Critical Urbanisms at the University of Basel in collaboration with the Critical Media Lab, FHNW are hosting a film screening series that presents documentary filmmaking as a critical practice for researching nascent world systems.

Part One

Thursday, 16.11.23

5pm – 7pm
A Darkness Shimmering in the Light
Screening + Liu Yujia in conversation with Mia Yu (joining remotely)

Thursday, 14.12.23

6:30pm – 8:30pm
A State in a State
Screening + Tekla Aslanishvili in conversation with Evelina Gambino

New Date Thursday, 04.04.24

6pm – 8pm
Scenes of Extraction
Screening + Sanaz Sohrabi in conversation with Nadim Choufi

● All events are in person and open to the public. Three further screenings will follow in Spring 2024.

In the 1960s, the Shell Film Unit leveraged the oil company’s scientific research into the natural world and produced PR documentaries on the plurality of challenges that humanity face in their endeavor towards modernity: “Mekong”, which showed a United Nations project to engineer the river for purposes of redistributing food across the whole of Southeast Asia; another, “Rival World”, portrayed shots of a pest-spraying aircraft battling through vast locust swarms in Africa. Circulating audiences across classrooms and institutions all over the Western world, Shell oil, along with many others including British Petroleum, the German optical company Zeiss, U.S. computational conglomerate IBM, had brought into popular imagination concepts such as the third world, as their vast infrastructure of global vectors expanded. Since then, rapid changes introduced by these infrastructures of extraction, computation, and communications mark the intertwining of distant places into a new spatialization of the world.

For this film screening series, we remember filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s provocation that “there is no such thing as documentary”. In other words, any claim for objective representation has always been a concoction, an engineered myth. These documentaries did not represent the reality of the world, but instead ushered in a world that was largely on the contrary; the ecological costs ignited by their infrastructures remain indisputable where a portion of humanity has released about 85% of the carbon that is trapped in the atmosphere, with more than half of those emissions discharged since 1989. The practice of documenting has long been intricately entangled with capital-expanding world-systems. Documentaries are not only instrumental within processes of seeing, categorizing and managing nature — they actively cut, divide, and keep relations between geographies and layers of politics separate and obfuscated.

Prompted by the challenge of bringing together what has long been kept separate, filmmakers in this series are invited to open their field notes and footnotes alongside their documentary screenings. Some of the shown films connect the historical relations and archival temporalities of documentary making to modernization and development processes that undergird these documentaries. Other films in the series will insist on the documentary form as a critical method to research burgeoning extractive frontiers, territorial transformations and infrastructural plans in wake of renewable energy demands, troubling the global north-south divide. Altogether, the film series hopes to begin composing an aesthetic vocabulary not too distant from a fire or a song.

Scenes of Extraction

Sanaz Sohrabi in conversation with Nadim Choufi

Thursday, 4 April 2024, 6pm – 8pm
HGK Basel, Studiokino

A Darkness Shimmering in the Light

Liu Yujia in conversation with Mia Yu

Thursday, 16 November 2023, 5pm – 7pm
HGK Basel, Studiokino

A State in a State

Tekla Aslanishvili in conversation with Evelina Gambino

Thursday, 14 December 2023, 6:30pm – 8:30pm
HGK Basel, Studiokino