A Moment of Innocence? The Political Potentials of Pop-Up Film

Ella Harris

22 May 2013
A Nos Amours returns to the ICA on Thursday 30 May with the director's cut of Fred Kelemen's Frost (1997/1999) on 16mm.

A Nos Amours returns to the ICA on Thursday 30 May with the director's cut of Fred Kelemen's Frost (1997/1999) on 16mm. Writer and theorist Ella Harris looks back at the last A Nos Amours screening to consider how pop-up cinema could be changing our relationship to film.

The last A Nos Amours screening at the ICA was Moshen Maklmalbaf's A Moment of Innocence (1996). The presentation of this Iranian film by A Nos Amours, a pop-up cinema collective, raised questions about the political potentials of pop-up as a new mode of cinema spectatorship.

Maklmalbaf’s quasi-autobiographical film, set in his home country, is an exploration of what it means to recreate a moment in history, and what such a re-exploration can hope to achieve. The film follows Moshen (playing himself) who is making a movie about an incident which was pivotal for his 17 year old self; the stabbing of a policeman during a political demonstration. Unexpectedly, the policeman himself returns, eager to take part in the film too, albeit with his own emotional agenda. Both men chose a ‘young me’ to act in the reconstruction and set about training the boys to embody their past-selves.

In the first minutes of the film we are presented with a question, posed by Moshen’s daughter, a small but self-assured Iranian girl, who peeps from behind the large door of her father’s house to address the ungainly ex-policeman. Innocently, she asks ‘why do you want to be an actor?'

The answers explored as the film progresses are all variations on one central idea, the idea that to stage a performance is to rediscover what has passed, to relive, reimagine and, thereby, to rework or alter reality. In the case of A Moment of Innocence the reality reworked is one which is personal and emotional, but also deeply political.

Not all cinema makes such overt gestures into the ‘real’ socio-political world as A Moment of Innocence. Film as an industry has become expert at escapism, at creating a fiction we can lose ourselves in briefly, but then leave behind in the cinema along with discarded popcorn and Coca-Cola cups. The cinema has become a container for fantasy worlds which are safely circumscribed within it and therefore unthreatening to the world outside.

However, within the world of pop-up film there seem to be attempts to do something quite different. By bringing film out of its designated space and into alternative venues (including disused properties and even the streets) pop-up film is offering a platform for films to be understood as directly concerned with lived reality. Pop-up helps to rediscover films as comments and contestations and, furthermore, as stimuli for new ways of thinking culturally and socio-politically.

Out of the Egyptian revolution, for example, grew a film collective called ‘Mosireen’ and their campaign ‘Kazeboon’. Mosireen’s project is to collect and project footage from the revolution and to screen this footage, along with grassroots and professional documentaries, in the streets of Cairo. The films are usually projected onto the walls of the city, drawing large audiences, and aim to show the realities of the revolution including police and army brutality. In this way, the collective work to contest the dominant media narrative and provide fuel for political debate and action. These kinds of screenings do not offer films to be escaped into and then left behind; they present films which are in, about and for the real world.

Clearly most pop-up cinema is not as overtly political as the work of Mosireen, but perhaps it shares certain similarities. It has a relationship with reality that can be similarly outward facing, responsive and combative. It has the potential to ‘take film to the streets’, to prompt a mode of cinema spectatorship which makes film instrumental in examining and re-shaping the world. This is true not just of confrontational political screenings, but also of the endeavours of collectives like A Nos Amours, who use the agility and mobility of pop-up to keep old or alternative films alive. The freshness of pop-up’s itinerant movements ensures that such films are not dragged up as relics for museum display but as specimens with on-going vitality and relevance. Such a model of cinema spectatorship regenerates discussion of ideas which might otherwise have been lost to cinematic history and thereby plays a critical role in instating and sustaining cultural and political debates.

In A Moment of Innocence the young actor picked to play the director, Moshen, continually states his life aim as being ‘to save the world.’ The implied question is whether film can help in this pursuit. The answer given by Moshen seems to be yes. The ‘moment of innocence’ promised by the title is arrived at right in the last frame, when the young actors, hired to restage a moment of violence, find themselves incapable of repeating the acts of their adult counterparts, even as charade. The suggestion is that the elaborate reworking of this socio-political history has had a constructive effect. The younger generation have in some sense surpassed the adults who are directing them, moving beyond the mistakes of a historical political moment and creating a moment of non-violent encounter. We see then, that the fiction staged in A Moment of Innocence is not just a fiction; it is a tool in the dissemination of the past and in the construction of a new reality. This should serve to remind us that all film, if approached from the right perspective, has this critical and transformative faculty, a faculty which can be harnessed by the worldly endeavours of pop-up cinema.

Ella Harris

Ella Harris is a freelance writer and theorist researching temporary spatiality and pop-up cinema.

The next A Nos Amours screening is Fred Kelemen's Frost (1997/1999) on Thursday 30 May. Visit www.anosamours.co.uk for news of other A Nos Amours screenings, and you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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