Academic writing


Beyond Story: an Online, Community-Based Manifesto

We are practitioners and scholars drawn to documentary because of its potential to intervene in the dominant consensus of the perceived world.

We need documentary. We need it to help interpret the world. We use documentary. We use it as artists, as viewers, and as activists to help us imagine new ways to engage with the world. We rely on documentary, in all of its eclectic variety, to record, trouble, explain, reveal, and share lived reality and our plans and hopes to transform it.

Written with Alexandra Juhasz, Beyond Story is an online, community based manifesto.

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A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film, co-edited with Alexandra Juhasz (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)

A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film presents a collection of original essays that explore major issues surrounding the state of current documentary films and their capacity to inspire and effect change.

-- Presents a comprehensive collection of essays relating to all aspects of contemporary documentary films.

-- Includes nearly 30 original essays by top documentary film scholars and makers, with each thematic grouping of essays sub-edited by major figures in the field.

-- Explores a variety of themes central to contemporary documentary filmmakers and the study of documentary film – the planet, migration, work, sex, virus, religion, war, torture, and surveillance.

-- Considers a wide diversity of documentary films that fall outside typical canons, including international and avant-garde documentaries presented in a variety of media.

The Cinema of Me: the Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary (Wallflower Press, 2012)

When a filmmaker makes a film with herself as a subject, she is already divided as both the subject matter of the film and the subject making the film. The two senses of the word are immediately in play - the matter and the maker - thus the two ways of being subjectified as both subject and object.

Subjectivity finds its filmic expression, not surprisingly, in very personal ways, yet it is nonetheless shaped by and in relation to collective expressions of identity that can transform the cinema of 'me' into the cinema of 'we'. Leading scholars and practitioners of first-person film are brought together in this groundbreaking collection to consider the theoretical, ideological, and aesthetic challenges wrought by this form of filmmaking in its diverse cultural, geographical, and political contexts.


What people have said about The Cinema of Me:

"The construction of subjectivity in first-person documentary is given serious consideration in The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Cinema, a collection of first-person essays from several talented film theorists and practitioners … Lebow's style is one of sharp philosophical distinctions—namely, one that regards the matter of knowing ourselves as both a central ontological question and an exploration of self-representation."
Mora Moylan for International Documentary Association

First Person Jewish (University of Minnesota Press, 2008)

Documentaries have increasingly used the first person, with a number of prominent filmmakers finding critical and commercial success with this intimate approach. Jewish filmmakers have particularly thrived in this genre, using it to explore disparate definitions of the self in relation to the larger groups of family and community.

In First Person Jewish, Alisa S. Lebow examines more than a dozen films from Jewish artists to reveal how the postmodern impulse to turn the lens inward intersects provocatively (and at times unwittingly) with historical tropes and stereotypes of the Jew. Focusing her efforts on Jewish filmmakers working on the margins, Lebow analyzes the work of Jonathan Caouette, Chantal Akerman, and Alan Berliner, among others, also including a discussion of her own first person filmTreyf (1998), made with Cynthia Madansky. The filmmakers in this study, Lebow argues, are confronting a desire to both define and reimagine contemporary Jewishness.


Using a multidisciplinary approach to first person films, Lebow shows how this form of self-expression is challenging both autobiography and documentary and, in the process, changing the art of cinema and recording the cultural shifts of our time.

What people have said about FPJ:

"First Person Jewish is a remarkable work—wide ranging in scope and detailed in its attention to the complexities of Jewish self-representation in film. I cannot think of a comparable study."
— Judith Mayne, author of Claire Denis

"Opens new ground in Jewish studies and adds Jewishness as a serious category for discussion in recent film and video scholarship."
— Laura Levitt, director of Jewish studies, Temple University

"The great value of Lebow’s book lies in the excavation of autobiography as a plural form which evokes interesting tensions in its intersection with a public form like documentary. When these tensions collide with Jewish identity, history and memory, the result is a material force that seeks recognition as a powerful archival constellation."
— Ranjani Mazumdar, author of Bombay Cinema: An Archive of the City


Identity Slips: The Autobiographical Register in the Work of Chantal Akerman
Film Quarterly, Special Issue on Chantal Akerman (Vol 70, no. 1, Sept 2016)

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Seeing Revolution Nonlinearly:
Journal of Visual Anthropology, Special Issue on Generative Visualities (Vol. 29, Issue 3, Spring 2016)

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The Unwar Film A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film
Eds. Alisa Lebow and Alexandra Juhasz (Blackwell Publications, March 2015)

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Coup de Genre: The Trials and Tribulations of Bülent Ersoy
Co-written with Başak Ertür in Theory and Event Vol 17, no 1 (March 2014). Turkish version published in Heterosexism and Alienation, eds. Cüneyt Çakırlar and Serkan Delice, Metis, Istanbul, 2012 [in Turkish]

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Filming Revolution: Approaches to Programming the ‘Arab Spring’ Film Festivals and the Middle East
Eds Dina Iordanova and Stefanie Van De Peer (St Andrews Film Studies, 2014)

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First Person Political The Documentary Film Book
Ed. Brian Winston (BFI Publishing/Palgrave McMillan, 2013)

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Shooting with Intent Killer Images
Eds. Joram Ten Brink and Joshua Oppenheimer (Wallflower Press/Columbia University Press, 2012)

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Camera as Peripatetic Migration Machine The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary
Ed. Alisa Lebow (Wallflower Press/Columbia University Press, 2012)

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AVPhD: Supervising in the Dark
Journal for Media Practice Vol. 9, no. 3 (2008)

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Worldwide Wigs: Kutluğ Ataman and the Globalized Art Documentary
Arab Studies Journal (Volume XV no.2 XVI, no. 1, Fall 2007-Spring 2008)

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Strategic Sentimentality: Nostalgia and the Work of Eleanor Antin
Camera Obscura (Issue 66, Winter 2007)

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Faking What?: Making a Mockery of Documentary
In F is for Phony eds. Alexandra Juhasz and Jesse Lerner (University of Minnesota Press, 2006)

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Memory Once Removed: Transitive Autobiography in Chantal Akerman’s D’Est
Camera Obscura (Issue 52, Spring 2003)

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‘Docudrag’: or ‘Realness’ as Documentary Strategy
Co-written with Marcos Becquer, The Ethnic Eye eds. Chon Noriega and Ana Lopez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)

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