WHO is he?

German-born documentary filmmaker and installation artist of Indian origin who has made close to a hundred works in a career spanning five decades. As a student, the left-leaning Farocki was involved in the anti-Vietnam protests in Germany during the Sixties and started out with agitational-propaganda movies against the American involvement in Vietnam.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

A dialectic-materialist at heart, Farocki is interested in how History unfolds in the visible world. His films explore how ideas and ideologies materialise themselves in the realm of the perceptible. Often, they are about the process of seeing itself and throw light on how the European Renaissance has come to dominate every aspect of our life by giving importance to sight over all other senses. In the process, they also deal with modern warfare and surveillance, in which acquiring visuals of enemy territory and prison premise becomes more important than any direct, physical measure. His films bear a conceptual similarity to the writings of Paul Virilio.

Style

Farocki’s documentaries can be broadly divided into two categories: film essays and observational films. The former consists of an assortment of found footage, photographs and visual documents that are stitched together by a voiceover that develops a series of ideas, much like a literary essay. The observation films, on the other hand, fall in line with traditional documentary practice and present straightforward documentation of events with minimal authorial reformulation, letting the themes inherent in the events surface by themselves.

WHY is he of interest?

Along with Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard of France, Harun Farocki is one of the pre-eminent filmmakers working with the essay form. His films are, in one way or the other, commentaries on the cinematic medium itself and make us aware of the ideological baggage that informs our observation of images. These films also remind us how the most benign everyday work around us is suffused with political implications.

WHERE to discover him?

Workers Leaving The Factory (1995) was made during the centenary celebrations of cinema, and traces the legacy of the Lumiére brothers’ Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), considered the first film ever made. It examines how the act of workers leaving a factory has been depicted throughout the history of cinema and analyses why this singular image is of immense political, social, aesthetic and historical interest.