The SMS documents stuff that isn’t there. But why shouldn’t they?, anthrop- and archaeologists make a living documenting missing stuff. The School of Missing Studies has produced a film along these lines; LOOKING FOR OCTOBER will screen at Anthology in NYC tomorrow night under the title “Storefront Films presents.” SMS is a loose association of educators, artists, and sundry intelligentsia, many of whom have roots within a day’s drive of Serbia.
The work of the SMS focuses on places that are in transition and the identity of their residents. E.g., here’s what they say about this film:
LOOKING FOR OCTOBER concentrates on the last official liberation of Belgrade, when Tito’s partisans seized the city from the German occupiers on October 20, 1944. Belgrade is a city that has been liberated many times. Each change in power created a new political and ideological layer. This accumulation obscures attempts to pin down or return to a specific identity. Questions about the traces of these events manifest in the urban surroundings of Belgrade were posed to young participants during a series of workshops titled LOOKING FOR OCTOBER, . . . . An unsettled layer of Belgrade is exposed through their individual interviews and group conversations. The city is seen through the eyes of its young inhabitants, future builders born after Tito’s death, raised during the collapse of communism, and growing up under sanctions and isolation to live in a time with no fixed ideals.
SMS is clearly interested in architecture (which explains the Storefront sponsorship). So identity boils down to histories, ideologies, and where/how people live. But it doesn’t always boil “down,” does it? Sometimes it just boils, as the Balkans have been doing since the early 1990s. SMS has made it their mission to study how massive change affects a population, reshapes its culture, and creates a new socio-cultural obstacle that is never addressed by the U.N., KFOR, or whoever thinks they’re “fixing” the region. (my words, not theirs.) Besides seeking to understand Balkan identity, SMS’s work also pertains to the European Union and how/if unity can be forged from so much diversity.
So what does this have to do with short film? It seems that short film would be a good medium for these issues on a local scale. Plus, the films could be distributed more easily throughout communities, given a little creativity (e.g. #1, e.g. #2). I wouldn’t want to tackle the Balkans in an 8-min. film, but what about local subjects like post-Katrina New Orleans, gentrification, emigration, factory closures, the end of small farms? In every case, the loss of something has changed everything—culture, politics, economics, et al.
So there you have it: start making films about things that aren’t there. You just might answer some big questions. Oh, and check out the work of SMS.