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HARUN FAROCKI
Box No. 26

Harun Farocki /Germany/
IMMERSION
documentary film installation  

In January 2009, we shot for two days at Fort Lewis, near Seattle, Washington. We filmed a workshop where civilian therapists explained to army therapists how to work with Virtual Iraq. The objective is to treat soldiers and former soldiers traumatized in war. The immersion therapy allows the traumatized patients to repeat the key experience, to retell it, and relive it. Virtual Iraq, VI for short, is a computer animation program designed to facilitate and strengthen immersion in the experience responsible for the patient’s fear. The training largely took the form of role play: the therapist sits at the computer wearing a headset, while the patient sits or stands next to the therapist wearing virtual reality glasses running the VI program. There are two locations: a road through the desert along which an armored vehicle is driving, and an oriental town with a market, mosque, open spaces, narrow alleys, and houses, through which the user can navigate. This navigation is controlled by the patient, while the therapist selects incidents. He can steer patients into a virtual ambush or make them witness a horrific attack. All manner of sounds can also be selected: helicopters, muezzins, various explosions. On the second day, we witnessed a virtuoso performance. One of the civilian therapists in the role of a patient told of a patrol through Baghdad. It was his first time out; he was partnered with a man called Jones. They had been tasked with cleaning up the streets, which mainly involved tearing down propaganda posters. Jones suggested they should split up and take one side of the road each. This was against their orders, but they did it. The patient was entering a courtyard when he heard an explosion. He went to look—and now he began to digress. The therapist playing the therapist interrupted him, asking what he had seen? The therapist playing the soldier/patient answered: “When I arrived, I saw ... there was nothing left of him above the knee.” At this point, he slumped down in his seat. After this, he asked several times for the session to be stopped, saying he could no longer bear it. The therapist insisted they carry on. He hesitated, stammered, kept getting tangled up in complicated descriptions of his thoughts and feelings of guilt at the time. He acted all this so convincingly that friends of mine, whom I had told that we had filmed a role play, assumed when they saw the piece that the speaker was recounting something he had experienced himself. The press officer who had given us permission to film also assumed this was someone relating their own experience. Even if the therapist only acts so well because he wishes to sell something, this scene is not necessarily duplicitous.

Bio: Harun Farocki, born 1944, is the son of an Indian doctor married to a German. From 1966–1968, he studied at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin West. From 1974–1984 he was author and editor of the journal Filmkritik in Munich. From 1993–1999 he worked as visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Since 2004, he has been a permanent professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He is documentary and essay filmmaker, whose work of over 100 productions for television and the cinema have been shown at retrospectives in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Israel, India, Singapore, Indonesia, and all over Europe. For his films Harun received significant prices: Preis der Filmkritik, Munich, 1969; Prix Carosse d’Or, Brussels, 1978; Deutscher Dokumentarfilmpreis, Duisburg, 1988 and 1990; Main Prize Filmmaker Filmfestival, Milano, 2001; Peter-Weiss-Preis, Bochum (for his life’s work), 2002, internationaler/medien/kunst/preis, Strasbourg, 2003; Herbert-Quandt-Medienpreis, Frankfurt, 2006; Special Prize of Locarno, 2007; Special Festival Award for his life's work, Split, 2008. He has been featured in publications such as Thomas Elsaesser’s Harun Farocki, Working on the Sight Lines (Amsterdam 2004).

www.farocki-film.de

 

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