Towards a Stateless Cinema

Between here and there, our cultural idea of distance is constructed. That’s more or less the premise of a long distance relationship, a relational here and there, two terms that dictates absence as a prerequisite for one. Throughout the simultaneous advancement of modern transportation and the moving image, concepts of distance, footage and expiration of time have remained central and structural to the medium. In order for still images to move, footage must pass through a machine and distance is traversed. By combining various lengths of film strips together, time is constructed through assemblages of distances travelled. In camcorders, the zoom contorts our distance perception. A crucial function widely adapted in the home movies of diasporic communities in the United States. In absence we long for what is distant, zooming mimics the gesture of reaching for. To pull something far away closer into view. These images were sent back home. Images of pointless zooms into nothingness as if gesturing only towards the act of reaching itself and the desire of closing that distance. I am interested in how moving images mediate distance and separation in Filipino American diasporic consciousness, and how the circulation of electronic images from the US to the Philippines had inspired waves of migration to the states including my family’s own. Today, long distance relationships feed our relentless global image culture; grainy facetime, stuck faces and latency issues, images of partners with missing frames, like gaps in time, we miss crucial pieces of each other. Within time we embody distance in ourselves and surroundings. A diasporic consciousness becomes less defined by where it’s origins are located than the reality that there is distance from it. The distance embeds itself in our psyches into a generational inheritance of longing for something unnamable absent. The desire towards reunification becomes inevitable. We gravitate towards intimacy even in a bordered society. We long for each other and even take great risks to close that distance.

Cinema’s thematic affinity for distance emerges and proliferates throughout its history; a long pattern of films that emotionally charge the non-places of airports and train platforms with chase scenes and missed rendezvous. Behind Hollywood’s most classic departure scenes is an underlying backstory that people are constantly migrating.

Beyond this thematic notion, cinema and migration are formally entangled as well, not only as a reflection of human movement but a manifestation of human movement in itself. Each shot is a migration from point A to point B. This movement is facilitated by the operator’s body which also moves through space. When it is not recording, the camera becomes baggage, a weight to be carried, transported and scrutinized by TSA. In war zones and border zones they are smuggled. Because of the political conditions that inhibit our mobility in a bordered world, the operator’s body is all but invisible and never a fly on the wall. The limitations of where the body can go informs how the camera moves aesthetically. In this sense, the camera shares the same immigration status as its operator. The motion picture shares the same precarious motions of a fugitive.

Consider that in September 2017, the United States Department of Homeland Security quietly announced the monitoring and collection of social media accounts of potentially all immigrants regardless of legal or naturalization status. In the months that followed, aggressive new tactics of immigration detainment revealed itself to be linked to the triangulation of GPS data points, linking aliases to IP addresses to login times. Throughout a month, patterns eventually emerge. The daily routine and commute is mapped by ICE expanding the house raid and workplace raid to the interception of spaces in between. The precise moment a person arrives home from work, agents pull into the driveway. Thus the moving image has also become a motion data picture. The sensory and the sensor have become intertwined to implicate the operators movement through a space.

To counter this current immigration police state, stateless artists must contort themselves into meticulous performances of evasion; performances of creative fugitivism enacting a repertoire of stateless imagination. A chameleon is also a creative fugitive. It’s skin is the temporary reproduction of the lens based image of it’s own surroundings. The chameleon becomes the picture in it’s own picture. It hides in plain sight by obfuscating the perception of surfaces thus evading capture. I relate this shape-shifting to a “stateless cinema” form; a form that functions like fake IDs and forged documents that hacks into our bureaucratic reality. In order to survive and navigate a bordered control society, the malleability of identification is utilized in life and image production practices. Furthermore, undocumented filmmakers must be strategic about how their visibility is negotiated. To be visible and invisible at the same time.

Perhaps there is an opportunity to use world cinema as the vehicle which actualizes personal agency. Such a social project would involve activating the institutional resources of international film festivals and academic universities. As the requestors of Visas for cultural producers, cultural spaces function as the catalyst between stateless filmmaker and state power. Via cultural engagement, travel can be negotiated. In a sense, through the international trafficking of moving images, one can smuggle themself through borders with their cinema.

We are constantly moving, migrating... Even in stasis we embody the movement we once made, or dream of a future escape. Chantal Akerman plainly stated the condition of perpetual movement in her last title, No Home Movie (2015). Within these three words aptly conveys a situation of not having a home to identify with but making home movies anyway, a common premise in her films echoed in today’s stateless filmmakers who address the hollowness of nostalgia from having been uprooted their whole lives. Fittingly, the word nostalgia relates to the ancient Greek νόστος (nóstos) referring to the theme of a hero returning home from sea. If the sea is analogous to the separations of a now bordered society, we too have lost our ability to return home. If movement becomes one’s only sense of normalcy, it is appropriate that we have placed our existences in the moving images.