Introduced by Sam Lewitt
Zero for Conduct, Jean Vigo, 1933, 16mm, 45 mins
Homework, Abbas Kiarostami, 1989, digital projection, 86 mins
Sam Lewitt presents a double bill of Jean Vigo’s anarchist featurette Zero for Conduct and Abbas Kiarostami’s rarely-screened documentary Homework. In Vigo’s film, boys at a repressive academy stage a revolt against their teachers, while in Kiarostami’s, the director interviews children about a range of topics—academic assignments, punishments, cartoons—revealing more about their lives, and their society, than the subjects realize.
“The watchwords of contemporary neoliberal pedagogy—'learning to be creative problem solvers and flexible decision-makers in an ever-changing environment'—are inscribed in a laissez-faire approach to education. The claims found across the board (most prevalent in expensive liberal private schools) cast students as capable of self-guided rational choices, simply in need of the properly nurturing environment. Yet the injunction to ‘discover yourself’ in free learning is as discursively circumscribed as generally discredited educational models based on cruel discipline. Contemporary models produce subjects with the know-how of a self-motivated but precarious labor force, as much as disciplinary educational models function to prepare for the regimental boredom of the factory floor. Either way, it’s a trap.
These two films are as far from the American pedagogical context as they are historically remote from one another, from the miniature communards of an early-20th century, ultra-disciplinary French boarding school, to the circumlocutions of Iranian children in the 1980s, amidst the Iran-Iraq War, who say 'yes' while meaning 'no.' Yet affinities emerge on the basis of the testing ground of difference. What is captured in these films is the genius of pedagogy, in whatever form, in giving rise to subjects with the skills to escape the forces that are in the process of forming them. These are practical skills, as unconscious as the ideology that gives rise to them, learned with and against their performative instantiation.
At an even greater remove, consider Oppian’s third-century Treatise on Hunting and Fishing. The text, which at first glance seems to set out to educate readers in the art of capturing wildlife, proves to be a catalog of the various forms of metis, the cunning intelligence exercised in setting and evading snares, practiced by animals at least as much as the humans out to hunt them. In this light, what these films show, across historical distance and cultural difference, is that becoming a subject of the educational system can also mean learning to become as cunning as a fox and as evasive as an octopus.” - SL
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.