Commentary Christian Schmid

Christian Schmid is a professor for sociology at the architecture department of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Switzerland. We have been friends for a long time. Since the Opera House Riots in 1980 in Zurich we have been discussing the question, how and under what conditions video can be used in urban ethnography to do research in cooperation with the people under study and not about them. Christian Schmid: ‘We, from the video group Community Media (at the Anthropology Department of Zurich University), used video as a research tool. We tried to use video to conduct participant observation of our own society and, simultaneously, to do our research together with the members of diverse activist groups’. (see Christian Schmid, Video 08.26: Ethnographic videos / a mix of documentation, participation and activism)

Christian Schmid talks in his video portrait about how the local authorities were portrayed with video and how they talked about squatters and how to cope with them. The statements in the video Aktion Hellmutstrasse about the squatters by Max Koller, a city councilor, became legendary: ‘These amoeba-like groups that change on a daily basis – you can’t really negotiate with them. You never know where you stand. I cannot get hold of them when I need to’. (vgl. Christian Schmid Video 13.50: Operation «Hellmutstrasse» / How video can stimulate action)

During the traumatic times of the youth unrest in Switzerland from 1980 to 1981, when repression by the police and the judicial authorities set in, video was also used to document assaults by police officers and to show the heavy injuries of the victims. The video Gwalt (Violence) was screened at a tribunal of the youth movement as evidence against the authorities and their abuse of power. Christian Schmid: ‘Working on this particular video project also became a traumatic experience for us because we had to tell these very personal stories of the victims – stories that could all easily have been our own’. (see Christian Schmid, Video 31.47: How the group «Community Media» survived / A film about the injured of the riots)

Christian Schmid is convinced that today it remains important to film social movements from within and not from the top down. A number of questions are involved. Christian Schmid: ‘How does the feedback process between the filmmakers and the activist groups function? How does one work with these films, how can film be applied? And it is important that these films are used concretely at events as a medium of discussion and reflection’. (see Christian Schmid, Video 52.08: Today’s relevance of Community Video)

Wishing you an inspiring viewing session,

Heinz Nigg

In the 1970s and 1980s, young activists discovered video as a new medium and used moving images in their struggle for access to cultural expression for the many, not the few. They were researching and developing new forms of independent and participatory media work. This was an important step towards realizing the utopian promises of the digital age.