Lunch with Family
Author: Romana Turina
Format: HD Video
Running Time: 29’ 50”
Published: January 2018
In Lunch with Family, I use film to question my archival research and personal engagement in the discovery of the Slav silenced history of Trieste, a city-symbol on the former Iron Curtain, Italy. The film tells the story of Vladimir Turina, a relative I had no knowledge of, who was arrested, put on trial and imprisoned by the Fascist regime. The film maps the forced Italianisation of half a million Slavs, their organisation in anti-Fascist groups, the burning of their books and cultural institutions, and the final attempt to delete this ethnic group, which in Trieste in 1918 was larger than in Ljubljana – the Capital of Slovenia. The research is interdisciplinary, based on a preliminary study of archival material on a niche of Italian history that has been silenced, which establishes the use of research through film as an adequate epistemological methodology to answer the research questions.
The research questions I address in the film, Lunch with Family (2016) are:
– Can the mediation of silenced history in film constitute a platform for the revelation of the mechanism behind the personal negotiation of postmemory?
– How can an epistemological investigation reveal the impact of loss on the formation of identity?
In Lunch with Family, I experiment with narrative techniques apt to disrupt the flow of the story. The questioning of what is ‘knowledge’ of the past is exercised using playful approaches to the essay film form, which aim to call attention to the mediation of archival material and how film unites into sequences information in the ‘making of history’, as Hayden White (1973) demonstrated. In this case, some knowledge is confirmed, and some is not. The narrative emphasises the return of the dramatic question, ‘Who is Vlado?’, and the impossibility to bridge the gap of knowledge between the filmmaker and the individuals collaborating in the recuperation of silenced history, who are ultimately dead.
Using the voices of multiple surrogates, a historian, a journalist, an English researcher, and the filmmaker, I position myself in the newly discovered family’s history by repeated attempts to decipher documents and faces of people. An exercise in postmemory (Hirsch 2008), Lunch with Family is the expression of an inherited memory of trauma that splits my family, which links the footage filmed in the archive to moments in the present and treats documents as revelatory characters. In the film the site of family, whose close-ups in photos speak from an imaginary miniature room, is in the mind of the author. There, the frames shift, the images change position, and empty books of family’s history rest, mute. The embodiment of a metaphor, this setting allows me to manifest the unfamiliarity of the past, which is other from the present but maintains a firm grip on my life. Residual, hidden in a present of received Italianity, the silenced past claims attention with its emotional pregnancy; yet, there is no code to read it, to make it familiar.
For me, the filmmaker, in this autobiographical and autoethnographic work, the film text becomes the arena for a negotiation on how to collocate my presence inside and outside history. Time manifests in the juxtaposition of black and white images, within which I find a way into Vladimir’s life. But he comes to the surface with irritating unfamiliarity, evident in my incapacity to read his Slovenian writing. Language as a barrier returns in multiple ways, and the film establishes that language conceals meaning, brings to light distance, difference, and the wall of impossibility the filmmaker’s faces. Accordingly, the three different characters that take the lead force the audience to step into my path, as we follow them until they abandon us without an apparent reason. This process embodies the absurdity of my collocation in the now unfamiliar family. However, in the voice of a Slovenian historian I find an introduction to Vladimir as a hero; through the Italian journalist I see him as a terrorist, and through the English researcher I can embark on a journey of discovery in Trieste, Italy, where I hunt information about Vladimir as a British spy. Finally, I return as the descendant, who visits the BETFOR association, the British Element Force serving in Trieste between 1945 and 1954. Among them, a veteran guarantees information about Vladimir but such a promise is never fulfilled and the mystery of the British spy finds no answers.
The private sphere, the intimate impact of the past that produces postmemory, are the core of the last part of the film. By the end of the section, the audience possesses the appearance of a resolution. Vladimir’s story is re-found and offered to the wall of the ancestors. The fabric of postmemory, however, resonates in the only person out of the picture, the filmmaker. There is no place on the wall for me, the emotional impact of the past keeps me suspended in between past and present. But, born from this process, a lost memory casts additional light on the narrative: it tells me that as a child I looked at Slovenian children in the kindergarten, and I was grateful to pass for an Italian. I felt safe among those children, those not bullied. A feeling of guilt follows and with it the whole film is subject to a possible reversal of meaning.
Implemented to force a feeling of unresolved narrative on the audience, the episodic sequencing of this investigation into identity and loss mirrors what postmemory feels for the filmmaker. The clash of personal memory and postmemory opens an ontological question that is difficult to confront, as the archive always points to something else (Kuhn 2002:15). Beyond the private sphere, however, postmemory becomes important because there is a wider historical and political issue: the question of individual memory is one of how we process who the people of the past were and what goes in and what remains out of history.
My documentary films, created for festivals and online distribution, explore the essay film form as a medium for the expression of silenced history, memory and postmemory. I built on the work of other scholars, writers, and filmmakers. Anne Karpf’s The War After: Living with the Holocaust (1997) and Marianne Hirsch’s Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (2004), but also Eva Hoffman’s After Such Knowledge, permitted me to find a language to express postmemory. Dominick LaCapra’s History and Memory and Auschwitz and History in Transit (1998), but also Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience (1996), guided my process of epistemological investigation, in that they allowed me to see my need to address the historical moment before the traumatic interruption that severed my family’s history. Annette Kuhn’s Family Secrets (2002) offered a good reference to the study of Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell (2012), in that Kuhn’s reading of photos as pointing always to something else, which escapes us, constituted a key to read the moving image as employed in Polley’s film. Additionally, and similarly to Polley’s, my work looks at what happens when we take absences, silences and uncertain evidence, and we investigate the traces of the past. What is revealed is the struggle of meaning over the past that in families continues in the present (Kuhn, 2002:15-18). Hence the need to return over and over to the silenced trace of the past and seek its recognition.
Building on the tradition of autobiographical films and autoethnographic forms of filmmaking, I took as examples the work of Rea Tajiri in History and Memory (1991) for her strong use of archival finding and memory of pain one has not witnessed. Similarly, Carol Morley’s The Alcohol Years (2000), for the use of herself through forms of absence, and Jill Daniels’s My Private Life (2014), for the use of multiple voices and the exploration of memory. The Holocaust documentary plays a role. Also, my references to filmmaking as a vessel for the investigation of traumatic history are guided by tradition, as in the case of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985). Less obvious influences are found in the Soviet footage reproduced in The Unseen Holocaust of WWII (as researched by Jeremy Hicks), which casts questions on the predominantly camps based narrative of the Holocaust.
My practice methods derive from my experience in film and TV production. As a researcher undertaking practice, my methodology follows the ‘action research cycle’ (Robson 2002), in that I plan, act, observe and reflect on the process and the consequences of my practice, then I plan further action and repeat the cycle. In this case, the cycle was dictated by the collection of unstructured data, qualitative and quantitative analysis, and the extensive archival work I wanted to translate. Process and finding, in their ‘expressive impossibilities,’ confronted me and challenged the basis of my work on film. The first answer to the mediation of the material in film was expressed in the division of the film in separate parts, which allowed me to give voice to different levels of investigation, and the multiple layers of meaning the material evoked. The recognition of the multiple facets forming my identity followed, as I added to the interpenetration of historical data, theory and evidence of film practice the last personal section. Here the clash of memory and postmemory was mediated through the accounts of the events from the personal point of view, previously challenged by the filmmaker’s embodiment into different personas (a historian, a journalist, an English researcher, and the filmmaker). Therefore, the structure of this film aims to support an act of investigation through moving images and the reflection on moments of rupture faced by the author. The story aims to make evident the inner teleological drive of the epistemological investigation and the means of its interpretation and mediation through and on film.
Lunch with Family explores the language of documentary filmmaking mediating silenced history, memory and postmemory. In this context, it aims to contribute to the dialogue with other practitioners in this field through screenings, presentations at conferences, articles, chapters in books and online presence.
Points of discussion and interest are: its use of multiple languages and narrative personas to explore multiple layers of identity and existence; the use of miniature to express mental states and to gauge expressive impossibilities; the use of archival material, often digitalised, to construct meaning, and the use of contradiction to advance story by reversal of meaning.
The film is part of my work for a PhD by creative practice at the University of York. The production of the film was self-funded.
2017 – Year College, US – Athens Campus, Greece.
2017 – University of Sheffield.
2017 – University of York.
Partial Screenings and Conferences presentations referencing the film:
2017 – ‘When public memorialisation fails Postmemory thrives: the case of Lunch with Family and San Sabba (Turina 2016).
2017 – ‘Essay Film and reparative storytelling: developing the narrative for Lunch with Family,’ at the Research in Film Seminar Series, Centre for Research in Film, University of Sheffield.2017 – ‘Making meaning in reparative storytelling through digital narrative’, at Narrative in Question, Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies, University of York
2016 – ‘The Deleted Identity: Amnesia, Nationalism and Silenced History in Italian Cinema’, at Places of Amnesia – interdisciplinary perspectives on forgotten past, University of Cambridge.
Chapters in Books:
2016 – ‘Re-Making the Northeast: Trieste in Italian Cinema and the Re-Mediation of Silenced History,’ in Dobson J. and Rayner J. (eds.), Mapping Cinematic Norths: International Interpretations in Film and Television, New York: Peter Lang, pp. 223-240.
The short film was nominated for the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Film Awards – Nomination in the Public Category.
Lunch with Family (Turina, 2016) has been acquired by the National Library of Slovenian, Ljubljana, as an artwork of national interest for the preservation of the national heritage and memory.
Caruth, Cathy (1996), Unclaimed Experience, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Daniels, Jill (2014) My Private Life, UK.
Hicks, Jeremy (2012) First Films of the Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and the Genocide of the Jews, 1938-1946, Chicago: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Hirsch, Marianne (1997), Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hirsch, Marianne (2008), ‘The Generation of Postmemory’, Poetics Today, Spring, 29:1, pp. 103-128.
Hoffman, Eva (2004), After Such Knowledge, Cambridge, Mass.: Public Affairs – Perseus Books.
IMC, (2014), The Unseen Holocaust of WWII, US.
Karpf, Anne (1997), The War After: Living with the Holocaust, New York: Mandarin.
Kuhn, Annette (2002), Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, London: Verso.
LaCapra, Dominick (1998) History and Memory and Auschwitz, New York: Cornell University.
LaCapra, Dominick, (2004) History in Transit, New York: Cornell University.
Lanzmann, Claude (1985) Shoah, FR
Morley, Carol (2000) The Alcohol Years, UK.
Polley, Sarah (2012) Stories we tell, CA.
Resnais, Alain (1955) Night and Fog FR.
Robson, Colin (2002), Real world research, London: Blackwell.
Schon, Donald (1983), The reflective practitioner, London: Temple Smith, London.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement
Romana Turina’s Lunch with Family is a complex multi-layered mediation of place, history, absence, post-memory and subjectivity. Turina has deployed varied strategies and techniques to create an expressive and thought-provoking first-person essay film. The film is constructed through multiple voice-overs that move seamlessly, through exposition, interrogation and poetic rumination; still photographs; shots of place; news archive, and brief interviews. The effect is a visually rich and expressive montage that creates a unified structure. While the film gives no specific information on the identities of the voice-overs, the first voice, a woman speaking English with a heavy accent, seems to be that of Turina herself. This voice gives information about Vladimir Turina (Vlado), who we assume is a relative of the filmmaker. However, the same voice-over continues in Italian, providing a slightly different version of Vladimir; in the first version we learn Vlado was a philo-Slav nationalist and in the second, we learn about his school and early career. However both versions conclude with his 5-year prison sentence on the island of Ponza. This sets a tone of uncertainty, not only about the identity of Vlado, but also about the identity of the filmmaker, thus opening a route to the film’s poetic contemplation of multiple versions and possibilities about the ‘true’ identity and political allegiances of the deceased Vlado, contextualised by an exploration of the contested history of Trieste before and after WWII. However, the complex history of Trieste is intercut with discussion about the different versions of Vlado’s identity and the pacing and density of information is too fast to be easily absorbed on first viewing. There is also an ambiguity around the identity of the English ‘researcher’ whose voice-over appears later. She is perhaps a surrogate for Turina, in her role as the filmmaker; or she may be a genuine researcher. This ambiguity is slightly frustrating.
The film is divided into sections; the first section reveals the history of Trieste and Vlado’s history and contested identity; the second section is devoted to the unknown English researcher’s trip to Trieste to historical archives to research Vlado’s life. Her voice-over ruminates on the significance of her discoveries. In the last section the filmmaker reveals that Vlado is in fact a relation and the search becomes an auto-ethnographic exploration of Turina’s extensive family. The sensation of absence and silence and loss of personal identity intensifies during this section. The overall melancholy tone of the film is also underlined through images of a white miniature house that disrupt the narrative. At the start of the film the interior walls of the house are covered with empty white picture frames. Towards the end of the film, as Turina’s search for her lost relative draws to a close, the frames are filled with family photographs, while her voice-over remarks that things have shifted again. The overall effect of the film is an evocative exploration of identity, place and memory and the use of the miniature house as a metaphor for absence and belonging is a novel approach to the essay film.
The statement is effective in giving a description of the subject of the film and in discussing the strategies deployed in mediating an undocumented history of significant events where the central protagonists are dead or absent. The outline of the methodology in disrupting the flow of narrative through varied filmic techniques is thoughtfully analysed. However, the statement tends to be descriptive rather than analytical, for example in the rationale for the division of the film into separate parts. The statement explains that the English voice is a researcher, and not a surrogate for Turina herself, although this is ambiguous in the film. The statement does not fully analyse the filmmaker’s role as autobiographical subject in search of her own identity as well as her lost relative’s identity and how one may bring together exposition and subjectivity effectively including the use of multiple voices. Post-memory is described through a sequence of the film rather than through analysis. The contextual references are well chosen but the statement needs some analysis of their specific relevance and how they fit into the filmmaker’s research.
Review 2: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement
Lunch with Family is a sophisticated interdisciplinary documentary essay, which is both autobiographical and autoethnographic in its interweaving of personal, political and cultural histories. The film makes a significant and original contribution to screen media research through an experimental approach to voice-over and aesthetics. Identity-formation, loss and oppression are explored in the story of attempting to uncover the identity of Vladimir Turina- a relative of the filmmaker who was imprisoned by the Fascist regime in Italy. Identity quest is a recognisable trope of autobiographical film, and the viewer is also primed to expect testimony from key figures in “Vlado”’s life. Instead the film draws disrupts these conventions to draw our attention to the constructed nature of knowledge, history and the slippery quality of identity and memory.Three disparate voice overs –a Slovenian historian, an Italian journalist and an English researcher tell the story of searching for “Vlado” who may have been, depending on the narrator, a hero, a terrorist or spy, while titles give a political context. Finally, a fourth voice, the filmmaker’s links this political character to herself, her family and her own experience of cultural identity. This voice-over is intimate, emotional and vulnerable and arguably one of the most compelling aspects of a film that both beguiles and frustrates the viewer with its playful approach to narrative. Contemporary footage of buildings and archives offers the viewer snatches of the present and the journey of discovery, alongside archival footage from newsreels, while, the archival documents and photographs take the place of characters. This is an evocative, rather mesmerising technique, which is explained equally evocatively by Turina: “If the footage filmed in the archive is linked to moments in the present, and documents treated as revelatory characters; the close-ups of witnesses speak from an imaginary miniature room. There, the frames shift, the photos change position, and empty books of family’s history rest, mute. The setting allows me to manifest the unfamiliarity of the past, which is other from the present but maintains a firm grip on my life”. While the film is consistently beautifully executed in its poetic detail and consideration of narrative techniques, the research statement is less polished and I would recommend a few minor changes before publication.
Lunch with Family is contextualised through references to a range of appropriate literary, auto/biographical post-memory and screen studies scholars, as well as to creative works. However, these references are currently in list form (particularly the first paragraph of the Context section) and would benefit from some further explication. This would entail provision of examples from the scholars and works cited and a brief discussion of their relevancy to aspects of Lunch with Family. It is tantalizing and somewhat frustrating to read “Annette Kuhn’s Family Secrets offered a good reference to the study of Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell, and ultimately to my treatment of the theme”. There is lot of important detail missing here. What was it exactly that Kuhn said about The Stories We Tell, and what particularly about this film was significant for Turina’s work? Generally, the written expression and style of the exegesis is very evocative (as stated earlier). However, some minor editing around word choice/grammar would be helpful as in some places sentences could be clearer. This is particularly noticeable in the second paragraph of the Research Questions section on p. 2-3.