I’ve always wanted to participate in the Ethnografilm Festival, which is usually held in Paris in April, and this year my film Borderland Memories was accepted. But due to the pandemic the festival decided to postpone until 2022 rather than go online at this time, so that it can once again be held at the Théâtre Lepic in Montmartre. How possible will this be in another year? Overseas travel seems like a dream now and my loved ones there speak with uncertainty of our future reunions.
I’ve added some of my older documentaries to this new online channel – ResearchTV, a peer-reviewed media platform for sharing knowledge through film.
Conversations on the Lake is a featured film in this first issue of the Guide:
At the end of this tumultuous year I finally completed my film, Borderland Memories, in progress since I first visited the ancestral village of my father’s family, formerly Ludwigsdorf, Germany, now called Ludwikowice, Poland. Over several journeys to various locations in Poland and Germany, I filmed places, visited archives, and met with scholars, artists, and cultural workers in Europe and North America. My research in 2018 and post-production in 2020 was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. The result is a one-hour documentary essay film, distributed by Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC).
Go to film page: https://ediesteiner.com/films-2/borderlandfilm
In the spring of this year as the pandemic forced us inside, filmmaker Midi Onodera invited me to participate in this participatory arts project, based on the Surrealist game The Exquisite Corpse. Each video has 4 participating artists, one each for text, image, editing and sound design. I decided to work on all 4 parts, and these and more than 60 other short films, produced by over 100 artists, can be seen on this website: https://exc-19.com/
Just days into the Covid-19 lockdown, I learned that I was fortunate to receive Canada Council for the Arts grant to support the post-production phase of my digital film project, Borderland Memories, a work in progress since 2015. I began working with my sound and picture editing collaborators via Zoom and other online platforms, and the process of editing and audio production became a slow meditation in the restructured perception of time generated by social distancing. Online work time is both more compacted and more fragmented, producing a continual reassessment of the themes I am expressing for the future screen. What will the stories I’ve been exploring in this film for the past five years mean in the larger post-pandemic histories to come? Two years ago, I was in Berlin at this time, doing archival research at the German Historical Museum, filming in the city and in places along the German/Polish border, meeting with colleagues in the Silesian countryside and in the city of Wroclaw. Although I had gathered enough material to construct my film when travel options ended, I was hoping to return to Europe this spring for some final research and image production. Now I wonder what film festivals and screenings will be like in times ahead, and what are the ethics of future travel – for work, for time with loved ones abroad, to reach into a wider world.
In June I attended a conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Rust/Resistance: Works of Recovery, at Wayne State University in Detroit. I presented media and writing from my project in progress, Borderland Memories in Lower Silesia. It was my first time back to Detroit in many years and my only previous encounter with the city was at the Greyhound bus depot, en route to Ann Arbor Film Festival. As I walked among the ruins and some wonderful old architectures, I found myself in a city of hidden stories with much heart. Filmmaker Patrick Keiller wrote, “The present day flâneur carries a camera” and travels in some kind of vehicle (The View From the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes, 2013).
The research I cited for this project ten years ago, in part for my doctorate in Environmental Studies, was recently connected to new media stories. In the film, I interview a number of experts on the issue of aluminum prophylaxis. You can hear some of their comments in the film’s trailer, and read some 2017 news stories online at these links:
Distance is measured differently in places where the land is wide with many spaces mostly populated by more than human others. In Northern Ontario where I grew up, we could visit our neighbours two hundred kilometers away for lunch and be home later that day for supper. Now I live in Toronto where driving a mere ninety kilometers north constitutes a road trip. Recently I was north again, to participate as a mentor on workshops about knowledge mobilization and multi-media, produced by Docs North in Thunder Bay, home of the Bay Street Film Festival, and some of us there had a conversation about how distance is embodied in the north for those who live there, and still for those of us who went south …
“Red Motel” (2005) from the series Northland.
I am presenting my published writing, reading from the chapter I contributed to Working on Earth: Class and Environmental Justice (2015), on a conference panel with the book’s editors, Christina Robertson and Jennifer Westerman (see post on the book below). The conference is How Class Works, at the Center for Study of Working Class Life, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY, June 9-11, 2016. For conference information go here: http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/workingclass/hcw2016.html
Much of my doctoral research was focused on themes of class, beginning with the work of cultural theorist Raymond Williams, that great proponent of lifelong learning founded in public pedagogy and open, shared knowledge. As early as the 1950s, Williams supported new media and film as democratizing educational technologies that, though polluted by commercial interests, can also promote a more critically engaged general public (see McIlroy & Westwood (1993). Border country: Raymond Williams in adult education. Leicester: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.)
In the neoliberal global marketplace, the rhetoric of classlessness persists as a cultural imaginary. Meanwhile class divisions continue to be reproduced as economic inequalities intensify for much of today’s workforce, whatever their colour of collar, those fated to increasingly precarious employment. As we journey ever more deeply into environmental collapse, let us keep our spirits up as we continue to produce and engage with works and means of challenging that trajectory of doom.
Our conference panel is called “Working on Earth: Essays on Class, Environment, Community & Justice” on Friday, June 10 at 3:45 PM.
This promises to be a timely and important discussion, and I’m happy to be part of the conversation as I look forward to a wealth of great presentations.
A new film by Michael Zweig, Director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life, tells the story of how international worker solidarity changed labour law in Iraq, guaranteeing rights such as collective bargaining, and prohibiting sexual harassment at work, and child labour. The entire short film can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/164793529
I recently saw The Measure of a Man (2015) , a cinematic masterwork by Stéphane Brizé, which brilliantly interrogates themes of class. Here we witness a Foucauldian panoptical reality, as Snowden’s nightmare and Orwellian fantasy collide in a fusion of complex ethical struggles and human grace.
Image: “Old Mine Cart” (2007) from the series Northland, by Edie Steiner.