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What is the difference between describing and changing the world? What is the difference between stories and history, storytelling and history (in the making)? Or, who would and could make a call and dial history? And why? This essay film by Johan Grimonprez confronts us with inconvenient questions of social and political agency, mainstream media imagination and manipulation. Unfolding the international history of hijackings and the changing media representations of these attacks from the seemingly romantic-revolutionary 1960s on through the violent and hectic 1990s the film raises questions of social responsibility, acting and agency. Who were these hijackers, how did and do media portray their acts, and how have these eye-catching and startling media representations taken on a life of their own? Grimonprez presents a film that moves far beyond the common debates about media, manipulation and violence. dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y exhibits a weird interplay between hijackings and media: how hijackers exploit and use media, and how media exploit and capitalise upon terrorist attacks and hijackings. While the visual montages of the film combine newsreel footages, television reports, amateur films and other kinds of found materials, an intertextual narrative arc remixes and reinterprets motifs and excerpts from Don DeLillo’s novels, especially Mao II and White Noise. dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is visually compelling, emotionally confusing, and intellectually challenging, never allowing us to become preoccupied with preset ideas or interpretations, visual or intellectual clichés.
Johan Grimonprez, born in 1962, is a Belgian multimedia artist and curator. Following his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent and the School of Visual Arts in New York, in 1993 he participated in an open studies programme at the Whitney Museum and shortly thereafter attended the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. His works and curatorial projects are shown worldwide, including in the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His films include Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997) and Double Take (2009), which were nominated for numerous awards.