Trinh T. Minh-ha

Prod.: Jean-Paul Bourdier. 16mm. L.: 443 m. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“I do not intend to speak about, just speak nearby.” This is the central line in the debut film by filmmaker Trinh Minh-ha. Reassemblage is partly a work of ethnographic cinema: a filmmaker documents aspects of daily life in a small village in rural Senegal. But what Minh-ha is doing could be also named ‘anti-ethnography’ (clearly in a positive way) as she overturns the conventions traditionally employed in ethnographic or anthropological filmmaking. Her goal is to reconsider the premises and methods of ethnographic filmmaking and to force the spectators to rethink their expectations for a film about a culture they perceive as foreign. Minh-ha uses an asynchronous sound and image montage, an anti-authoritative voiceover loaded with self-criticism and scepticism, abrupt jump cuts, long passages with black leaders, silence on the track, disjunctive editing and unfamiliar framing. The filmmaker employs these techniques to express her own scepticism about documentary filmmaking. In an interview she stated that Reassemblage “is not simply aimed at the anthropologist, but also at the missionary, the Peace Corps volunteer, the tourist, and last but not least at myself as onlooker”. Reassemblage questions the position of authority in filmmaking. It proposes the concept of “speaking nearby” to free the filmmaker “from the endless criteria generated with such an all-knowing claim and its hierarchies in knowledge” and free the people who populate a documentary film (Achtung: hierarchy!) by giving them the chance to speak on their own behalf. With Reassemblage Minh-ha made an instant classic of essayistic filmmaking, which continues to have an enormous impact on postcolonial, feminist, and essay-film theorists. In this context the film is discussed and criticised in many different ways, which can be understood as an honour for a work that was intended to cause debates.

Karl Wratschko

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