The ubiquity and centrality of moving image media in contemporary society raises questions about their role in relation to art, ethics, politics – to human affairs in general – and the way in which film (in its multifarious guises) acts as a vehicle of various kinds of value. Film and the Aesthetic Dimension aims to map out a variety of historical and contemporary debates concerning the values embodied by film, advancing its own distinctive claim about the powers of film and its place within human polity. I hold that as a medium film possesses unique representational capacities which account for its rapid growth and diffusion across cultures; that these capacities are best understood in aesthetic terms; but that a proper understanding of aesthetic value sees it as a core member of that family of values – epistemic, ethical, political, and aesthetic – collectively essential to human flourishing, rather than peripheral to it. In this sense, the aesthetic dimension is not only an essential aspect of film as an art, but a crucial aspect of life well-lived and fully-realized.
I will explore this hypothesis, and associated ideas, via a set of case studies engaging with filmmakers all of whom overtly address socio-political subjects and are noted for their distinctive style and approach to filmmaking, often operating on the boundary between fiction and non-fiction. Representative filmmakers include Clio Barnard, Adam Curtis, Errol Morris, Joshua Oppenheimer, Hubert Sauper, and Mercedes Álvarez. The project will be realized through a combination of critical analysis of the work of these filmmakers (where possible combined with interviews with them); philosophical analysis of the concepts bearing on aesthetic and other forms of value outlined above; and the development of an overarching theoretical model clarifying the matrix of values embodied by individual films. The aim is to articulate and explore the theoretical issues outlined above through a group of filmmakers who address ethical and political issues, often connected with the dynamics of global capitalism, in a formally complex and stylistically innovative manner.
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