

Ithaca Times

“This is a passionate and necessary book. Zimmermann makes a persuasive case that there's a kulturkampf going on and the independent documentary film is at the center of it. As a warning against the threats facing free expression and as a most useful summary of recent committed documentary work, States of Emergency is most timely. Zimmermann's attention to the

States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies is a passionate and analytical treatise of the status of the independent documentary genre. Professor Zimmermann's reconstruction of the history of noncommercial media provides a life raft in the midst of a constantly shifting environment of globalization and technological revolution. Stored onboard the raft are the tactical weapons, information, and supplies needed to navigate the rough waters ahead. The subdivisions of her text, “Wars” and “Ambushes,” are the captain’s log, a record of engagements that have reshaped the mission and strengthened the political will. This text should be required reading for every student of communications and a field guide for the artist activist in combat.

Pearl Bowser, Founder of African Diaspora Images

Patty Zimmermann brilliantly exposes the systematic political attack and destruction of public monies and spaces required for independent film and documentary to flourish. She compels us to take seriously ‘the states of emergency’ created by present-day wars on memory, history, and democracy. This book is passionate, unrelenting, and superbly written. It is a necessary step in reclaiming the imaginings for a democratic media.

Zillah Eisenstein, author of Global Obscenities: Patriarchy, Capitalism, and the Lure of Cyberfantasy

A necessary text, a political text that aims at eliding articulations between the realms of politics and esthetics around the specific field of documentary filmmaking. The text is remarkable for the conjunctions that it attains: detailed, insightful analysis of particular documentaries entwined with fragments of crucial works in a broad spectrum of contemporary theory--from anthropology to film theory and from feminism to postcolonial studies, and beyond-that illuminate the specificities, the locality of the esthetic projects analyzed, which are interpreted through the scenery of today’s political economy. The strength of Zimmerman’s analysis is the detailed focus on particular cases, local issues and peculiar locations. . . . Her text is a privileged witness that provides us with accurate, sharp testimony.

XCP

States of Emergency should come with a health warning: Explicit political content-may induce political and social agitation. Patricia Zimmerman takes as her focus independent documentary films, the most marginalised screen form, and provides a critique of the systematic destruction of public spaces required for this form to continue. Her objective is to reclaim those spaces for independent documentary practice.

Media International Australia

States of Emergency is a compelling and original intervention against the global hegemony of corporate media productions and their images.

Millennium