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Cinema of Urgency

For our fifth annual collaborative film series, the Walker and the University of Minnesota focus on political documentaries produced around the world, most in the past few years. Yet in curating the series, we were looking back to the rise of fascism in Europe, when German cultural critic Walter Benjamin developed the concept of “emergency”: a moment of crisis wherein the forces of democracy were in retreat politically, economically, and culturally. As is characteristic of his thought, the term also designated responses to the crisis that allowed something hopeful to emerge.

This series explores, from various angles, the possibility that “urgency” is our name for such a moment, but one running in reverse. In other words, from the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity protests, the forces of democracy appear to be concentrating and accelerating—if not against fascism itself, then at least a later incarnation of the anti-democratic impulse it nurtured.

Benjamin was not alone in believing that cinema belongs decisively to such moments of crisis. First, it has the power to witness, document, and respond with urgency to that which urgently calls for response. Second, in its capacity to inscribe, store, recycle, and re-present, cinema’s archival power lends urgency to moments whose urgency has waned. Third, it plunges distant strangers into the urgent stories of others—a power that is now radically globalized.

This series presumes that Benjamin was right, and that the cinema is every bit as urgent as the moments of urgency into which it is threaded. Watch and see.

—Professor John Mowitt, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota

Cinema of Urgency is organized by Walker curators Sheryl Mousley and Dean Otto with John Mowitt, Rembert Hueser, and Verena Mund of the University of Minnesota.

Copresented by the Imagine Fund Arts & Humanities Chair 2011–2013, Moving Image Studies, as well as the departments of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, German, Scandinavian & Dutch, Communication Studies and English at the University of Minnesota.