Sunday, October 3, 2010

Una Mirada a los Invisibles

Video Essay: Una Mirada a los Invisibles

The assignment was to show visual culture and as filmmakers we were to work within communities with whom we were already working.  For this reason I thought of the jornaleros (day laborers) I teach English and computers to on the a local street corner.

Near the end of the film, one of the jornaleros who I will just call Jose, asks me why I am interviewing them.  I found the question a little uncomfortable, which is what I was hoping for. Filming a population that is in constant danger if made visible is a tricky thing, and though many of the guys were happy to help me just because we trusted each other, being asked “why are you filming us?” is a more than appropriate question.  Of course I had explained to everyone by email and in person what the project was, and Jose already knew, but asking me again I believe was his way of reminding me that (whether I was holding the camera at the time or not) was indeed filming them.  By answering, I was literally “writing” my thesis statement, but instead of placing it at the beginning so the audience knows what I am attempting to convey I placed it at the end.  I am then reversing the standard essay form and explaining my intent as a filmmaker which erases or at least influences the interpretive possibilities.  This will challenge “readers” to “see” what they saw, see my intent as the filmmaker, and to question my privilege along with the subjects in the film.

Aside from the form change, creating a visual essay rather than a written one enabled me to create something to be shared among a wider audience.  This is one way that the theory is able to turn into practice.  This video can be used for educational purposes or promotional purposes (i.e. volunteer recruitment), and the actual act of making the film created a dialogue among the corner community.  Were this to be a written essay, even if it were in Spanish, it would only be accessible to those who speak the language of academia.  This video, being in English and Spanish, can be shared with a larger population of people.  Another thing about making a video essay rather than a written essay is that it is a lot of work, but the work is very different.  In being different, I was motivated to learn in a fresh sort of way.  Putting this video together has already given me incredible appreciation for film form and peaked my interest in being more playful the next time around.  

Catching the uncomfortable was an important part of capturing the humanity of all of us.  Just as Jose made me uncomfortable, I believe I made who I will call Pancho uncomfortable when I talked about sexual harassment, and our interaction is meant to make the viewers feel a twinge of something as they wonder what will happen when he defensively says he wasn’t trying to make me uncomfortable when he called me pretty and when he brushes off sexism meanwhile taking racism seriously. 

Though I explained the concept of the video to the guys, the conversations were organic and I took a lot of footage to be able to select the parts of conversations which were appropriate for the film.  Many times I asked questions expecting certain answers and was reminded that this is a naive method of research.  For example when I asked one of the men if he feels that he is in a community, I was expecting him to talk about the jornalero community, the immigrant community, or something like that and he instead saw community as the dominant and himself as on the outside.  His answer was a teaching moment and forced me to think about the terms we use in grad school and the meanings attached to them "on the outside." 

The title of my film was created by Jose, as he is a poet.  It literally means “a look at the invisible.”  The title is the thesis, in short.  However, the title doesn’t quite convey my role as subject in front of the camera.  As I stated in the film I am sometimes too visible, and my presence as a filmmaker is also visible.  However, the title is also about power-the truly invisible character which we attempted to make visible in this movie. One may literally and corporally see the men and me: see our gender expressions, the color of our skins, interpret our class positions.  But what I hope to bring “into the visible” is the power relations that decide these divisions.  As one of the (anonymous) men said in the movie: we as human beings all feel the same emotions, “the same pain,” and ending these divisions would ultimately mean ending the power structures which aim to victimize and separate us. 

After "finishing" the film it went through a series of peer reviewers (Dr. Juhasz and a Pitzer professor) and I ended up making several edits and moving footage around.  Since my brother, his partner and I invited Jose to see Machete (for another blog post I'm ruminating on) I showed the video essay to Jose afterward and asked him what he thought about it.  He thought it was very interesting and was adamant about taking all my footage and all the other footage that people have taken over the years and making a documentary and we had a long talk about the complicatedness of making a film for a a wider audience.  I included footage of his viewing practice and his reception to indicate the participatory and consensual nature of the film as well as the agency of the subjects.  I just hope that the setting-change isn't too distracting.


  1. Excellent video essay. I really enjoyed hearing the views of the jornaleros about their condition and visibility. I liked the way you incorporated the class concepts into the topic of your essay.

  2. Great video. I liked how the video is able to highlight different aspects of invisibility in the media or popular culture with the jornaleros,not just their immigration status including their working-class background, experiences with racism and xenophobia and even their invisibility linguistically; it's all documented very well in this vid. Great job.

  3. Lovely video! You strategically used the gaze of the camera to speak to the issue of visibility and power. I particularly liked the fact that you were not the only one to have access to the "gaze." This was further complicated by the fact that the jornaleros asked each other questions. The visual methodology you used in your visual essay was wonderful to see.

  4. Marina:

    Not only is the frame of Jose watching at the end not distracting, it makes the piece for me, in the sense that the position of the gaze and the seen seems always mobile and unplacable in this piece: who is watching, who is speaking, who is seen, and what occurs in the dialogue between people and across the changing landscape of the visual. Each player has a different place in the society’s regime of the visible and each one self/represents accordingly, while also listening to and learning from each other.
    I am truly sorry but not surprised about the brouhaha that accompanied this piece. Each observer came to this complicated work (including you) with her own analysis of power/visbility/responsibility and self-knowledge. The conversations it has raised have been critical, and I hope you have learned both what you can do better, and how complicated it is to do one’s best work within territorties rife with difference, politics, and beliefs.

  5. Marina,
    I thought this was a fantastic piece. Giving a voice to those who are traditionally very silenced is beyond important. I thought of this today while in Escondido, near San DIego. The population is over 50 percent hispanic. I was eating in a whole in the wall Mexican place and began talking to the owner, an older Oaxacan woman. She told me that many of the people in Escondido are now afraid to be seen on the street, the presence of la migra grows larger by the day. She told me there are gas stations and shops in town that won't serve Mexicans. The latino's are constantly watching for trouble, it calls to mind Franz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth" which I am currently reading.
    Sorry for the long anecdote, but the point is that I am very appreciative that you have revealed those who are invisible as real and genuine. Not to mention thinking and intuitive.

  6. Thanks so much for the positive feedback! And Sam I love anecdotes! Thanks!

    I have a long story about the video and haven't decided if I want to blog it or just talk about it in class, but lets just say I was feeling pretty disheartened about it and everyone's positive comments are really appreciated. :)