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.