Documentary Film-Making as Intersemiotic Translation
This paper examines the concept of intermediality in my 10-minute documentary film, ‘Towers of Babel’ (2014). Part of a broader project exploring the nature of documentary film-making as a form of intersemiotic translation, it focuses more specifically on the various types of translation (i.e. written and oral; visible and invisible; professional and social) at play in a multilingual and multicultural working environment like the United Nations.
Itself conceived as an experimental translation of Jacques Derrida’s essay ‘Des Tours de Babel’ (1985), my film enacts his concept of ‘double bind’ (the idea that translation is both impossible, yet necessary), by bringing to light the contradictory demands at work within the organisation (the impossibility, yet necessity, to overcome plurilingualism through translation), and shows that in a multilingual environment like the UN the ideal translation is also paradoxically a negation of translation.
Reflecting on the intersemiotic dimension of documentary film-making as a form of translation, this paper suggests that translating reality into film is itself an impossible task, one that cannot be accomplished without also transgressing the very notion of objective reality that documentary film-making seeks to represent. As such, it invites us to think about the possibility that, as a partial and subjective response to reality located between reality and fiction, documentary film-making is itself a space of intermedial translation.