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date: 21 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article appears in the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media edited by Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, and John Richardson. This article discusses recent experimental nonfiction films about workers and industry. Since the cinema’s 1995 centenary, a growing number of films have been responding to the state of labor in the contemporary economy, in which industrial manufacturing has been largely replaced by global finance capital. The article analyzes four examples: Workers Leaving the Factory (Dubai) (Ben Russell, 2008), Exit (Sharon Lockhart, 2008), Foreign Parts (Véréna Paravel and J. P. Sniadecki, 2010), and The Unstable Object (Daniel Eisenberg, 2011). Mobilizing a style we might call “conceptual realism,” these films explore themes of labor in the face of ongoing crises in global capitalism. Utilizing a digitally informed observational aesthetic shaped by long takes and stationary camerawork, this paradoxical stylistic clarity works not in the service of establishing objectivity or a stable truth, but in the spirit of bearing witness to the innumerable experiences of contemporary labor that lie beyond recognition.

Keywords: film, video, digital, documentary, workers, labor, factory, industry, realism, witnessing

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