Mark Cousins on the Essay Film

Mark Cousins is a film-maker and writer whose epic 15-part The Story of Film is well worth watching. In the weeks and months before the release of A Story of Children and Film (2013), Cousins was clearly thinking about the essay film, its history, its formal features, and its aesthetic and political potential. In this Guardian article, he claims,

Now is the time of the essay film: that way of taking an idea for a walk. Just as the 1990s was the era of the Dogme manifesto, I think someone – maybe I – should write a manifesto for the film-essay form.

And that is precisely what he did. On the website for A Story of Children and Film, he sketches out sixteen points that might serve as a manifesto for the form. You’ll have to scroll down to the very bottom of the main page to see the manifesto, but do so. We’ve covered many of these ideas in the first few weeks of classes, but Cousins’ manifestary rhetoric is concise and bracing.

There’s a few that stand out for me.

The Benjaminian #5: “Filming an essay is gathering, like a carpenter gathers wood.”

The Marker-esque #9: “An essay film can go anywhere, and should.”

And the technologically/digitally enthusiastic #16: “Digital had made Astruc’s dream come true.”

Read them all, agree or disagree, and feel free to cite or critique them in your rapid responses or essay.

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