Montage City: Filmmaking as Urban Observation

Visual Studies

Fall 2012

Cassim Shepard, instructor

This workshop immersed students in the theory and practice of cinematic montage as a pro-active strategy of interpreting the built environment of cities and urban sites. We looked at a number of sites in New York and students produced short videos that analyzed and represented essential qualities of a site in terms of the social practices of a site’s users.

In contemporary design practice, producing moving images to support the argument for a particular architectural intervention tends to visualize potential and imagined futures, such as the animated flythrough or motion graphics rendering, rather than existing conditions. As urban and architectural discourse relies on new readings of the production and consumption of filmic images in a contemporary reality increasingly dominated by screens, these discourses continue to overlook the history of the poetic tradition in non-fiction filmmaking: citysymphonies, experimental documentaries, cinema verité.

This workshop focused on preparing students to look closely at what is around them–on how people use, navigate and interact with the built environment. Key selections from the theoretical literature on montage and from the history of poetic non-fiction cinema informed the production of original video montages that investigated urban conditions. The workshop’s structure included formal exercises designed to improve fluency in the language of cinematography and reflected upon a sustained process of urban observation.