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Workshop: The Accented Videoessay

Convenors: Barbara Zecchi (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Anupama Prabhala (Loyola Marymount University) and Danielle Hipkins (University of Exeter) 

The three co-facilitators of this workshop attended the Middlebury Videographic Summer Camp in 2019 and are film and media scholars specializing in non hegemonic productions: specifically, Anupama Prabhala  works with  Indian cinema, Danielle Hipkins with Italian film and television, and Barbara Zecchi with Iberian and Latin American productions.
At Middlebury College we engaged in discussing  some practical and ideological  issues surrounding the use of the voiceover in the video-essay, discussions that continued with a roundtable at the SCMS conference of 2021  entitled “Re-Voicing the Authoritative Voiceover”. The roundtable, organized and chaired by Kerry Hegarty, with Alex Ho, Alexander Greenhough, Eva Hageman, Amanda Doxtater, and Barbara Zecchi —all attendees of the summer 2019 workshop—, explored “various non-standard approaches to the use of first-person voiceover that falls outside the norm of what is traditionally considered ‘authoritative’ academically, in terms of both mode (auto-biographical, affective) and register (intimate, comedic). It also looks at, and listens to, those voices who statistically suffer from “credibility bias” (female, foreign-accented), and explores the productive possibilities of all of these approaches as a whole.” It concluded that “it is our duty as film and media scholars to make the diversity of our own voices heard”.
The scope of this new workshop at the Interrogating the Modes of Videographic Criticism symposium  is to continue the conversation on the destabilization of hegemonic authoritative discourses (male/standard English voice-over)  by focusing more in detail on the use of  foreign/accented voiceover and of subtitles.

Workshop recording

Click here for a recording of the Zoom workshop. 

We ask participants to consider the following questions and topics in advance:

1) Voiceover as an aesthetic or ontological limitation vs. voiceover as a strategy to give authority to a diversity of voices
2) The use of non-English native tongue as a way to evoke nostalgia and intimacy, and create affective bridges between the process of making and viewing
3) Does the foreign-accented voiceover close or reinforce  the “credibility gap”? Is it a distraction? 
4)When dealing with media objects in languages other than English is the use of subtitles a concession (an act of consideration towards the monolingual spectator), or rather an act of submission towards the language of the empire?
5) Can subtitles be used creatively? (use of rhythm, fonts, graphics, etc.).
6) How to coordinate subtitles and text?
7) Translation: have any of you encountered issues of translation of the texts/voiceover/titles?
8) Software: does it affect the choices that you make? 

Suggested viewings

About the paucity of female voices in video-graphic criticism:

The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism (by Ian Garwood).  
This seminal video-essay by Ian Garwood on “the line between academic and non-scholarly videographic film criticism” (that appeared with a written text in NECSUS, Autumn 2016, necsus-ejms.org/the-place-of-voiceover-in-audiovisual-film-and-television-criticism/) constitutes an excellent introduction to our workshop. While Garwood’s explicit aim is to find a compromise between the academic and the playful mode, and between argumentative and poetic approaches, his video-essay also makes an important contribution in pointing out (and denouncing) the predominance of male voices in video-graphic criticism.

About the use of accented narration:

What is an Accented Video-essay (by Barbara Zecchi)
Is English narration with an accent a concession (an act of consideration towards the monolingual English speaker spectator), or rather a gesture of submission towards the language of the empire? This work puts into dialogue Kogonada's seminal videoessay "What is Neorealism?" with his more recent "Nothing at Stake" on the seemingly meaningless character of Cleo in Cuarón's Roma as a way to reflect upon authority and power relations in language, about the voiceover with an "accent", and the voice of the Other in cinema (Hollywood vs. "accented" cinema -see Julio Garcia Espinosa). While Kogonada's video-essay on Neorealism used a male voiceover, his more recent video-essay on Roma is narrated by a female voice in English. In my video-essay I enact a series of displacements: Kogonada's standard English is displaced by my accented voiceover (English with Italian accent). In turn my English narration is displaced by the narration in my Italian tongue, followed by a female Spanish voice from Mexico, and by Mixteco from Yucuquimi and Eastern Chatino. All these voices repeat in different languages the same sentence: "her steps matters, her voice too". Which one has more authority to talk about Cleo?

About the use of a voice over in a language other than English: 

What does a (feminist) Netflix series look like (by Danielle Hipkins)
This is an example of a video-essay narrated in Italian (Italian texts and Italian voice-over) with no English subtitles for Italian speakers, with a separate version in English for English speakers (voice-over by the author)  

About the use (or non use) of subtitles in a video-essay with text:

Turning Mothers, Daughters, and Dolls in Elena Ferrante’s Adaptations (by Barbara Zecchi)
In this video essay, the text is an important visual tool aimed at highlighting the change in emotions surrounding the mother-daughter relationship. In order to avoid distraction,  I did not want to add unnecessary subtitles. For instance, to avoid cluttering, I decided not to subtitle the lyrics of the Italian song “La bambola”. It adds information only to Italian speakers. I translate and explain the theme song (“tu mi fai girar” = “you make me spin”) in the text that goes with the video-essay. 
I decided to include subtitles only when the conversation was relevant (mins. 0:46-0:57). Further on in the video-essay (min. 2:44) I could have eliminated the voice of the Italian girl, but I decided to keep it just as an interesting sound, but with no subtitles this time.