Ghetto Documentary Analysis

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A common concern running through all of the chapters in Part Two has to do with how to represent the experience of another in a way that is not objectifying or exploitative. Different filmmakers have different strategies for doing this, that is, for making films they feel are ethical. Central to this debate is how to represent extreme poverty, marginality, or precarity. In “Capturing the ‘Real’ in Panama’s Canal Ghettos,” Emily F. Davidson approaches this question by analyzing the “ghetto documentary” genre, which, she argues, has had a tendency to lapse into “poverty porn.” Some recent documentaries from Panama, however, namely Héctor Herrera and Joan Cutrina’s One dollar: el precio de la vida (One Dollar: The Price of Life, 2001) and Ana…show more content…
In a context like Guatemala in which impunity has reigned in the aftermath of the 1960–1996 Civil War, how to represent a traumatic past in a way that truly accounts for the victims’ voices has been a particularly salient question. Valeria Grinberg Pla’s “Filming Responsibly: Ethnicity, Community, and the Nation in Ana Lucía Cuevas’s El eco del dolor de mucha gente” emphasizes an urgent need to address the particularities of the Guatemalan genocide, specifically its racial and ethnic aspects, without resorting to paternalistic narratives that appropriate the victims’ voices. At first glance, Ana Lucía Cuevas’s film appears to be about the search for her disappeared brother—and it is. But even more importantly, the film is an exercise in empathy and listening: in the process of searching for her own “truth,” Cuevas finds her experience embodied in the testimonies of many indigenous subjects who bear witness. The film therefore becomes a kind of echo chamber in which a collective memory resonates and in turn offers a basis for constructing community. The personal becomes, for Cuevas, a pretext for revealing a nation’s trauma and, like the films studied in Part Two, has much to say about the ethics of the encounter between the “I” and the…show more content…
All of these films bring into relief emblematic spaces linked to the history of Argentina’s most recent dictatorship (1976–1983), though none of them use conventional documentary techniques like the voice in off, talking head testimonies, or expository explanations of the past. Instead, these films take a “nondiscursive” approach to understanding the past that challenges the primacy of the testimonial genre and the subjective turn that have given shape to the vast majority of postdictatorial narratives. Taken together, these films construct an archaeology of the present in which it becomes possible to recognize the tensions at play in certain kinds of cultural production on memory as well as the profound effects that past political violence continues to have on citizens’ daily
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