Gravity Hill Newsreels: Occupy Wall Street

Jem Cohen

2011 | 01:05:14 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Activism, City, Documentation, Politics

Gravity Hill Newsreels: Occupy Wall Street comprises Jem Cohen’s twelve-part series as a continuous and complete compilation. Cohen, who witnessed the New York occupation from day one, borrowed a digital camera and started gathering footage in subsequent weeks. Initially acting upon an instinctive impulse to document and be guided by the events of the movement through quiet participation, Cohen’s documentation took a more public and expansive form through an agreement with the IFC Center, a local movie theater. In a nod to the once prevalent practice of screening newsreels in theaters before showtimes, a number of Cohen’s Newsreels were activated there as the events of the movement played out nearby, connecting immediate political documentation with the public sphere. The series approaches the events during the Occupy Wall Street Movement through an observational but atmospheric perspective, documenting the stir within the streets and Zuccotti Park, collective actions, police intervention and the sheer presence of the occupation which lasted fifty-four days. The first shorts depict the Occupy Wall Street Global Day of Action at Times Square; others cover wide ranging, external mass actions such as a rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge, but most focus on the rapidly changing encampment itself. Soundtracks were created with Guy Picciotto (Fugazi).

Occupy Wall Street served as a testing-ground movement for a rising American consciousness around wealth inequality and corporate exploitation after the financial crisis of 2008. Cohen’s newsreels provide an intimate form of historical and political documentation that gives their subject breathing room, a looking and listening practice of sorts. In dedication to the likes of Agnès Varda, Patricio Guzmán, Chris Marker and other important filmmakers documenting the history of political struggle, Cohen’s work in retrospect takes on a similar role with its documentation of a significant political moment of collective action ripe for reflection in current times.

“(There’s) a constant need to prove that things took place. You can and must write about these movements, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it. If we are given access to this secret history of actualities, it’s quite head turning. A lot of people know about it in terms of advocacy efforts made within movements, but they’re less familiar with it in regard to this tradition of engaged political filmmaking not done strictly as advocacy tools. It has a longer view that says, “This may not be the tool that the movement is looking for right now in terms of media, but it has a different strength,” which is that, in the long course of history, we also need to be able to see some of the complexities and ambiguities and even reveal some of the frustrations in the nitty-gritty of these events.” - Walker Art Center Interview with Jem Cohen

Individual pieces from the series are available for rental and purchase upon request. Contact us for more information. Cohen has also presented a multi-screen installation version.

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Exhibitions + Festivals

Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Czech Republic

2012 Video Fest (formerly Dallas Video Fest), Dallas, TX

Viennale, Vienna International Film Festival, 2012

Harvard Film Archive, 2017

Centre Pompidou, 2016