Film, Religion and Activist Citizens

An Ontology of Transformative Acts

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Milja Radovic
  • New York, NY: 
    , July
     166 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This timely monograph by Milja Radovic is concerned with films that produce questions about what it means to be a citizen and a participatory and relational human being in the contemporary world. Radovic points out that studies of film and religion often omit the link with citizenship, a conceptual term that she expands to “look at the notions of citizen and citizenship beyond their legal definition of membership in the state” (3). In Film, Religion and Activist Citizens, Radovic deliberately explores the ways in which acts of citizenship are embedded and made real in the particular films and filmic scenes analyzed, noting that the project is not focused on films explicitly intended to generate citizen activism or promote particular ideologies, but on “films that manifest acts of citizenship by creating a rupture that transforms” (62). For Radovic, one must act in order to be: fully being in the world means acting in some capacity, and that mode of active being claims a notion of citizenship that offers transformative possibilities beyond the self.

In the four chapters that make up the first half of the book, Radovic develops rich theoretical and philosophical frames, broadening the geographical scope offered in her longer case studies by selecting examples of films from Latin America and Asia. Thinking with Hannah Arendt and Engin F. Isin, Radovic considers the role of “homo faber with a camera” (human as maker or creator) within totalitarian regimes, acting against alienation, with an eye trained on the capacity of the individual to act, disrupt, and create (29). Drawing on Isin’s tripartite description of performative citizenship as wrought by acts, actor, and action, and “the further notion of scene, through which actors are produced and constituted by acts,” Radovic examines four films, one per chapter in the second half of the book: Ana Arabia, by Israeli film director Amos Gitai; Circles, by Serbian director Srdan Golubovic; Inferno, by Slovenian director Vinko Möderndorfer; and Wadjda, by Saudi director, Haifaa al-Mansour (9). Unfortunately, not all of these films are widely available to screen, though this is not a reflection on the study or the author, as she takes the readers into the films with great detail and critical interventions that allow for the writing to stand independently.

Radovic’s conception of religion is expansive, affording sympathetic possibilities for applying her frames to films that do not explicitly engage religion, but also drawing attention to the social justice frames integral to particular conceptions of religion, choosing films that “are primarily concerned with the questions of “who is the other?” that is, “who is my neighbor?” (7). In this sense, the concerns are more broadly philosophical and theological than engaged with thinking through particular religious frames. One of the most intriguing analytics in Film, Religion and Activist Citizens is the work of rupture in the films that serve as case studies. In Biographia Literaria, Samuel Coleridge introduces the “willing suspension of disbelief” that affords possibilities for “poetic faith,” and in her work Radovic posits that the temporal and creative space films provide makes it possible for “acts (of citizenship)” that offer us “a break from habitus” (60). Where there is a rupture, there may be a shift of consciousness, a cognitive or emotional opening—so say psychoanalysts, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, and cultural theorists, alike. In her treatment, Radovic succeeds in her goal “to specifically look at how filmmakers and those engaged in the process of filming enact citizenship through the creative process and how acts embedded in the filmic create a ‘rupture’” (14).

Radovic thoughtfully delineates what this work encompasses, meaningfully brackets what lies outside her purview, and artfully fills a void in existing studies. A publically engaged scholar with ties to the international film community, Radovic has adjudicated numerous film festivals and brings a unique sight line to her scholarly work on the intersection of religion, film, and citizenship. The book is intellectually lively, well grounded in theory, and balanced with approachable and methodologically sound case studies. It would work well for an advanced undergraduate course in media studies, religious studies, history, or political science, as well as a bold text for graduate courses across the humanities. Radovic’s deft and sensitive attention to her case studies amplify the films and poise us to be better viewers and interpreters, and to more critically analyze how filmic and ontological space has been—and has yet to be—claimed by and for activist citizens.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Diana Murtaugh Coleman is a doctoral candidate at the School of Historical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies at Arizona State University.

Date of Review: 
February 21, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Milja Radovic is an academic working in the interdisciplinary field of religion, media and citizenship studies. Her academic studies traverse several fields, including citizenship, nationalism, conflict, peacebuilding and visual arts, gender studies, transnational cinema and ideology. Alongside her academic work she is actively engaged with the public sector, being an active member of Interfilm and serving as a juror at several International film festivals.



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