Questions from the Bill
Bill: Hearing about the publication of dozens of faces of riot suspects today I am wondering if your film addresses the matter of the invasion of privacy. Who are you talking to? To the people you film, like the guy in the back seat of the car who gestures, then smiles, then isn't sure what the heck you are doing? Or are you making the film for posterity? Or to advance your own status as (highly informed, at times eloquent, I agree) commentator?
Paul: These are the sort of questions we hoped our project would provoke. We have prepared a list of places on and around the Great South Road to visit and invited certain key people to be interviewed, but we don't want to predetermine the outcome of our investigations. We want to leave space for our subjects, and our audiences, to shout back at us. We'll ‘go to the street’ see who’s there, film them, screen them, in a series of 'webisodes', and discuss them and their ideas.
Let's consider the image of the young man in the car, which occurs in our promo clip, and which has gotten Bill thinking about questions of consent and security. I find the image highly ironic. Did Bill notice the sign pasted to a wall behind the young man? The sign says Remote Monitored Surveillance Cameras In Operation.
There were about ten thousand CCTV cameras watching rioters in London. What the rioting kids have been doing is, arguably, no more opportunistic than what bankers in the City of London have been doing for ages. Think of the bankers' irresponsible speculation, their fat bonuses, and the way the state has bailed them out. Unlike the bankers, the rioters will probably be brought to account because of CCTV and mobile phone surveillance footage. The camera is, in London at least, the enemy of the criminal poor and the friend of the system which protects the criminal rich.
As the sign in our promo clip shows, CCTV cameras are not unknown in Auckland. We can assume that, in this city as well as in London, these devices detect certain types of criminal activity whilst missing others. Am I acting like a cop, by filming South Aucklanders without their consent? Is the modest camera I wield another piece of the surveillance machine?
I may be filming some of the same scenes as the CCTV cameras, but I ask Bill to trust, provisionally at least, that I operate according to a code of ethics that differs from that of the security guards and cops who stare through CCTV cameras.
The young man captured in our promo clip is not doing anything incriminating. He is a bit bemused, but he is not aggressively resisting being filmed. He is being filmed without his consent, but perhaps he reclaims his stolen agency by giving us the finger to his own head right before our promo clip fades to black.
Writing a century and a half ago, Baudelaire noted the 'forest of eyes' which was a feature of the nascent modern city. In the era of CCTV, Google Earth, and cellphone cameras the forest grows thicker than ever. I believe that by calling attention to and commenting ironically on the level of surveillance in the modern city film makers can help to prevent the abuse of surveillance.
I don't want to pretend, though, to be morally pure or straightforwardly politically motivated. I think that any documentary that is more than completely prescribed and inane will sometimes verge on exploitation. I often think of the Maysles brothers’ ambiguous relationship to the Beales or Micha Peled’s deception of the factory boss in China Blue. The subject of Errol Morris’ film Tabloid is seriously pissed off with him. The point is that everyone suffers a little bit for art but sometimes the results are worth it.
Having said that, I would love to find a way to get the guy filmed in the promo back into the discursive process of our film – maybe I should have held up a link to a website or handed him a card? This is a problem...but I think car-to-car shots will be exceptional: most of what we will end up shooting will probably be on foot and face-to-face.
Bill: Do you not run the risk of being a modern equivalent of the safari hunters, only you are hunting human misery? Anyone can be made to look as if he or she is in a cage, even you, perhaps.
This is a matter of perception. I don’t immediately see misery in the images in our promo clip. Great South Road is certainly one of the ugliest places in Auckland but it’s also beautiful – and the idea of discovering beauty in places bypassed by our tourism industry is a part of our project.
Perhaps misery is built into stereotypes of places like the Great South Road and urban Polynesia, but I have had quite a lot to do with such places (I spent a couple of years in Nuku'alofa, my wife works in Otara, my kids go to school in Otahuhu). I get close enough to see some of the mundane as well as the ‘terrible’ beauty in them. I actually see more misery in places like the North Shore...
Bill: Your blog, could it not be a kind of cheap economic trap? Is your film not yet another attempt to own the Auckland area, to use it for your own career ends, or to mark it as your intellectual territory?
Someone once asked Albert Maysles if he found it hard to make a living, and all he could say as he looked around his spartan office was 'Do I actually make a living?' And Maysles's subjects were far more marketable than ours.
To the extent that we might want to further our careers as artists then of course we’re furthering our careers! What’s the alternative? In terms of ‘owning Auckland’, we’ll leave that to Google and the CCTVs. If ‘marking our intellectual territory’ means transforming the image of our lived environment through poetic selection then yes, we seek to recuperate the people and the stories we find from the grip of capitalist space and time. Read the CROSTOPI Manifesto.
If we have to piggyback on the universal recording instruments of Google, of CCTVs and whatever personal footage people send us in order to do it, then we will. But we are subjects too...we exist in our own cages and if we’re aware of our limitations, they’ll be apparent in our choices. Questions like Bill's help us remain aware of our limitations...