This post is part of a series that borrows the term process genre from Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky’s work in cinema studies, and explores its utility for videogame analysis. A quick definition: “process genre” films are films about labor, films that focus on processes of doing and making, that are fascinated with seeing tasks through to their completion. They are deliberately paced, meditative, and often political, in that they cast a penetrating eye on labor conditions. Are there games that the same chords? Posts in the series so far can be seen here.
I reserve the right to sporadically post future entries in this series, but with Sunset (Tale of Tales, 2015), it really does feel as if things have come full circle. As I laid out in the first post in this series, the process genre finds its most archetypal manifestation in Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975), and Skvirsky has been tracking its development in contemporary Latin American cinema. Sunset was created by Belgian artist duo Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, and is about the daily life of a housekeeper in a (fictional) Latin American country. The parallels are easily drawn, but there’s also more going on here than this brief description suggests.
This post inaugurates a series of posts, of as-yet indeterminate length. All of them riff on a term developed by Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky, a scholar who I’ve had the privilege of knowing (if only on a casual basis) the past few years.
The term in question is the “process genre.” Films in the process genre are films about labor—and not in an abstract thematic sense, in the way that Godard’s Tout va bien (1972) is about labor. Rather, process genre films are very specifically about watching the stages of a production process, from its beginning to its ending. There most salient characteristic is what Skvirsky describes as “careful attention to processes of doing and making.”[i]
We see the roots of the process genre all the way back in things like Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran (UK, 1934), and the genre finds perhaps its most emblematic manifestation in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (Chantal Akerman, Belgium, 1975), with its lengthy and hypnotic food preparation scenes. Latin American cinema—Skvirsky’s own special focus—gives us more examples. Araya (Margot Benacerraf, Venezuela, 1959) is about the processes of mining salt by hand. Aruanda (Linduarte Noronha, Brazil, 1960), is about the processes of cotton-harvesting and ceramic-making. Quilombo (Vladimir Carvalho, Brazil, 1975) is about the process of making quince marmalade. Much more recently, Parque vía (Enrique Rivero, Mexico, 2008) is about the processes of custodial work and groundskeeping. Some of these films are documentaries; others present fictional narratives. What binds them all together is a rapt fascination with the way humans busy themselves, and produce things.