Reimagining the Land, Sheffield Doc/Fest’s retrospective of films about land struggles, agriculture, and rural life, aims to reassert the primacy of the land as a critical way of thinking about the world and its various crises. The COVID-19 pandemic called for reimagining it further.
The team at Sheffield were provoked to ask exactly how a retrospective like this one might now be received by the public, in a both a logistical and sanitary as well as philosophical and political sense. A handful of screenings will take place in Sheffield later in the year, but the bulk of the program will take place online here at DAFilms, where the many currents of the series can be explored in greater depth and with clarity. In many ways, the pandemic made the act of showing these movies more urgent. Can anybody even imagine the land right now, let alone reimagine it? The response to the crisis has been to fortify existing centers of power, atomize communities, limit the movement of citizens, and ban or curtail travel of all kinds. Merely watching these movies today, with their alternating wide-open vistas or combative struggle in close quarters, feels like a subversive act.
In this way, this retrospective of films about the land is also, perhaps inevitably, a retrospective of the struggles of the 20th century. Through these films, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the shifts in land and power that this century brought with it, as well as the political transformations that its excesses have precipitated for our already chaotic new century. In sifting through these ideas and representations, we are able to expose the traces that lead to our current time. One strand, for instance, depicted utopian communities and the struggle to sustain them — a question as old as humanity itself. In these movies, land plays a defining role in the given revolutionaries' conception of their community; the measure of its success is often linked directly with the operations of farm equipment, the abundance of a given crop, the tactility of the soil between thick-skinned fingers.
Reimagining the Land presents the possibility that, by confronting historical images of land, agriculture, rural life, and proletarian struggle, we can create a new vision for the myriad struggles before us today. A retrospective, like a rear-view mirror, allows us to peer back into the past while hurtling into an unsure future. Through the violent or utopian images that feature in this retrospective, we can all recover our history, make buried currents visible, and once again rediscover the will to fight.
Films in this special programme will be available to stream until Sunday, September 6th only.
Curated by Christopher Small
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