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Filming Revolution and the Non-Narrative Poetics of the Database

Filming Revolution and the Non-Narrative Poetics of the Database

Alisa Lebow (University of Sussex)

6pm, October 2, 2017

FB 630.15 Concordia University


Documentary took some time to embrace the tremendous potential unleashed by the interactive affordances of Web 2.0, but more than a decade later, it is beginning to find its forms. And while many still cling to the assurances of narrative with ‘storytelling’ reigning supreme even in the digital database world, we must admit that a rupture has taken place. No longer bound by the linear progression of time or its inherent limitations in terms of narrative causality, the interactive documentary offers opportunities only dreamt of in previous eras. Drawing from the tradition of the essay film and other experimental documentary modalities, this talk will emphasize the tremendous potential for data-base documentary to expand upon some of documentary’s historical strengths.

This talk will look at the current state of interactive documentary, broadly speaking, with its current emphasis on ‘storytelling’, arguing in fact, that documentary has long retained the freedom not to tell a story, and the interesting paths it has taken as a result. Associative rather than narrative logic—something that documentary has always availed itself of––suits the non-linear form even better than its linear counterpart. Using my own interactive project, Filming Revolution as a case study, we will consider why some interactive projects have productively resisted the compulsion to narrate a story, for reasons as much to do with the politics as the poetics of its subject. Filming Revolution ( is a data-base meta-documentary, about filmmaking in Egypt since the revolution.


Alisa Lebow is a Reader in Film Studies at University of Sussex. Her research is generally concerned with issues related to documentary film, recently to do with questions of “the political” in documentary. Her books The Cinema of Me (Wallflower, 2012) and First Person Jewish (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) explore aspects of the representation of self and subjectivity in first person documentary. She is also the co-editor of A Companion to Contemporary Documentary with Alexandra Juhasz (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). She is a filmmaker as well, whose work includes For the Record: The World Tribunal on Iraq (2007), Treyf (1998) and Outlaw (1994). Her most recent project, Filming Revolution, combines her scholarly and practical work in an interactive documentary, which will soon be published as part of the Stanford University Press Digital Humanities initiative.

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