Trinh T. Minh-ha
How do you portray the other, the stranger, without distorting their image?
In 1982, Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, who lives in the United States, released her film Reassemblage – from the firelight to the screen. This film is the result of her field research carried out in rural areas of Senegal between 1977 and 1981.
The work is self-reflexive and takes into account both how we represent the historical past and what is being portrayed. Instead of observing the world through documentary lenses, self-reflexive documentaries invite us to see the documentary for what it is: a construction or interpretation.
In this way, the work proposes a double break with the conventional ethnographic documentary style. Firstly, the filmmaker constantly questions her own position through self-reflexive approaches. Secondly, it recognizes the impossibility of establishing an impartial discourse in relation to other cultures and peoples.
Reassemblage offers sharp criticism of the cinematographic strategies common in the conventions of classic documentary cinema, especially in the ethnographic field. The director considers these strategies to be heirs to a colonialist, sexist, biased and ethnocentric approach.
The film lasts 40 minutes and is made up of everyday images and sounds captured in rural villages in Senegal, with little structure. The houses are made of straw and there are a few animals. The men and, above all, the women and children are shown carrying out their activities, such as making woven straw artifacts, milling grain with manual pestles, carrying food in large baskets on their heads, planting and forging rustic steel tools. Over these images comes the sound of the director’s own voice, interspersed at times with the words of the people she portrays.
Reassemblage presents a close formulation of speech, differentiating itself from talking about. By filming the daily life of a rural area in Senegal, the director’s voice-over turns to her own cinematographic practice and seeks to dismantle the exoticization common to colonial epistemologies. To speak closely is to recognize the gap. By renouncing the explanation of the Other, it is assumed that there is no solution to be found. As Trinh T. Minh-ha says, “I am looking in a circle, in a circle of gazes”.