Apr 19, 2011

Approaches to Provocative Programming

In reading Chi-hui Yang’s reflection on his experience programming the Flaherty seminar, I became interested in his assessment of the Flaherty as a place where attendees have been known to start notorious debates with one another. I wondered, in programming for a specialized venue such as the Flaherty, where you are presenting a body of work to a select audience of individuals who are highly knowledgeable and often very opinionated about film, at what point, if any, does the urge to intentionally provoke viewers factor into the programmer’s decisions when selecting and arranging films for presentation?

Chi-hui, who provided a very detailed and highly-intuitive lecture regarding his approach to curating and programming, made a number of comments on this topic. He admitted that he was initially taken aback when the 2008 seminar’s “wrap-up” discussion turned into a heated debate between two of the participants, however, in time he came to realize that this explosive and ambiguous ending to the seminar would force people to continue thinking about the various issues that the program had raised regarding the theme of “migration,” even after the event had concluded.

Since this time it appears that Chi-hui’s philosophy towards curating and programming has become one of quiet provocation. “If a program doesn’t upset people’s notions of what they’re looking for,” he remarks, the program is ultimately “less successful.” And while I tend to agree with Chi-hui’s mantra of subverting conventions and using innovative programming to promote alternative ways of looking at certain films, I wonder how one can anticipate the line between slightly upsetting viewers’ expectations and presenting something that unintentionally sparks a huge debate or controversy? How do you curate a program that presents just the right about of thought-provoking controversy when “controversy” itself is so subjective?

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