Episode 4 Transcript
OLIVIA SATHER: You're listening to Beyond the Stage from the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. In each episode, we introduce you to the artists, scholars, students, and arts professionals interpreting our world through the arts. Join us this week and every week this summer as we explore their stories. Let’s get started.
OLIVIA SATHER: Hello, hi good morning everybody. I am here today with Jose Miguel Palacios. He is a film professor in the CSULB Department of Film and Electronic Arts working in the areas of film history and transnational cinema. His teaching and research interests cover Latin American cinema, film and media theory, radical film cultures, documentary, film archives and the relations between cinema and migration. Prior to joining CSULB he was a postdoctoral fellow at the art department at Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago, Chile, and taught a wide variety of film and media courses at New York University, as well as many other universities. Welcome Professor Palacios, how are you this morning?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Thank you, Olivia, I'm very good, happy to be talking to you.
OLIVIA SATHER: Welcome. To get started, I'd like to give a visual description of both of us, so my name is Olivia I am a white woman with blonde hair I'm wearing a blue shirt and I have turquoise headphones on. Would you like to give a visual description for yourself.
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yes, well, I, my name is Jose Palacios, and I am a man from Latin America, I have brown hair, even though, and you know getting older, so there's some grayness a lot coming up and I’m wearing glasses, I have a beard and yeah, that's about it.
OLIVIA SATHER: So I wanted to get started by talking a little bit about your background and how you ended up working in film and ended up at CSULB. So to get started, what drew you into the film industry in the first place, and can you tell us a little bit about how you started working in film and eventually film criticism?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yeah well, I was, I am from Chile and I spent there, most of my life until I was about 25-26 years old. I went to film school as an undergraduate student there, and it was mostly very much production-oriented film school, so you know, I did the usual thing you know short films different kinds of film and media projects. I was, at the time, I really thought I was my whole life would be, you know devoted to making films or different kinds of media. And then, at some point, I realized that I didn't actually enjoy it that much, that what I didn’t enjoy actually was the experience of being, you know, on the set it was terrible for me, it was very excruciating, and I always had a much more, you know. I did some teaching assistant’s work during my undergrad degree, and I really enjoyed that. I always thought that that I would eventually like teaching, I didn't know exactly you know in what kind of setting, but I was interested in in teaching and I was very much craving for a much deeper dive into the history and theory of film and moving images, in general. So with something that, as I said, you know I kind of lacked in my in my original education side, I was doing that sort of on my own reading books, you know watching a lot of films and things like that, and eventually that all coincided with the opening of a certain, a new fellowship program in Chile that I was able to participate in and eventually got that fellowship to come to the US and pursue a film studies, so I went to New York, to Columbia University and and then I fell in love with, you know, with film studies as a discipline, with writing about films, and, you know analyzing films and so and doing research right and that's when I decided that would you know continue in that path, and I, you know I applied for PhD programs and I went back to Chile for a short period of time and then came back to the US for my for my PhD and I stayed on for about you know six years. It was a great experience. I was very lucky to have excellent teachers and mentors. For me, you know people like Jean Gaines or Robert Stam who are you know renowned world scholars and and people who taught me a lot and I learned from them, you know the rigor, but also the pleasure of you know, working you know with with film and working with students. And and then I you know I went back to Chile and I did a took a postdoctoral position there doing some research and teaching and. And I always you know, in a in a way, you know things that happened when you leave to different new you know, and you go to different countries you sort of get more familiarized with you know institutional settings and academic context that are not necessarily your own and they're very different from your own and and you become more comfortable in those. So I you know when I was in Chile I was always thinking: Oh, you know I would you know I would. I you know don't feel completely comfortable in my position here, and I would, I would love to to go back and teach at a university in the US, and that's you know eventually how I’ve gone back to now California, it's my first time living in the west coast, and I am happy to be at CSULB and it's film department.
OLIVIA SATHER: Okay. yeah I think I love the part of your story when you talk about like you didn't enjoy being on set, and it's I think a lot of students might that might resonate with them, because sometimes they think well if don't like doing this thing like maybe I need to leave the field, all together, and that's not necessarily true. There's other paths like academia or teaching or other things so that's I love that that's awesome.
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yeah I think there are a lot that's a great thing about cinema, there are lots of you know paths that are you know related to it and it's you know doesn't mean that you know we're, we're not sort of like in that kind of world, but there are different approaches to it.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about what your focus is because I think that sometimes you know, I'm not from the film world or the cinema world, but I think there's a perception sometimes that like film criticism is just… or film critique is just one big area, but it's really like the way it's broken down into different focuses and your focus is cinema of migration, protest and resistance. Is that correct?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yes, that's one of one of the things that that I’m very much interested in yes.
OLIVIA SATHER: And so attended a talk recently that you gave called Cinema, Solidarity, and Resistance. And for those who may not know and are listening, can you talk a little bit about what resistance and protest cinema is and are there, like examples in popular culture that you could point to as kind of like a starting place for us?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yeah, of course, I think, you know just to give you know very short detour you know, before answering your question, because I guess you know the title from the talk was responding to a very much specific thing, and I was using I guess resistance in a particular you know context, which was, you know, these films by Latin American film directors that you know, in the 60s,70s and 80s had gone into exile were refugees from the dictatorships that were you know sweeping the continent in in in those decades right, then they were living in in Europe or the United States or Canada and making different kinds of films that were engaging with their political situation in their home countries. So that's you know a little bit of you know what when where the concept comes from and there's also a different kind of origin to resistance. Historical origin right which is tied to you know the Second World War right. We talk about you know resistance against fascism, resistance against you know Nazi Germany, you know French resistance Spanish resistance and so forth, so I'm just saying that to indicate that there is, you know that that's sort of like the historical origin of the idea of resistance and that, in terms of cinema, it is connected to that kind of, you know, political phenomena and social movements and so on. And in a general sense, we can say that indicates, you know struggle right, and you know oppositional practices. So in a very I guess loose term we if I say you know I still have resistance, we can mean you know all kinds of films that are in a way conceived right are designed to you know call out oppression, fight oppression, demand justice, right, and films that are examining a certain historical or political moment with you know with a critical spirit and films that are imagining right different alternative possibilities for our world, right for the world that we share together. So, when I say you know cinema of resistance, we can you know use other terms like you said: protest, you know, rebellion, struggle, etc. But in general, you know that kind of oppositional filmmaking practice, and by that by that you know definition it really stands, opposed or, if not directly outside of you know what we would consider you know conventional mainstream, industrial, you know filmmaking, you know, Hollywood cinema or any sort of conventional and you know cinema in the different countries of the world, right So that that would be one thing, but I think you know we can also think of it in you know even you know loose you know even you know more flexible terms than that. And I think you know throughout history there are many different examples or movements or films that you know have found creative ways of operating, critiquing or against the very system of which they you know, in which they are part of. So let's say you know, for instance, one of the very first things that come to mind, is you know, a film couple years ago, like you know Parasite the Bong Joon-ho film you know from South Korea, you know that you know really presents a hilarious critique of you know capitalism, of class relations, and it's tied to a particular context right, in East Asia, but you know it resonates and has echoes that you know it can be felt in different corners of the world right. And not only that, but it, you know you know it's a film that you know, is able to you know sweep all the major awards, but in the process of doing that you know sort of changing the discourse around, or forcing the industry to change discourses around, for instance, you know what a foreign language film is, right? And changing the language around that sort of designation, so in that sense, you know that's also a kind of political action, right? So and it's not, those kinds of effects, you know, are not necessarily you know in inside the world, of the world that is represented in the film right but it's part of how you know the film intervenes in certain spheres of our life, so I think that's that's another interesting dimension in in relation to that idea of resistance right, it is how films, you know participate from our world and and provoke certain actions and reactions in you know our world.
OLIVIA SATHER: That's interesting, like how they're able to make a change or almost a catalyst for some type of change or a call to do something different or see a different world almost. I'm curious, what led you to this course of study, was there is there something from your life that made you want to study this particular type of cinema and what was that?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: That's a good question. I don't think there was something you know personal in my life, other than, I guess, the desire to again from the very specific thing that I was studying, you know in my master's degrees that had to do you know with these films from made in exile by Chilean and Latin American directors, you know it had to do with a desire to you know, to engage more closely with that political history, which was very you know troubling for the different nations in Latin America. It was coming out of that, I guess, but, but, more broadly, I was always interested in those cinemas that were sort of pushing the boundaries of what you know film could be as an art form, and also as a political form, because I am you know, I believe in him, you know, convinced that you know all those kinds of art works you know have important political effects and can shape, you know, the way we can conceive of the world and the way we can imagine the world. So, I don't believe there's a particular reason that explains my you know my desire to explore those cinemas. But I was attracted to them, and in all their forms right and and, you know, you were asking me about examples before, and you know we can think of a lot of things like you know the women filmmakers who were working in Hollywood in classical Hollywood you know people like Dorothy Arzner or Ida Lupino or the filmmakers of the LA Rebellion in Los Angeles, right? Or you know even way back in time, you know people like Black filmmaker like Oscar Micheaux. You know, responding to a film like Birth of a Nation right with within our gaze, so those kinds of you know film practices that are you know reacting against you know dominant modes of representation and that are also finding again, you know creative ways pushing the aesthetic language of cinema to you know…because it's not only about you know, the theme right, or the stories that are conveyed in these films, but how to find a language that can also be quote unquote radical right, how you know the various aesthetics of the cinematic form can be pushed in new directions to provoke certain effects on viewers and that's also been a recurrent theme in you know in history from you know the Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s to you know our contemporary world. So, I sort of deviated from your question but no particular no particular explanation for my desire. To engage with these films, but just I would say, you know, an endless curiosity for the capacity of of cinema, and I think that's that's something that's very important to me, and that I try to present to students in all the different kinds of classes, that I teach, the endless possibilities of the art form that go, you know way beyond you know what the you know the feature-length fiction film is. And actually the feature-length fiction film is just a minor fraction of all the kinds of moving images that are produced and that had been produced in our daily life, so, yeah.
OLIVIA SATHER: So, these Latin American and Chilean directors of the 60s and 70s, you said right they were exiled and went all over the world, Europe, Canada, US and they were influenced right by some of the film that was happening there. And it was really brave what they did, if I'm understanding correctly, I mean they were making cinema that was a commentary on what was happening in their own countries; a form of protest. How did that, I guess, shape kind of the discourse that was happening, what were some of the catalysts that came out of that. I'm thinking like you know, sometimes we think of protest art, resistance art and what immediately sometimes comes to my mind, is like Banksy. How like he'll put up a mural or a tag and it gets people talking about a certain social or political topic or the statue of the little girl in front of the Wall Street bowl, another form of like protest art and cinema can do the same thing, and I think often we like you said, think of just Hollywood but that's not always, that's a very just a portion of the type of cinema that gets made, and this type of cinema that you're referencing is brave and radical and really pushing for social and political change. Am I understanding this correctly?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Yes, absolutely and I think I mean your examples are right on point, and I think one thing that you know, to bring this to the present one thing that we can think about is how, of course, the notion of cinema is being expanded now in terms of these different kinds of moving you know work moving image work that are being created for let's say political purposes right, but I think you know one way of thinking about this is if we think of all you know the events, you know, events that have been shaping our world, in the last you know couple of years, and here in the US, you know the Black Lives Matter movement and all the waves of protests right against you know, violence against African American citizens. That has been tied to a form of you know visual representation right. It has been tied to theories of you know they're not films right, but they’re works that you know that have been made, you know with cell phones that are meant to circulate on social media that are shared and spread very rapidly, you know through multiple kinds of you know online and virtual channels, and so that's something that's very important in terms of you know what what is the role of the moving image in you know recording, preserving but also you know, fostering a kind of you know, accelerating spreading that energy of social transformation. We've seen that, people have been highlighting the importance of the visual record in you know the trial against you know, the police, the police man charged for the murder of George Floyd, so that's also very important but the record itself, you know is circulating in a way that is that is forming different collectivities united together, and to you know, to think what their role is as actors, as political actors right, and I think so, the work of you know, film and moving images is really important, in that regard, it is really important, in creating an image of that sort of collective “we” that are standing you know in demand of justice. And we see it, you know, I was saying, you know Black Lives Matter movement, but it has happened all over the world, it was very important, you know about ten years ago in the phenomenon of the Arab Spring in 2010-11. The last couple of years in Hong Kong and Latin America as well with a wave of different protests so I think there's a power there in the way in which you know people record these events, but not again, not only in the work itself, but how they circulate, right, how they create a different you know, a sphere for fighting the different kinds of oppression that different groups are resistance against right.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah, and another thing I hear you saying is that it's not just the theme, but the imagery itself, the repetition of that that has like a certain power to it, I'm thinking like when I've seen videos of Hong Kong protests and then, comparing them to videos I've seen of protests here in L.A. around Black Lives Matter, the imagery can be very similar, and that's like a powerful tool, right, to like convey a certain motion, a feeling of resistance and protest and that's that's kind of what you're speaking to I think right, right?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Absolutely. And I think I think there is an you know either explicitly acknowledged or not, but there is that pedagogy in that sense of the image that travels from these different places and even you know protesters adopt certain strategies right from the youth in Hong Kong, or you know the feminist collective movements in Latin America that stage, you know protests that are repeated throughout the world, and so forth. So I think that that work of repetition is very is very crucial. And, and we need to you know, to really study that we need to follow how it travels, right and how it circulates, and I do think and I'm reminded here of the work of you know, one of my former professors Jean Gaines, who talked in the early 90s, and actually in relation to you know the Rodney King videos and and and other kinds of visual documentation of the idea of what she called political my nieces which was that sense of you know. images that propelled you know viewers to act on what they were seeing, right. To sort of imitate that world of representation and take it on to you know the actual real world itself right and that's also been, it's a recurrent thing in film history in different parts of the world, it was also very present in the cinemas of Latin America and Africa in the late 60s. How could films mobilize action, direct action. and it's you know it's in a way it's a kind of utopia, because you know it really can't happen. it's not that the film is going to you know produce you know, social change, by itself right, but it can spread a kind of energy that is felt and shared by many different people.
OLIVIA SATHER: It doesn't exist in the vacuum, it is a part of the greater discourse and movement and what's happening with whatever movement or protest form of resistance that's happening, yeah, absolutely. If someone listening was interested in learning more about this where should they start, because I will admit I didn't know a lot anything about this topic until I attended your talk recently. And I've been incredibly interested since then and seeing more of these films and learning more about this, so where could someone start, do you have a few film recommendations or director recommendations that they check out to further their learning?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: That's a great question and you know some of, I would say some of the, in a way, perhaps, for those of us who are invested in film history, it might be a bit canonical films, but you know things like The Battle of Algiers by [Gillo] Pontecorvo in the late 60s was very important, as that kind of film is not only representing obviously revolution and revolting Algeria, in this case, but again, sort of participating from that larger discourse of in this case, you know, the critique of colonialism and so on, so I think that film would be, and it's also you know, I would say, you know an entertaining spectacular film, you know to watch. Another thing that I can think of is you know, perhaps a bit more radical filmmaker like Peter Watkins and his film La Commune which is about the Paris 1871 revolutionary moment and it's you know very distinctive, for you know how it blends I guess you know the fiction with documentary right. I'm thinking of those things come to my mind and, well, I would say in you know, in the US, of course, the work I've mentioned before you know the work of the you know the filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion people like Charles Burnett or Haile Gerima. And then, in the 90s, you know, obviously Julie Dash or Spike Lee you know, their films that you know can be thought of within this sort of general loose understanding of resistance, right. Yeah those would be some things I’m thinking of.
OLIVIA SATHER: Alright, we’ll link to all those in the show notes, and I am almost like maybe we need to do, like a weekend film festival at the Carpenter Center or something.
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Absolutely.
OLIVIA SATHER: That would be very fun and I think educational as well. Well, Professor Palacios thank you so much for being with us today, I just have a few fun questions I like to end on for every episode. So, to get started with our rapid questions, do you have a favorite film of all time and, if so, what is it?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: And you know this question always puzzles me because I know I honestly don't think I have one favorite film of all time, it probably changes. But I would say, you know I guess the first one that comes to mind now and the film yeah I guess I've seen many times that I taught at different times two is you know in In The Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai, very exquisitely beautiful film.
OLIVIA SATHER: And, did you have a favorite film of 2020 or of the last year, I would say?
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Um yeah same thing. When when I'm asked these questions, usually my you know my mind goes blank, but I would highlight, and I can't remember exactly when I saw it, it’s probably a year, or a year and a half ago, a film called The Infiltrators by Alex Rivera Cristina Ibarra. I do think it's a wonderful film that deserves more visibility and that it's really in the vein of what we've been talking about of you know, finding creative ways of resisting, and in this case, and you know, tackling the question of immigration in this country.
OLIVIA SATHER: That's an important topic right now, and always, but especially right now. What are you looking forward to as we return to more in-person events, I think California has announced that we will be reopening sometime in June, so what are you most looking forward to as we return to less lockdown and more of what might be normal life.
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Everything. I've been very responsible in this last year and a half, so I really haven’t done anything, so I really look forward to I guess you know, going back to a theater and watching a film in a room with different people. It's something I would like to do and I, and I would like to you know I really look forward to being back in the classroom and you know meeting our students. And you know even my colleagues, I was telling you, I've been here just for a few months. I'm a new professor at the University, and you know I haven't met anyone in person, so I look forward to that.
OLIVIA SATHER: Absolutely, well it's going to be nice to have professors and students back on campus in the fall getting to meet one another and just enjoy being in a classroom, for sure.
I totally understand that. Well thank you so much for being with us today, again, and thank you for your time.
JOSE MIGUEL PALACIOS: Thank you Olivia, it's been a pleasure.
OLIVIA SATHER: Beyond the Stage is produced by the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. Views expressed by guests of the show or the hosts are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University. A special thanks to today's guest and the entire staff of the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, including our Executive Director Megan Kline Crockett. Audio engineering is provided by Ken Beaupre. Graphic design by Patti Laurrell. Digital Communications by Franz Neumann, and additional marketing and media assistance by Amber Legaspi-Valdez. Our theme music is by Ken Beaupre. If you'd like to support Beyond the Stage or the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, please donate online at Carpenterarts.org. Thank you for joining us today and we'll see you next time.