Orna Raviv

Orna Raviv is a director and producer of fictional and documentary films. Among her films are "Lod Detour" (2009), "Jerusalem Day" (2007), "Hat of Jerusalem" (2005) and "Dogs Are Color Blind" (1996), which have been screened at many international film festivals and were broadcasted in Israel and abroad. Raviv holds a bachelor’s degree in Cinema (1987), and a master’s degree in philosophy from Tel Aviv University (2007). She is the winner of the Dan David Prize scholarship in the field of Cinema and Society (2011) and the co-founder and organizer of the annual international conference on Israeli documentary cinema in Jerusalem. In 2015, she completed her PhD at Tel Aviv University’s School of Philosophy. Building on her dissertation, her book "Ethics of Cinematic Experience: Screens of Alterity" was published with Routledge in 2019.

"Who is the documentary Other? Levinas and Ethics of Alterity in Documentaries"

My presentation proposes to look at the question of documentary ethics through the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Emmanuel Levinas is known for having prompted an ethical shift in Western philosophical thought. For him, ethics is prior to any philosophical reflection. Levinas’s ethical thinking develops as a thinking of otherness or alterity, seeing in the ethical relation a demand to maintain the Other’s radical alterity without erasing it.

At first look, the interface between Levinas's ethics and cinema is far from obvious. For Levinas, the primacy of ethics seems to preclude the aesthetic realm and, more specifically, implies an opposition between what he regards as an ethical form of responsiveness to the Other and openness to the visual domain. Therefore, cinematic viewing, as a vision-based artistic experience, may not allow for ethical relations with the Other. It could even contribute to preventing such relationships from forming.

Fully aware of this position, I will give some insights into how despite Levinas’s declared hostility towards the visual, documentaries can arouse an ethical response to the Other in their viewers. I will accompany my talk with concrete examples from documentaries from Israel and elsewhere.