Doc’s Kingdom 2017: Flat surfaces and the deepest of pits

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Thinking, writing, speaking. It has always been a while. Yet, these are also always ongoing activities. Is it possible that we write during the tiny moments when we do not? Are we writing while processing feelings and ideas? When we water our imaginary plants, or celebrate our birthday near a real campfire? What then constitutes that, ‘’a real campfire’’?

This question leads me back to Arcos de Valdevez, in the north of Portugal, where people come together every year at the beginning of September to discuss a matter very much related to what I was contemplating: what is documentary cinema?

From the moment one gets introduced, inaugurated, or prepared for a specific context in which multiple power structures are at play, one should no longer lie to oneself. It happens quite often that young enthusiasts, of all ages, happen to blindly believe in what is served to them. A smile is often a smile but also much more. I am now speaking about the social construction film culture is and what makes us shut our mouths. The culture of music festivals has, rightly so, been criticized properly and extensively. With many people continually asking: if something feels like an event, does that also make it true? Now, in order to get away from our preoccupation with festivalism, we naturally need alternative structures made with different aims. Doc’s Kingdom, a harmonious adaptation from The Flaherty Seminar, tries this on its very own terms, both for the sake of cinema. This year I had the opportunity to go, and did my best to reflect this model as well as I could, hopefully a bit through the eyes of the initiators, Nuno Lisboa, Filipa César and Olivier Marboeuf. Thus I will start by describing an encounter with one of them, from a reversed perspective:

It is morning. We have all spend our first night in Arcos, after we watched the opening films, discussing them too. As one of the leading organizers, I move downstairs to the hotel restaurant where breakfast is served. I am curious to hear about people’s first night and I enquire to know if they slept well. In the back, I join a young writer we have invited and we talk about Regina Guimarães & Saguenai, two artists from Porto who have been living and working together for many, many years. They voluntarily joined earlier editions of Doc’s Kingdom in the past. Yesterday evening, we proudly presented Saguenai’s Mourir un peu (1985) as the opening film, for which their daughter worked very hard to get the English subtitles ready in time. Furthermore: I speak to the writer and answer his questions regarding their working background. Then I think: there surely is one film he needs to see, to the extent that I already can sense his enthusiasm, even before he has any single notion of its existence. I tell him this and it is impossible to hide my chills.

Being a fresh participant, this was a very important moment for me. Enthusiasm in an industry – or its quirky branches – is far from a given and thus this spontaneous eruption made me more affirmative in an instant. Yet the organizers were not afraid to expound the problems of certain docmentarist issues. In other words, nobody was here for the sake of pleasing one another. People had fun and enjoyed their time, however when it boiled down to it, we were all here for the documentary cause, something that I would like to describe as an engagement with moving-image making in a sense that is in multiple ways absolutely committed to its subject matter (and everything linked). 

The theme of this year’s seminar stemmed from the following image:

 

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Troubled waters. Mixed waters. Strange waters. A mixture of intentions, the risk of messing it up, but without it possibly being anyone’s fault. Somehow. An image painted for the seminar, but kept devoid of information. We got to know nothing of its creator. It contains the streams of the sea, always returning to their point of departure and thus the image dissolves or returns nothing but itself. The sea as a source of clues that never stop hinting, promising, giving, like the poster.

If a slightly topical seminar is directed towards certain postcolonial concerns, you nowadays know that there are always people who appropriate these tendencies in order to find out what it has to do with them, with their lives and the way they give shape to it. How to justify this? It is something we need to do, although during this year’s seminar I noticed a particularly broad gap between those who seemed, outside of their films, still busy with justifying their endeavors through elaborate discourse, whereas others plainly stated things and spoke continually in direct relation to the film. It is not to say that the others were not, but there is a tangible difference here. It even forced me to create this opposition as an integral part of the text.

Or, as Lucrecia Martel says in this interview on her latest feature Zama (2017): ‘’You only address colonialism with solemn seriousness if you don’t experience it daily.’’ This is exactly my point. In the weeks since the seminar I kept trying to solve this puzzle that was forming in my head. This was complicated due to the fact that I appreciated films made by both sides (yes, that’s right: sides). One film was Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1983), a film that lulled everyone to a zen-like state through which we could calmly discuss the matters at hand. It was a condition many of the participants did not expect, because after all, the film tells a painful story about a black American family. How can such a film not be heavy at hand? I am sure it has perplexed many spectators since its 1983 release. On top of this, we had the crucial luck of having Woodberry himself around as a seminarian. He concisely asked and answered multiple questions, without ever overdoing it.

Then, on the other hand, there were Graeme Thomson and Silvia Maglioni, of which the programmers picked two films (without them knowing what exactly would be shown, as with all of the filmmakers invited) including the longest one of the entire seminar: Dissapear One (2015). It revolves around a group of human beings who partake in a theatre play, as performed on a cruise in the middle of the Atlantic. These people, though, are very open and fluid in their expressions, excessively so, meaning that many of the acts they perform as part of the film can be unbearable for some. This audiovisual constellation, an exploratory excavation and test of our empathy, imbued me with perhaps the saddest and most precipitous feeling I ever experienced while watching a film. This is not a judgmental remark. The film tested the flooding capacity of my emotions. As Alexander Kluge once observed: ‘’People are onlookers to their own feelings, so to speak. They stroll through a zoo, through a panopticon of feelings. That’s surely the real form of melodrama, not that we go away having learned something.’’ But beware, this is not a mere melodrama, since many people left during the film. They were bored or did not care. For me, this ambivalence which temporarily altered the atmosphere in the same sense that Woodberry’s did, albeit in a completely new direction. This exemplified that this was not melodrama, according to Kluge’s definition of the opera in general, as a power plant of emotions, since people were too irritated or distracted. It is an overabundance of affect. Not knowing what to do with it. A problem of communication.

I decided to let this and the seminar’s momentum sink. And in the weeks that passed, I watched other films. One was John Akomfrah’s The Stuart Hall Project (2013), and I want to invoke it because it is almost anti-obsessed with transposing knowledge, the ending in particular: it soothed my mind. Due to that it allowed me to breathe and think like Woodberry’s film. While, if one is acquainted with Akomfrah, one knows he could very well have been capable of justifying his discourse and of telling the importance of this or that meeting with this or that intellectual juggernaut. But somehow he resists this in this film. Somehow, anecdotes of who you know and why they matter, do not matter. It is all contained in the film itself. And this is also what seemed at stake at this year’s Doc’s Kingdom. A worthy concern.

Bless Their Little HeartsBless Their Little Hearts (Billy Woodberry, 1983)

I could have ended the text here, and this would have been unmistakably easy. Since what does a sentence with words like ”worthy” and ”concern” mean? A few days ago, I had a call with a filmmaker who attended an event that hoped to create a counter-hegemonic public sphere during and against a major national film festival. He reported, saying that it was good ”for putting some issues back on the map”, which actually translates as a wish to be absorbed by the festival the organizers are trying to question. Can that possibly happen if it originates so tightly in relation to its main antagonist? As I browse through eighty-six pages of notes jotted down between the 3rd and the 8th of September, I realize that many of its intimate descriptions point, almost instinctively, to a very subjective interest. One that moves me back to my personal life and therefore to, among many other things, a projection of what documentary cinema needs. This opposition I consciously created between imagined collections of bodies, what are they but fictional? Because these sides do not exist but in my very experience of this year’s seminar, and in the many notes on participating artists who happen to be penniless rather than institutionalized.

Straub emphasized this by saying how difficult it is to describe what we see in front of us, as it exposes us too, as we try to engage in a distancing from our own emotions. An important paradox. For one due to its questioning of what work is and how to value it. For another that it cannot hide where the observator comes from. Many canonical works that stem from the established tradition of Direct Cinema provide us with a tricky idea: that the films contain elements of direct-ness as a constitutive body. That we can see all the way through to its bottom. Rerouting us to a pivotal discussion point: what is a surface? Can the sea also be flat? Flatness as full and rich as the deepest pit?

When Regina Guimarães at one point speaks about cinema, and her cinédrawing La panne des sens (2014)she utters the following: “Cinema has a draft-like quality to it, and this film is more like a drawing.” Thus she proposes something different from many of the seminar’s invited artists, namely that by deciding a priori that a film is something devoid of value, and not a commodifiable object to extract financial or sociocultural profit from. Is this not also an embodiment of the seminar’s main intent? To steer itself away from exhausted roads fortified by others? I will only find out through returning, reconsidering.

 

”You need air between objects in order to paint well like you need feelings between ideas in order to think properly.” – Joachim Gasquet

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Cézanne: Conversation avec Joachim Gasquet (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet, 1990)

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IMG_3771A doodle by Regina Guimarães, made during Doc’s Kingdom ’17, photographed on a desk in Vienna

On the time-full practice of being care-full

We Had the Experience But Missed the Meaning by Laida Lertxundi

I have never seen a single film in my life. And will probably never do so until I die.

Yes: I witnessed, I looked, I viewed and I’ve watched plenty (not to mention: ‘’glanced’’).

Since a couple of weeks, I variably started having films by five authors for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras, Sander Hölsgens, Farah Hasanbegović and most habitually: Laida Lertxundi). All were selected because I want to undergo the process similar to that of a musical diet. But instead via cinema. Meaning: I admit and acknowledge to myself that if I watch a film for, let’s say, thirty days, new insights will excavate themselves out of this repetition. The necessity to look and discern the objects in a film, instead of the hunt for its affect, constitutes your commitment to the film. It helps you to flatten these surface-leveled affects, strips them down. In light of my recent experience, it is only then that the true affect of a film can present itself.

Now, how does repetition relates itself to the work of Laida Lertxundi? Through her explorations of the mechanisms of intimacy, and its endless variations, we are constantly being put into the process of an initiation. A beginning. A reset. But a re-setting in which a deliberate repetition is detectable. So why are her films invoking unforeseen images every time you watch them? Are they not the same films?

The tiniest detail in Lertxundi’s work compressively inhibits and negotiates possible levels of differentiation. As Badiou put it in In Praise of Love: ‘’At the most minimal level, people in love put their trust in difference rather than being suspicious of it. Reactionaries are always suspicious of difference in the name of identity; that’s their general philosophical starting-point. If we, on the contrary, want to open ourselves up to difference and its implications, so the collective can become the whole world, then the defence of love becomes one point individuals have to practise. The identity cult of repetition must be challenged by love of what is different, is unique, is unrepeatable, unstable and foreign. In 1982 in the Theory of the Subject I wrote: “Love what you will never see twice.”

When I’m looking at a Lertxundi, I learn to love what is impossible to re-see. I learn to walk the streets, looking a bit more care-full. Knowing that everything I see can never be re-seen and therefore deserves my love. I would like to argue that her way of structuring films departs from a point of tight consistency. In which we are reminded, through these repetitive rhythms of singular moments, that differentiation is born precisely out of our willingness to look (back) and reflect. Her films allow one to get accustomed to what is different, unique, unrepeatable, unstable and foreign. Through her films you can learn to love what you see every day, in other words: ‘’what you will never see twice.’’

What does it mean to look and view as a filmer? Possibly, alternatively: to try and fixate a foreign moment. A patch of light, gently caressing and temporarily weaving itself through the hair of a person on the lookout of a boat, sailing. Until it fades again.

Quoting the late Victor Perkins: ‘’Significance… arises rather from the creation of significant relationships than from the presentation of things significant in themselves.’’

And since light is as much material as anything envisioned by the camera and perceived by the wo/man, the artificially constructed procedure through which Lertxundi lets me spend attention is, and makes possible, to access her films in such and such a way that allows me to realize how all the things we watch, attempt to hear, and try to feel are malleable materials that render futile the discussion whether it needs to be projected from its original format… Or not. Indeed: in the case of this filmer, the way light is captured needed to be captured on film. But even/also if we look at it digitally, her care-full attitude remains.

After I watched six of her films chronologically, with a friend whose opinion I highly value, we had a fruitful discussion since she had trouble figuring out why Lertxundi’s work provoked me so. Usually, the authors we watch vary from Duras and Denis to Costa and Godard. Apparently, there is something in these six films, or during these viewings, which in this context undermined and disrupted our shared interests and needs, as we usually besail the same stream effortlessly.

The heartbeats of her films are perhaps what make this such an important point of inquiry: you try to describe an image you see, but somehow there is struggle involved. A reluctance. Not against describing what is on-screen, nor off-screen, but against describing this heartbeat. How to measure the rhythm of a heartbeat? If we dare not even touch it with our fingers, how can we do so with our minds?

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Why, then, is this so? One thing is sure for me: everything our gaze crosses paths with has a place in the world as much as the object by which we, as humans, are perceived. The coherence in every aspect of Lertxundi’s imagery is perhaps what makes this tangible. Making tangible that the largest and most unbelievable differences are made slightly visible by movements that are unrepeatable and that our existences are made up of a chain of moments that are strictly not delayable and demand to be acted upon with full care and an almost dire form of attention. And that is what Lertxundi at times manages to aestheticize: a gaze and form of attention-spending that we need to continuate all our lives, but what always proves to be like lethal labor. This is, perhaps, what makes her films at once unbearable and strangely soothing.

There was a moment while writing this piece, when I stopped working it through and passed it on to my editor, he commenting that it was not as thorough as it could have been. Not critiquing on the quality of what I wrote, but mostly on what I didn’t write, on what I left out. It is very much true that this piece was by no means ready. Since without Badiou, and including a couple of pivotal sentences that stem from In Praise of Love, I would never have been engraved by her films as much as I am. This text feels as a connection of loose relationships, taking that risk. But is it sometimes not better to assist in connecting the dots, rather than forcing oneself to think of something that isn’t even there in the first place?

Perchance, the age gap shaped the difference between my reception, and my friend’s. Perchance, it did not. What is that thing, that particularity, that milks from me a thrill so very rare? Not only will I never know, but most crucially and frightening: neither will I ever see.

Cry When It Happens, perhaps my favorite, entered me as her most coherent work. Although: could it be that all of her films touch someone else, making this issue of ”wholeness” or ”concreteness” no longer as a generality, but as something really personal? That she does not want to make films that form a wholeness that speaks to us all, a universally felt wholeness, so to speak, but a fiercely private one? Redetermined via each separate film? Guiding us to a modus operandi of putting our feelings at stake. Willingly. Reminding us that we can only ever be the sum of our wing spans.

We Had the Experience But Missed the Meaning by Laida Lertxundi

We Had the Experience But Missed the Meaning

To love is to struggle, beyond solitude, with everything
in the world that can animate existence.
This world where I see for myself the fount of
happiness my being with someone else brings.
“I love you” becomes: in this world there is the
fount you are for my life. In the water from this
fount, I see our bliss, yours first. As in Mallarmé’s
poem, I see:

In the wave you become
Your naked ecstasy.*

Cry When It Happens by Laida Lertxundi

Cry When It Happens

  *A prematurely conclusive bundle of words, also by Badiou. (In Praise of Love, 2012, p.104)

Perceptible layers of friendship, or when only adults are capable of play

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Oftentimes it is assumed that youthful playfulness is lost in transition

                                                                                     lost in translation

 

as we maneuver from one age category to another

 

being disciplined to play, in certain spaces and within certain time slots,

 

what does it mean to play [in high school] – what does it mean to play [on a film set]

 

Theater play? Amusement, entertainment? Latitude, range? Have fun? Compete in sport? Act; take the part of? Gamble, risk? Produce music?

Definitions too reductive. Yet they all apply.

During last week, I went to the Open Studios at the Jan van Eyck Academie, and I was lucky enough to see a good film about the important subject of kids and how we force them to play.

Flicker like Flames [sketches towards a speculative film] is a film by the British artist Sol Archer, who, during his period in Rotterdam, tried to make a film with kids from a local high school. They recorded everything themselves. Here’s to the Future is a film by the American filmer and writer Gina Telaroli. A film made with and by friends on a sunny Sunday.

The group of children don’t know cinema. Most of them will become craftsmen. Or might become drug dealers. But before that, they are still permitted to reenact masculine standards by means of remaking scenes from Game of Thrones or Furious 7. Now, they do this together and they have fun in doing so. You see them laughing, making jokes. Working as a team, as classmates, in order to reach their ‘’goals.’’ They play, that is sure. But are they, in their context, capable of playing freely?

film setFlicker like Flames [sketches towards a speculative film] (Sol Archer, 2017)

For Telaroli’s film, she invited all sorts of friends to participate in its production. Artists, critics, all sorts of people. Most of them happen to be ‘’experts’’ on cinema. Yet this film is as ‘’messy’’ as the one made by the high school kids. They try to do everything in order to not reach anything. My mom remarked: ‘’I can’t bear watching this, is this even a film?’’ She took herself to bed.

Does true play demand true work? If our mothers can’t even imagine this, I don’t want to think about all the play/work that’s still lying ahead of us. All the play that still needs to be done. To be dealt with. People always say that ‘’we as adults inevitably need to deal with doing the work and nothing but the work itself’’ but perhaps this is not work but play. What then is this? Do I have any clue of what goes through my body when I think of ‘’play’’?

flmset2 Flicker like Flames [sketches towards a speculative film] (Sol Archer, 2017)

 As was said by Thomas Henricks’ in his essay The Nature of Play: An Overview:

‘’First published in 1938, Huizinga’s work [Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture] focuses both on the nature of play and on its changing significance in European societies from the classical period to modern times. The best known element of Homo Ludens is Huizinga’s statement of five defining characteristics of play. First, play is a relatively free or voluntary activity in which people set the terms and timing of their own involvement. Second, play is distinguished from routine affairs by its absence of material consequences. Third, play is separated from other activities by its use of exotic rules, playing spaces, ideas of time, costumes, and equipment. Fourth, play is marked by the way in which it both honors rules and yet encourages transgression and disorder. And fifth, play promotes the banding together of participants in “secret” or otherwise outlandish societies.

Here’s to the Future is very true, and for many of us, confrontational. Precisely because it is ticking all the boxes of what is outlined above. To me it transposed the idea that very possibly, we should not try to ‘’re-discover playfulness’’ again. But rather: to invent it for the very first time. We see the film and we feel that we’ve been tricking ourselves. That there is nothing to retrieve. Grounded in the belief that a film set can serve as a secluded place in which we make time to strengthen our bonds. To make friends but particularly to make friendships better by allowing each other to do something with our anxieties, safely. Is this also a form of playing with fire?

 Later on, Henricks continues:

‘’Although Huizinga was committed to the idea of playfulness as a spirit or orientation within societies, he also emphasized that those same societies historically have maintained frameworks—sometimes involving carefully protected times and spaces—to encourage playful behaviors. Clearly, such is the case with “games,” which are cultural formats that help people interact in defined ways and ensure the continuity of play across time and space. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1974) called these models for behavior “frames.” In that sense, play (as opposed to work, religious ritual, “real” fights, etc.) is a broad cultural arena where people learn to recognize, anticipate, and orient themselves. And there are more specific kinds of play—jokes, daydreams, contests—that we also understand. We “play” when we participate in these cultural forms.’’

Thus I noticed that one group of filmmakers (the high school kids from Rotterdam) is functioning much more within a frame that is supposedly determined to ‘’teach them something.’’ Whereas the second (the film enthusiasts) are much more willing to ‘’learn something’’, collectively. In spite of not needing to be on Telaroli’s set, while all the kids do need to partake in Archer’s shoot. So who’s really, radically, playing?

‘’As the last paragraph of Homo Ludens somewhat ruefully puts it, play in the final analysis “lies outside morals” and “in itself is neither good nor bad.” Play pursues neither truth nor justice but is instead a fundamentally aesthetic endeavor, a set of practices that explore the meanings of experience in a wide range of scenes and settings.’’

And this was precisely what interested me about these two films. Archer exposing education’s necessary evil: cloaked as ‘’play,’’ young adolescents are slowly being taught to indeed judge and to indeed, learn how to act in a shallow resemblance of society. It is important that many of the ‘’frames’’ or ‘’games’’ that are established and played also expand beyond the schoolyard. Telaroli, on the other hand, gets rid of these important restrictions and makes thinkable and sensible a first exposure to play in adulthood, perhaps also in life as a whole. Or is it safe to say: ‘’fun’’?

Both of these films, at points, provide hints of having fun. Now, it’s about time to inject a third player: Helen Hill’s The World’s Smallest Fair (1995). Not only is this unexpected visitor crushing many of the relations that were set and developed by the other two films, but foremost she is no longer concerned with rationality. As Soderbergh wrote when he posted his cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey; The Return of W. De Rijk: ‘’sometimes you have to cross the line to know where the line is. just ask any two-year-old.’’

In Hill’s film, she and her classmates from CalArts ‘’create one square mile of cotton candy in fantastical shapes.” And in this square mile, sounds are recorded and images are taken which were uttered in a secluded period of time. I did ask: if they are really playing, why then are they looking for these boundaries? Is it not a tool in order te retrieve the sanity required to keep going outside of this particular square? Is it not a merely functional way of appropriating our ideas of ‘’having fun’’? Just as functional as the kids from high school? My conviction is: no. The ‘’just as’’ I employed is risky, since it tries to level these two inherently different endeavors. Limiting both their distinctly alternating affects and effects.


smallestfairr2The World’s Smallest Fair (Helen Hill, 1995)

I do need to add that Hill’s film evokes a similar response among flocks of people: namely, that of the assumption that this is not a film, or cannot be taken seriously as a film, because the characters involved do not seem to be taking it seriously themselves. But who says this is so? To establish a sense of communitas, ”the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group”, a lot of sacrifices are demanded from each of the individuals who agree to participate. The intensity with which I see the – here it comes – art students interact with each other in this film, must have been quite exhaustive. Now, the fact that their involvement is explicitly mentioned in Hiller’s description of the film, is not making it easier for the skeptics to open up. Anyhow: people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, so I’d better rest my case.

What all these films present, are different conceptions and executions of what we see as play and fun. But to reduce them solely as devices to get something done or to reach a different point, is inescapable. Especially in cinema, where we are almost always existing in relation to how people around us spend their time, it is exceptionally daring to try to break with this habit. We are all possibly lonely, and to move away from ourselves we need to act in accordance to others. What some of these do signify, luckily, is that we do not need, a priori, to determine and calculate their outcomes. And I guess all three films that I tried to discuss in this text make such outcomes, and let’s say it, function, rather unpredictable.

making visible layers of friendshipHere’s to the Future (Gina Telaroli, 2014)

Alternative Film/Video Belgrade: Holes Exist in Every Single Tree

Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade

In the stretch of a year, a lot may happen. Alliances may form, break or be reconciled. What deserves acknowledgment is the importance of continuity and labour. Taking the time, or reserving the time TO MEET WITH FRIENDS AT THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME PLACE, year in year out, is something I yet need to undergo, but my return to the Balkans this autumn/winter transposed this truth and I am very lucky to be able to make the time for such gatherings. Where in November I stopped by at Pravo Ljudski in Sarajevo, this month I revisited Alternative Film/Video Belgrade (7-11 December 2016).

Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade

Yugoslav anti-film revealed itself to me during last year’s 25 FPS, in Zagreb. An interest initiated. Soon after I was to be taught by Boris Poljak, who at some point took me from Sarajevo to Split, during which he shared several anecdotes concerning his main teacher and friend Ivan Martinac, who was responsible for filling generations of filmers with mountains of cine-enthusiasm. Autumn 2015. Leaves changing colours. Followed by a hot cocoa with Vjekoslav Nakić, someone else who played a major role in this history. With similar vigor, he inspirited me because of his animated and humble personae. These are just a couple of events that inclined me to return to the Balkans. And to keep returning, since this year Petra Belc, a friend and scholar, was there to present an excavated selection of women’s experimental film made in former Yugoslavia.

But let’s most certainly not underestimate the time-related privilege that comes with this endeavor. As Yoana Pavlova contested on Twitter:

‘’Once you pop up at any festival w/ a baby stroller, it gets much more complicated. One shouldn’t omit the fact that festivals require physical availability + certain existential choices from both men & women… And this is where the problems start, as women are supposed to be happy to make the same choices as men, only it’s > complex’’

And therefore the ability to build a relationship with a festival and its visitors is not possible for everyone, let alone with a location-specific art movement. When I meet someone who has uninterruptedly frequented a foreign festival in the course of nine or ten years, nine times out of ten it is a white man. Worth noting is that it often also includes more than just a single event, but several spread out over the globe. There shouldn’t be exceptions to this rule.

Writing p(l)ainly about moments that leave unmistakable imprints on the way one deals with life, is not easy but much needed. As I ponder about Alternative Film/Video, I’m calling to mind… Vlada Petrić, founder of the Harvard Film Archive, approaching and talking to Eve Heller with a childlike blink. Together with Petra (Belc) I’m attending this split-second (in a history) and suddenly cinema changes a bit. How? Why? I honestly don’t know, but it felt as if a cog moved, triggering a change elsewhere as part of a grander scheme of things.

What is the difference of describing this in either a couple of words or a couple of books? A film festival as impressive as this cannot be fully described. You go there, of course never knowing what it will become, and it ends up talking and activating one’s faith.

Sudden thought: ‘’…(moving) images here, (moving) images there… but true preservation happens not everywhere…’’

I arrived relatively late to the party, but arguably at the best possible moment: just in time for Sebestyén Kodolányi’s presentation. A fierce archivist and educator / an educator who works in archiving / an archivist who wholeheartedly educates. Delivering something that cracked open, invigorated, and crushed our notions of how to cut through unnecessary tendencies and cycles of self-validating curatorship. Or: programming. To program one’s flow of thought.

It was the kind of get-together where we happen to make notes of the following sort: ‘’with [this or that person] you are not being put in the mode of giving compliments. But rather: to talk in order to burn the bullshit together. To pursue this as both receiver and sender, or what is left of this dichotomy.’’

Giving films their ‘’much-needed portion of attention’’ is right but also extremely problematic. Since ninety percent of the films we get to see, especially through festival screenings, already passed through more eyes than we can imagine (also because this is never de-mystified or questioned, since festival selections need to appear as novel discoveries, instead of films that made a long and difficult journey before arriving in front of the public). Though, once again, Alternative Film/Video is singular in this stance because it presents to us moving images that are, if not picked by someone after the festival, immediately gone, that is: if not viewed with the attention that is required to fully notice it. And to be able to see in a festival works that will, though just in few occasions, only have a lifespan as long as a single screening, is actually something that needs to be lauded. It takes bravery and guts to show something that is, due to several reasons unknown to us as well as the programmers, bound to slip into forgetfulness.

Now, if I would have to describe one film, which one would it be? Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy is the one that still occupies my mind. Bearing resemblance to Ismaïl Bahri’s Foyer (2016), it poses: “What do we think we see?” And both are films shot in the Middle East with lenses that are intentionally obscured. But that is where the similarities end. Enfin: to take a camera to somewhere foreign is easy for us Westerners. We put it up and we can start recording. But what then? Do we see anything when we see something “in vivid detail?” Or is it more specific to any given situation? So that an extremely blurred image might disclose just as great an insight as the aforementioned? There’s a pinhole camera. There is also a desert. People are curious. The camera doesn’t care but slowly starts to capture images more clearly. Until there is the arrival of a train. You feel fearful but then the camera keeps spinning in 360 degrees as the train doesn’t seem to have a tail. L’arrivée d’un train en gare but none of the bystanders seem to care. And perhaps they have a point.

Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy

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Foyer (2016) by Ismaïl Bahri

The final screening ends. I turn my head to the right and there appears Vlada Petrić. We are the only two who remained seated until the very end of the festival, my twenties just started, he will soon turn ninety. I look down to see what I scribbled down in my notebook during the films, and it is only because of its repetition – pardon my horrific handwriting – that I vaguely manage to discern:

All I demand is Enthusiasm…
All I demand is Enthusia…
All I demand is Enthus…
All I demand is En…
All I demand i…
All I dema…
All I d…
All I…

..
.

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Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy

(W)all of the Lights

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To be a filmer is to always work with light and time as your two most essential and basic particles. Perhaps, as I will ponder in this piece, and opposed to an opinion apparent in certain cinephilic circles, not always and exclusively with a physical one. Reading Gidal and Markopoulos during the past year, their books bestowed upon me a notion of filmic ‘’material’’ that I took and thought in too literal a manner.

At the end of my one and only day of being present at this year’s Âge d’Or festival in Brussels (6th – 11th October), filmer Birgit Hein gave a book presentation on Film als Idee, a publication in which, for the first time, several of her most important texts have been translated and collected – in English. What made it interesting to hear her speak, was that her intonation and what she said gave relevance to sentences that are in a sense overly familiar, would they have been uttered by different people in different contexts, Hein clearly knowing how and when to highlight the right words. And thus, also illuminating light and time in the aforementioned order.

To jump to a different plane, and to a different discussion, what then may possibly indicate an interesting filmer? Could it be that a good film (there, I’ve said it) first and foremost wisely employs (or spends attention to) light and time, tailored to each individual artistic ende(a)vour, and in the right amounts?

Because as I was listening to Kanye West’s song All of the Lights, I realized that what attracts most film-makers (not: filmers) to cinema is the supererogation of Lights and not of Times. Understandably so: light is everywhere, and can be (mis-)used at every time and at every place. And has a much more tangible element to it, plus: it is measurable. But can the same be said about time? When I’m meeting young filmmakers, most of the time, you can hear how they mistreat these basic particles not only in their films, but especially in everyday life. It is part of their speech and in their being. How we treat time informs how time treats us, and vice versa. Therefore they are, somehow, shut-off from the world. Blinded by a wall of light in which they wilfully wrap themselves. Wrapping themselves in illusions in which they make themselves believe // make-believe // that one can ignore the passage of such a Monstrosity.

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Does it matter with whom we watch our most formative films?

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As of this very moment, I’m about to leave my mother [‘s house].

Within a couple of days, I will be somewhere somewhere else.

So it makes me think, after watching Dominique Auvray’s Marguerite, telle qu’en elle-même with her: have I been grateful enough for her openness to all the films which I did not show her, but what we watched in sync?

In sync not in the sense of intellectual comprehension. But more in the vein of: a life lived together. Jointly. Teamwise.

I somehow never truly experienced a physical form of cinephilia with my peers. For a long time, I asked myself: why? And more importantly: why was I not shipwrecked because of such a lack?

Yesterday I realized: because there wasn’t one. My mother was always there. Interested, open. Thoroughly invested. She was not able to understand everything, but she went along with whatever I had yet to see – though I also frequently showed her films I already watched, probably because it was a way of sharing or confiding something personal in her. What I grew to appreciate more and more, was how differently I started to see things. She noticed details, behavioural patterns that demanded life experience [of a different gender]. Especially when we saw films or movies that were so contrarian to her own history, I always knew we worked on our relationship in a way that was impossible to pin down. But nonetheless: some viewings felt like trials that confronted our differing sensibilities, specially because we always only had each other to share our lives with. No husband. No father.

The seperate act of watching a film with someone who, usually, would not take the time to seek such a film out, can result, depending on the context of both the viewer as that what is viewed, in a form of resistance. To circumvent the main ideology in which one is embedded takes effort (assuming we are all trapped in at least one). And if one does this with someone else – who also shares the wish to learn how to see otherwise – it enforces one to care for the viewpoint of, ideally, someone from the other end of a spectrum.

Cinema Blindspot: ‘’…A movie podcast where @midnightmovies [Tara Judah] and @timonsingh [Timon Singh] introduce films to each other that they wouldn’t normally watch (or have deliberately avoided).’’ Does exactly this. Both of them, with seemingly different agendas, do their best to build bridges by doing, basically, just one thing: caring. Or working (because I think it is also a question of labour) to learn how to understand and see at some point, in sync with another (not through the eyes of). Unsurprisingly, these rare moments are also the ones that keep me listening. Because this care-full (not careful) collision of realities is what leads to insights for both.

Working in logistics and as a housecleaner, my mother had so many other things to worry about. But she did care. Like Uncas Blythe recently tweeted: “What the difference boils down to is care. Langlois took ‘Care’ to snag those cans; an algorithm has another agenda.” She cared about the experience. Which is, I think, an incredibly fresh and empowering variation on traditional cinephilia, where one discusses and talks and talks. While with my mother, it was about feeling and sensing. For discourse, I had to go somewhere else. And I am sure I owe her for this. Though this doesn’t mean we did not watch films that did not, at points, imposes on one the necessity to evaluate critically.

All films tagged 'mama'

All films tagged ‘mama’

These are all the films I remember watching in the presence of my mother, during the last three years at least. Which may imply her being in the kitchen while cooking or cleaning, and listening in. Shocked by the love-making scene in Je, Tu, Il, Elle. Or the opposite: watching while I’m in a dream state, herself fully immersed. Some of the inclusions may be made-up. There are a few doubts. But as I went through my film diary, an image appeared with almost every film I watched with her. The closing shot of Prénom Carmen, the tears she shed for Franz Biberkopf or the memories of her French vacations stirred up by Pialat’s Passe ton bac d’abord.

At their high points, these film viewings acquired… ‘’A vivid life of their own.’’

What attracts me to this, opposed to the usual forms of cinephilia, is that my mother knew things… And what matters to our mothers, also matters to us. ‘’…something perhaps we are very curious to learn.’’ Probably containing… ‘’things which have a vivid life of their own outside mine.’’

Therefore, they are hard to hold on to. Only now I start to know that this will form me more than a lot of other events. Sitting down. Spending time. Watching Jeanne Dielman making the bed. Or L’homme à la Valise, a film about a woman who is forced to share her intimate spaces with a man.  She recognized and talked and talked. Pointing out something here, telling me it was always such a fight to tell a man that he no longer had a place to stay.

What if I saw this film at some retrospective, or on television? Would there have been an imprint? The thought of my mother would have been inevitable, but in a cinemathèque that would have lasted only for a couple of frames. Now, it was picked out and freely spoken about. I do feel blessed.

What if our mothers can teach us cinema? What if they can teach us this like no other? That nobody ever said this before, does not at all mean it’s impossible. I’d even say that it is part of cinema’s being that this very beautiful and tender idea is being rejected… People used to go to the movies with their entire families… And nowadays young boys go to them with their dads. When do we ever hear stories about single mothers going to the movies with their sons? We did not go to the multiplex either. The idea did not even pop up in our minds. As if it was forbidden. We stayed home, the two of us. On the couch. Sensing cinema.

 

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