Being in the World Together with People and a Camera: A Conversation with Annik Leroy

Terms like Heimat, Nation and Border have always been under threat of abuse as pure instruments for politics of exclusion and violence. An aesthetic, sensual and cautious approach to the actual realities those abstract terms refer to is much more than important; it opens one’s eyes for what could be, and not only in cinema. Annik Leroy’s Vers la Mer, a film following the course of the Danube, made at the end of the last century is as much about the present as it is about the past. Most of all, it shows that everything is connected and nothing exists in a vacuum. It is an experience of freedom and an experience of attentiveness and care at the same time.

On a sunny day in early spring I had the chance to talk to the filmmaker on the telephone.

© Annik Leroy

Patrick Holzapfel: I wanted to start our conversation by asking you about Danubio by Claudio Magris. Have you read the book, do you know it?

Annik Leroy: Yes, I know the book very well. I had it with me every day and every night during the making of the film. It is a wonderful book and I took a lot of information and inspiration from it for Vers la Mer. For example, the first person we meet in the film, this old lady who lives at the source of the Danube in the Black Forest is a person Magris writes about. When I read about her, my interest was piqued and I wanted to find her. However, I was not sure if it was fiction or if it was someone he had really met. But I found her, so he didn’t invent her. And she hadn’t moved.

PH: She is amazing.

AL: Yes, she is.

PH: Am I then right in assuming that you really travelled along the Danube searching for stories or was it a journey you prepared before knowing exactly where to go and whom to meet?

AL: Well, we travelled to the locations in stages. I looked for some places Magris mentions, but also for other places. During the scouting I met some people living close to the river. There were people like Maria in the Black Forest, someone I knew from the book and then there were many other people I met along the way. The only other people from the book that are in the film are the two old ladies in the Kafka Museum close to Vienna. I was very curious to meet them. So it was a mixture of researching in books and then going around, meeting people and so on. I don’t quite remember but I think all in all we had 3 or 4 location tours for the film. The first time we went to Germany and Austria, then we also went to Slovakia and Hungary and we went on a very long journey to Romania and Bulgaria.

PH: You mention a “we,“ but one of the things I find so intriguing about your film is that it kind of embodies this romantic notion of a filmmaker travelling the world, alone with her camera, collecting images and sounds. But then, of course, you were not alone. So maybe you can talk a bit about this „we“.

AL: Our way of working was very free. We were two people. Marie Vermeiren and I. While I did the filming with the camera, she recorded the sound. In some countries, like Slovakia, we had someone from the country with us, someone who could speak the language. There are so many languages along the Danube that it was impossible for me to do all the interviews alone. In Austria we had a very nice collaboration with Michael Pilz. And Michael Michlmayr was our assistant. In Romania we also met great people via colleagues and friends. But this was all. We were 2 and sometimes 3. It makes you more flexible, there is more freedom. When you shoot with 5 or 6 people at the kind of places we went to it immediately becomes something different. Sometimes I needed a lot of time. People told me that I can film them but not today, perhaps next week. You have to take your time with people. That is why I think there are some quite interesting moments of conversation in my film. I never use the word “interview,“ for me it is an exchange between people.

PH: That rings very true. The people we meet in your film don’t seem as if you put them in front of the camera, it is more like a gathering, a meeting. I also wanted to ask you about the format. You shot the film on 16mm. Maybe you can talk a bit about this choice of format?

AL: I am coming from a kind of history of the experimental and documentary film and when I first started this question did not even exist. Video became practicable for these kind of films a bit later and I am also not fascinated by digital images. I still long for a certain kind of materiality. So, for me, it felt very normal to go on shooting on 16mm, I also shot my last film Tremor: Es Ist Immer Krieg with my Bolex. It has always been a legendary camera. I also prefer the way of working since you take more time when shooting on film. You know that the material is expensive, so you have to be good each time you make a shot. There is more concentration. You can’t waste hours and hours of film. So you take more time to prepare a shot. That is very important to me. It creates another mode of being in the world together with people and a camera.

© Annik Leroy

PH: Are there still labs in Belgium where you can develop the film?

AL: Actually there is one. It is a very old lab but it is still running. It is not far from Ghent in the Flemish part of the country. Developing film is not a problem but afterwards it gets tricky, you have to make a choice because if you want the film to be shown today you have to make a digital transfer. So you have to finish the film as an HD-File or a DCP and that’s the choice that I make now because otherwise it becomes very difficult. If you don’t make a DCP nowadays you will have no projection or at least only in very small places that are very involved with analogue film. Furthermore, it is actually very expensive to make a copy for projection and there are a lot of challenges concerning the sound. You have to go to London to make an optical import of your sound as there is no place in Belgium or France any longer where you can do that. There are still some labs in Berlin.

PH: Can you remember how much material you shot for Vers la Mer?

AL: I shot around 10 hours. It seemed too much for me. But there were some conversations that I filmed that didn’t work and so on. For Tremor – Es ist immer Krieg. I only shot 4 hours.

PH: In Vers la Mer there is an idea of Europe I want to talk about. It is an idea concerned with different cultures and languages living together, next to each other, with each other. For me, there is a sense of utopia to it, especially when we look at today’s realities of the borders you cross in the film. Is this stream in your film something you wanted to have there from the very beginning? Or did you find it along the way?

AL: Well, it is an utopia but it was also a kind of hope during the period I made the film in. There was an opening of all these countries in Eastern Europe. That is also why I made the film; because it was possible to go to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and so on. Before that it was so difficult to get into those countries with a camera without special papers. But there I was in a period where everything was open, nobody imposed any rules on us. There was chaos in all those countries and that made it very easy to get in and to work. So I found a kind of European hope there, a utopian vision of a united Europe. Yet, of course, reality is not like that. A couple of years later I was very disappointed about it. Things changed very quickly. Magris also writes about the utopia of a Danubian Republic in his book. It was an idea people had at the beginning of the 20th century. So now we are closing again, we are building new walls in Europe.

PH: Yes, that is true. Parallel with that utopia, working its way through your film, a river is running its course. I am really fascinated by this approach of following a river as you already have a beginning and an end, you have space, you have time. Maybe this question is a bit too abstract, but how did you conceive the river in terms of dramaturgical structure? I am also asking this because you made another film following a promenade, for example. Those are solutions that are not very common, not even in essayistic film-making, whatever that is.

AL: I think if you look at a landscape or meet a person in a village there is always a relation between what you see and how the people live, their environment and, in this case, the river. I think every shot in Vers la Mer superimposes the past and the present. It is never just a tree or just a light or just a flowing river. No, it is a river running past Mauthausen. And Mauthausen has a history. There are links connected to every place I filmed.

PH: Since we are presenting your film in Vienna I ought to ask something about the sequences of your film shot in Vienna. Actually I never saw Vienna like you filmed it. I think it has to do with what you just described, a certain consciousness concerning the history of the places you visited. Maybe you can talk a bit about how you approached Karl-Marx-Hof, for example.

AL: In preparation I also read a lot about Vienna, especially Red Vienna when Social Democrats had the majority between 1918 and 1934. Magris also writes about that. So I searched for traces of a Vienna that doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, a Vienna which doesn’t exist anymore in terms of politics. So I found the Karl-Marx-Hof, I also found its beautiful construction. I spent a great deal of time in this part of Vienna talking with people, asking a lot of questions and I found that many things still do exist there. I am talking about the place for the old people, the garden for the children and so on. I am also very fascinated by the trams. So I found it very nice to film the Karl-Marx-Hof from a tram, especially since there were these very old trams still running in Vienna. They made a lot of noise. The other thing in Vienna were pastries. I like them a lot. So we found this little shop in which a very old man and his wife had worked for years and years making pastries. They owned a very small and cozy coffee house, a typical place for Vienna, I think. It was very interesting to meet them but the conversation was very difficult. He was prepared to talk about a lot of things, about Vienna and also Red Vienna in the 1920s when he was very young, its political meaning and so on but his wife was against it. So it turned out to be a rather short conversation in the end. Sometimes people change when a camera is present. I couldn’t have the same conversation with him that I had a couple of days before. There was also another incident like that with a very interesting man on the Austrian border. When I wanted to film him he was very nervous and also drunk. I couldn’t get anything from him. So there is a sequence when the Bolex is in the middle of a snow tempest and you hear the interior sound of a coffee house. And that is actually his place but the conversation is completely lost.

PH: So your first visited the places without a camera?

AL: Of course.

PH: In connection to that, maybe we can talk about the last sequence of the film in Romania.

AL: Well, it is connected to the joy of making a film. I was there and I was uncertain about what I would find. It was the very last village before the river runs into the sea. And I was just so lucky. The person we met was a photographer. A touching man who came back to the village to live there despite its being completely empty. It is a lost place, a dead village. People there do nothing but try to survive. He still had the feeling that he had to come back. Since he was very fond of photography he created a little studio for people if they needed a picture. So we stayed a couple of days in this little village. We looked around, made some images from time to time and suddenly I found this old woman and we shot the end of the film in about 15 minutes. We began to talk to her and I immediately said that I want to make a picture. The translator I had with me was very intelligent, she was very good and understood what I wanted. She started a conversation with her and I filmed and filmed and we had it. Afterwards I understood that this was the end of the film.

April 10th at Filmhaus am Spittelberg

Die Donau rauf-Peter Nestler-1969/Vers la Mer-Annik Leroy-1999

© Annik Leroy


Griechenland – Ein Bilderalbum (Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler)

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Griechenland ist ein beliebtes Urlaubsziel.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Peter Nestler fährt nach Griechenland.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Er sammelt Bilder.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Nicht für ein Urlaubsalbum.

Screenshot 2017-08-04 00.03.21

Für ein Fotoalbum anderer Art.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Eines der Menschen.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Und der Geschichte.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Aristoteles definierten den Menschen als zoon politikon, als politisches Wesen. Aristoteles war Grieche.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Die Menschen zeigen.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Ist das Kommunismus?

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Oder kann das weg?

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Der Faschismus muss überwunden werden.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Es wird ein freies Griechenland geben.

Von Griechenland von Peter Nestler

Das Stativ von Jean Rouch treibt noch immer irgendwo im Niger

Ausgestattet mit einem gewissen Durst nach den großen Abenteuern und Legenden des Kinos, nach den Mythen, die alle in dicken Wälzern erklärt werden und von der Leinwand selbst strahlen, machen wir uns mit einer kleinen Gruppe an Enthusiasten auf nach Guinea, um das Stativ von Jean Rouch zu finden. Dort entspringt der Niger in der Region Faranah. Rouch hatte einmal gesagt, dass es ihm dort hineingefallen wäre. Eine aus unserer Gruppe bemerkt, dass sie das alles an La última vez que vi Macao von João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata erinnerte und ja, es ist schwer zu leugnen, denn die beiden Filmemacher fragen sich auch, wo ein Tuch treibt, das Jane Russell in Von Sternbergs/Howard Hughes’ Macao ins Meer fallen ließ. Nur ein Fluss ist kein Meer und so hielt ich unsere Chancen das Stativ zu finden doch für deutlich realistischer. Außerdem sind die beiden portugiesischen Abenteurer (von denen zumindest einer kürzlich ganz ähnlich unseres Vorhabens nach Vögeln spähte während er in einem Fluss trieb) einer Fiktion gefolgt, während wir einer fast dokumentarischen Selbstmystifizierung des Filmemachers folgten, der wie kaum ein zweiter zwischen dem Dokumentarischen und Fiktionalen oszillierte.

Seine Aussage mit dem Stativ ist vorstellbar. Darum geht es schließlich, wenn man sich auf eine Reise begibt. Etwas muss man sich vorstellen können. Dasselbe gilt auch fürs Kino, wobei sich dort die Imagination dessen, was man sehen wird nach einer gewissen Zeit und Anzahl an gesehenen Filmen leicht in eine Abgeklärtheit verwandeln kann. Man glaubt zu wissen, was da kommt, man will es nicht mehr sehen. Anders ist auch nicht dieses bizarre Getue mit Spoilern erklärbar. Wie Kelly Reichardt einmal richtig bemerkte, könne man einem alles über einen Film erzählen, man hätte ihn trotzdem nicht gesehen.

Il pianeta azzurro


Bevor wir mit unserer Gruppe aus Enthusiasten, deren Enthusiasmus hier und da im Stress einer Reise zu verschwinden drohte nach Guinea flogen, stoppten wir in der von Soldaten belagerten europäischen Hauptstadt Brüssel zu einem Screeningabend mit Franco Piavoli, der durchaus ähnlichen Prinzipien wie Rouch folgt, wenn auch mit einer deutlich poetischeren und weniger ethnographischen Ader. Wir sahen einige seiner Kurzfilme, die scheinbar von Youtube heruntergeladen wurden, um ins Kino gebracht zu werden und dann auf 35mm seinen Il pianeta azzurro, für dessen in der Mehrzahl an National Geographic erinnernde Bildsprache ein Stativ unabdingbar war. Der Film, so ein Freund unserer Gruppe, wäre interessant, vor allem der zweite in der Nacht der Welt angesiedelte Teil, in dem das Blau des Titels zur Grundstimmung wird. Allerdings betone der Filmemacher die Zusammengehörigkeit von Natur und Mensch ein wenig zu sehr, er argumentiere zu deutlich in seinen eigentlich beobachtenden Bildern.

Rouch hatte diese Diskrepanz zwischen Erklärung und Beobachtung oft zwischen Bild und Sprache angelegt. So entsteht gerade durch das Fehlen eines Stativs in Les maîtres fous eine spontane Direktheit, deren hektischer Blick nie erklären könnte und die der Erzählstimme Erklärungen überlässt, welche oftmals mehr Fragen als Antworten beinhalten. Jedenfalls war Piavoli in Brüssel nicht aufgehalten worden von den patrouillierenden Soldaten und so war er anwesend beim Screening. Vor den Filmen erzählte er diese nach. Der Kurator, ein nervöser Mann mit Hipsterbart und Zetteln in der Hand, der niemals auf die Idee kommen würde, nach dem Stativ von Jean Rouch zu suchen, unterbrach den Filmemacher mehrfach mit Gesten und verbal. Zu dieser Respektlosigkeit veranlasste ihn, dass Piavoli seiner Meinung nach seine Filme vorwegnehmen würde. Piavoli entgegnete richtig, dass sich die Zuseher niemals vorstellen könnten, wie es dann im Film aussehen würde. Es gibt diese Diskrepanz zwischen dem was man sieht und dem, was man darüber sagen kann, zumal in der Erinnerung. In dieser Lücke besteht weniger das Kino selbst, als das, was es mit uns tun kann.

Jean Rouch

Wir kamen schon ziemlich müde in Siguiri an. Eigentlich wollten wir an einer Goldmine stoppen, aber dann erinnerten wir uns an die schwarzen Tulpen am Ufer des Nigers. Sie hängen zusammen mit Madame l’eau, in dem Rouch den Traum einiger afrikanischen Freunde verfolgt, die Windmühlen zum Niger bringen wollten: “I had started to make a film about the drought. I had no solution. I was just filming Damouré, and people migrating to the south to farm millet because there was no rain here. The title of the film is awful, Madame l’eau. Philo noticed that Damouré’s rice lands were a similar mixture of sand and clay to that the Dutch use to farm tulips. I thought it would be wonderful, as a challenge to development and the drought, to farm tulips on the Niger’s banks, and to invent a new type: the black tulip from Niger. This is so crazy because the tulip is totally unnecessary. That’s the dream: we will shoot dream sequences of black tulips on the banks of the Niger.“


Rouch hatte ein Problem mit Chris Marker. Dieser wäre ein Idealist, er würde glauben, die Welt verändern zu können. Wir in unserer Gruppe aus Enthusiasten fühlen uns näher zu Rouch. Das liegt vielleicht daran, dass wir auf diese Reisen gehen, weil wir glauben, dass die Welt uns verändern wird, nicht wir die Welt. Wir haben keine Kamera dabei und eigentlich schäme ich mich ein wenig, dass ich diese Gedanken und Erlebnisse hier niederschreibe. So geht es mir nach jedem Film. Betrügt man nicht ein wenig die Kraft und Unschuld des Sehens mit den Worten, die man sucht, findet? Die Lücke, die beschreibt, was das Kino mit uns tun kann, muss sie beschrieben werden? Vor allem: Muss es immer eine schnelle Reaktion sein, eine Bewertung, eine Einordnung?

Nun ist es schon interessant: Da filmt ein Filmemacher, der sein Stativ im Niger verloren hat am Niger Menschen. Es sagt viel aus über Jean Rouch, dass er die Menschen gefilmt hat statt sein Stativ zu suchen. Ich frage mich, als wir uns doch zu einer dieser Goldminen bewegen, aus Neugier und Gier, ob er auch bei den Menschen geblieben wäre, wenn seine Kamera in den Niger gefallen wäre. Das Züchten schwarzer Tulpen am Ufer ist vielleicht als Kinotraum schöner als in dem, was man Realität nennt. Warum, fragt ein schon sehr erschöpfter Enthusiast mit Schweiß auf der Stirn und mit vor Müdigkeit weit aufgerissenen Augen, wäre das einzige Bild, das er von den Goldminen in Afrika hätte, jenes von Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond? Es entflammt eine hitzige Diskussion in der Gruppe über das, was man ein kulturelles Gedächtnis nennt, über die Art und Weise, in der sich Bilder einprägen, welche Bilder eine Chance bekommen, sich einzuprägen und welche gewissermaßen im Niger ertrinken. Warum kennen wir keine afrikanischen Bilder vom Niger? Als wir schon in unseren Zelten unter den Sternen lagen, fiel der Name René Caillié. Er war der erste Europäer, der lebend aus Timbuktu zurückkehrte und davon berichtete. In seinem Schreiben, das einige von uns in deutscher Übersetzung gelesen haben, vermischt sich fast spielerisch die Neugier, der staunende Blick mit einer verstörenden kolonialistischen Rhetorik. Caillié wurde mit viel Anerkennung und Geld überschüttet in Frankreich. Mit 38 Jahren verstarb er nach anhaltenden Krankheiten. Sein Monument steht heute noch in Kouroussa. Dort würden wir am nächsten Tag hinreißen. Meine Augen schließen sich langsam, ich höre noch wie jemand sagt, dass das Stativ mit Sicherheit gefunden und verkauft worden wäre, im Niger würde alles verkauft werden. Dann träume ich von schwarzen Tulpen.

Es sollte mehr Filme geben, die der Dramaturgie von Flüssen folgen. Die Donau rauf von Peter Nestler, der sehr verwandt mit Rouch scheint, ist zu kurz, sollte mehr haben, sollte mehr Geld bekommen haben, um länger mit dem Fluss zu sein. Er findet Geschichten entlang des mächtigen Flusses und filmt diesen wie eine Person. Man denkt an das wundervolle Buch Donau: Biographie eines Flusses von Claudio Magris. Die Reise entlang eines Lebewesens, eines Naturphänomens, einer geographischen Gegebenheit als Anlass und prägendes Element einer Erzählung. Man denkt an Peter Huttons Study of a River. Es ginge nicht unbedingt nur darum, dass Filme einen Fluss filmen, sondern auch darum, dass sie sich dramaturgisch an Flüsse annäherten. Mein Lieblingsgenre, denke ich ganz bei mir, wäre das Binnendelta. Das langsame Versickern, Trennen, Sammeln an einer Tür zwischen Land und Wasser. Der Niger bildet ein solches Delta in Mali. Massina heißt die Region, totes Delta. Dort wäre das Stativ mit Sicherheit nicht durchgekommen.

Study of a River

Bell & Howell

Leider ist uns völlig unklar, wo genau Rouch sein Stativ verloren hat. 1941 ging er mit zwei Freunden nach Niger, um dort in den französischen Kolonien zu arbeiten. Er traf dort auf Menschen, Kulturen, die sein Filmemachen maßgeblich prägten. Er schrieb einmal von der Möglichkeit die Abenteuer eines anderen im eigenen Körper zu erleben. Aus diesem Grund, so formulierte er später, würde er auch auf das Stativ verzichten. Cine-Trance nannte er das Vorgehen des Verschwindens des Filmemachers im Körper von jenen, die er betrachtete. Nach einigem Ärger mit Vorgesetzten kehrte Rouch 1946 mit Jean Sauvy und Pierry Ponty zurück nach Afrika. Sie paddelten in einem Kanu flussabwärts und begleiteten eine Nilpferdjagd. Unter dem Pseudonym Jean Pierjean, eine Mischung ihrer drei Namen, schickten sie Artikel darüber nach Frankreich und filmten mit einer 16mm Bell & Howell. Es war hier, das Rouch sein Stativ in der Strömung verlor. Er filmte weiter, es entstand der Film Au pays des mages noirs.

And they came to the river
And they came from the road
And he wanted the sun
Just to call his own
And they walked on the dirt
And they walked from the road
‚Til they came to the river
‚Til they came up close

Der Film beginnt mit bedrohlicher Musik, betont werden die Abenteurer, die es in ein fremdes Gebiet zieht. Die ersten Bilder sind von einem Stativ geschossen. Dramatisch wird von der Gefahr und dem Ungewissen im „vorgeschichtlichen“ Afrika erzählt, während wir Bilder von gefährlichen und großen Tieren sehen. Rouch hatte keine Kontrolle über den schnitt und auch nicht über die Erzählstimme. Er sagte einmal abwertend, dass der Voice-Over wie ein Reporter bei der Tour de France klingen würde. Zwischen Gao und Niamey wäre der Film angesiedelt. Wir sind also auf dem richtigen Weg, Rouch hat sein Stativ nach dem Binnendelta verloren. Sie mögen sich vielleicht fragen, warum wir nicht gleich dort hingereist sind. So ganz genau und zu aller Zufriedenheit können wir diese Frage nicht beantworten, vielleicht aber sind Sie mit den Machenschaften des Kinoapparats vertraut und sich durchaus bewusst, dass ein Fluss prinzipiell in alle Richtungen fließen kann. In einem Land der schwarzen Tulpen hielten wir es für nicht ausgeschlossen, dass das Stativ flussaufwärts trieb, vielleicht auch im Maul eines Nilpferds davongetragen wurde.

Es regnete als wir Au pays des mages noirs wieder sahen und uns bewusst wurde, dass unsere Fantasie uns womöglich einen Streich gespielt hatte. Doch „Fantasy“ ist auch der Titel von Tag Gallaghers herausragender Rossellini-Biographie The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini und nicht nur deshalb wissen wir, dass großes Kino immer mit Fantasie beginnt.

“I had lost my tripod early on in some rapids and didn’t know how to shoot so as to be able to edit the footage later. We stopped one day just south of the Mali/Niger border, in Ayorou, which I knew pretty well, as I had been there as an engineer. I asked them to build a canoe and to hunt hippopotamuses from it—we returned and filmed them. We crossed into Nigeria, going through the rapids where Mungo Park was killed, and by the time we reached the sea, we were thoroughly exasperated with each other. From there, we returned to Paris in a military plane.“

Schwarze Magie

Dann filmt Rouch ein Dorf. So ganz ist nicht erkennbar, ob er dabei noch im Besitz eines Stativs war oder nicht. Es gibt zwar Schwenks, aber sie sind schlampig genug, um aus der Hand gemacht worden zu sein. Doch es folgen einige statische Bilder von der Arbeit am Fluss und wir sind uns sicher, dass er hier sein Stativ nicht verloren hat. Waffen werden gebaut, Waffen um Nilpferde zu töten. Der Ton des Films erinnert an Robert Flaherty. Ein Filmemacher von dem es unglaubliche viele Bilder mit einem Stativ gibt. Meist steht er damit an unmöglichen Orten. Diese Bilder erinnern an Van Gogh. Jemand geht in die Landschaft und stellt sich hin. Jemand macht ein Bild. Rouch hat einmal geschrieben: “Perhaps it was due to such simplicity and naïveté that these pioneers discovered the essential questions that we still ask ourselves today: Must one “stage” reality (the staging of “real life”) as did Flaherty, or should one, like Vertov, film “without awareness” (“seizing improvised life”)?“

Bei Rouch wirkt vieles, auch aufgrund technischer Entwicklungen spontaner, weniger kontrolliert. Er schneidet auch viel. Nach einem Opferritual bewegen sich die Jäger und Fischer aufs Wasser. Rouch fährt mit ihnen. Es folgen unglaubliche Bilder der Jagd auf ein Nilpferd, die wieder an Flaherty erinnern. Die selbst gemachten Harpunen fliegen durch die Luft, die Waden der Ruderer, Körper, die im Schilf zu schweben scheinen. Sie töten das Tier, das mehr einer abstrakten Masse durchbohrt mit geschnitzten Waffen gleicht. Die Bilder wirken noch immer statisch, vor allem wenn man bedenkt, dass Rouch auf einem Kanu sitzt. Im Anschluss filmt Rouch das Schlachtungsritual, lächelnde Gesichter. Rouch hat einmal gesagt, dass es nichts gäbe, was man nicht auch ohne Stativ filmen könne. Das erinnert an Cristi Puiu, der sich gerne damit brüstet, die Handkamera ins rumänische Kino gebracht zu haben. Allerdings habe er sein Stativ nicht im Niger verloren, sondern schlicht nicht genug Geld dafür.


Irgendwie beschleicht mich beim Sehen das merkwürdige Gefühl, dass es für dieses Filmemachen von Rouch fast egal ist, ob er sein Stativ nun verloren hat oder nicht. Einer aus unserer Gruppe, er hat fast schon aufgegeben mit dem Kino, sagte mir einmal auf unserer Reise, dass es bei Dokumentationen sowieso nur um Zugang ginge. Mit Zugang meinte er, dass es letztlich darum ginge, was man filmte, nicht wie man es filmte. Ein sehr verkürzter Gedanke, wie ich finde, auch wenn ich die Grundneugier von Festivals bezüglich Filmemachern, die vom Ende der Welt zurückkehren, manchmal wie René Caillié, nicht leugnen kann. Es ist auch romantisch, wenn man an diese einsamen Filmemacher denkt, die reisen und reisen und uns Bilder mitbringen. Vielleicht sind wir deshalb auch aufgebrochen, um das Stativ von Jean Rouch zu suchen. Der Film wurde in Frankreich übrigens auf 35mm aufgeblasen zusammen mit Rossellinis Stromboli gezeigt. Später veröffentlichte Rouch einen Reisebericht, ein Ausschnitt aus The Mad Fox and the Pale Master:

„But there was still this majestic and beautiful Niger River, at the same time terrifying with its crocodiles and welcoming with all its freshness. Slowly, and with a great deal of reticence, I learned how to swim there, to navigate a canoe, and to avoid the mud banks and the cutting oysters, or the terrible steel hook fishing lines of the mamari “thieves.” Damouré Zika, one of the very young employees of the public works, was my initiator, and we traded knowledge: he was a Sorko fisherman, a master of the river, but I was a better swimmer than he.

So little by little, I became more distant from the European community, sharing my work and play with my first African friends. In fact I didn’t understand anything: you couldn’t swim over there because of a karey kyi, a “man-eating crocodile,” yet here, less than fifty meters away, you could dive in complete safety. At night you could go down to the Comacico cinema on a bicycle with a swinging lamp that hooked onto the handlebars. But you had to come back by the main road of the Bureau of Domaines (whose official buildings housed managing offices for public institutions and state properties), to avoid the “soul-eating sorcerers.”“

Was haben wir also zu erzählen, die nach einem Stativ eines Filmemachers suchen statt uns wirklich umzusehen? Unsere Gruppe aus Enthusiasten, so schien es mir plötzlich, war mehr auf der Flucht vor dem Sehen, als etwas zu suchen. Wir wurden müde von uns selbst. Es scheint sehr einfach sich für das verlorene Stativ von Jean Rouch zu begeistern. Der eingangs erwähnte Durst nach den großen Abenteuern verliert sich zu leicht in der Begeisterung für selbige. Nicht die Tat wird dann entscheidend, sondern der Held. Nun könnte man sagen, dass wir uns ja auf eine ähnliche Reise gemacht haben, so etwas gab es schon öfter in der Filmgeschichte, man denke an Innisfree von José Luis Guerín, also die Idee, dass man an einen bereits vom Kino bewohnten Ort blickt und dort auch hinter das, was man aus dem Kino kennt schaut. Nur tun wir das oder suchen wir bereits nach dem nächsten Abenteuer, dem nächsten Kleidungsstück von Jane Russell im Meer, der nächsten Einstellung, die wir so mal bei Marguerite Duras gesehen haben, den nächsten Schauspieler, den wir aus einem anderen Film kennen?

Wir brechen die Suche ab. Jemand kauft ein Stativ und eine Kamera und wir verlassen den Fluss. Danke, Jean Rouch.

Courtisane 1: Figures of Dissent – Figures of Lament

Dear Stoffel Debuysere,

we haven’t met in person except anonymously after you found a restaurant for our small group of people in Ghent. However, after reading your book „Figures of Dissent“ and being at Courtisane Festival, I have to address you in a rather personal way. Mainly because your Figures of Dissent are born out of Figures of Lament. Lament which I heavily feel inside myself. Let’s call it an impotence of cinema and being with cinema. I can sense your struggle to create dissent out of lament. It is in your words and in your programs. It is something we all seem to be in desperate need of: Your idea is to go beyond the discourse of mourning the loss of cinema. The sheer depth of the book and the emotional core that lies underneath makes it one of the most exigent pieces of searching for something in cinema I have read. Sometimes, you find real dissent as an author, while at other times dissent is just a perfect word for something that should be there. Yet, in your work as a programmer, there is more dissent in the potential of your presentations than in the reality of how they are carried out. At least that is what I found to be the case at this year’s Courtisane.

To Be Here von Ute Aurand

To Be Here von Ute Aurand

Please forgive me for writing this letter in a rather spontaneous fashion and not at all in the manner of precise research and collective combination of theories and thoughts on certain topics I am going to address. I am neither a scientist nor am I a journalist. Consider me an observer in a modest echo chamber. I am also aware that your book is about your Figures-of-Dissent-Screenings, not about Courtisane. Nevertheless, I see all those movements of dissent as part of the same approach.

Let me try to be more precise: While reading your book, I talked to some of my friends and found that there was an immediate common ground concerning questions of impotence and a suppressed euphoria in the struggle against what cinema and politics are today. Everyone seems to talk about change; nobody really does anything. Every lit flame is persecuted by fears. My question is: If you want to survive with cinema, how can you be Straub? How can you be a collective, how can you be Godard without being called Godard, how can you make Killer of Sheep? How can those examples not be exceptions or a narrated history as it happens from time to time in your book? You write that something must be done even if we don’t know what it is.

Go blind again!

What bothered me while reading your letters written to friends/comrades was the absence of replies. Did your friends remain silent or are their answers held back for another book? Are your letters really letters? Why did you choose that form? Asking myself how you could leave out possible answers while being concerned with giving voice to people, having polyphonic approaches to what we conceive as reality or cinema, I was a bit irritated until I discovered that your five letters contain these voices. Firstly, because you find the dissent in combinations of thoughts of other thinkers. Even more so due to those letters being five fingers of the same hand, each speaking to a different chamber where there will be different echoes. The ideas pertaining to curating as an act of caring you bring to the light in your letter to Barry Esson are inscribed in your own way of working. Thus I feel that this is the first dissent I can take from your writing: Caring.

Die Donau rauf von Peter Nestler

Die Donau rauf von Peter Nestler

The thoughts of caring are strongly connected with those of a collective experience of cinema in your writing. In addition, it seems to me that you write a sort of manifesto for your own work as a curator, observer, writer, cinema person. You write without the grand gestures and aggressive provocations one normally gets in politically motivated thinking in cinema. Nevertheless, to take something out of your first letter to Evan Calder Williams: you are present, it is your fire one can read in the book. This fire that I was clearly able to read in your texts did not exist in your presence at the festival. It was there with other speakers introducing the screenings, but not with you. You write about a return of politics in cinema, you almost evoke it. You write that such an endeavour is also a question of personal experience and worldview, one that tries to build bridges between cinema and society. You state that your screenings want to be a catalyst for public exchange and dialogue.

What is a dialogue? Where does it happen? Such a question seems to be typical of what you describe as a culture of skepticism. So here I am, writing to you publicly. Certainly this is a form of dialogue and your work is a catalyst for it. Yet, I am not sure if there is more dialogue in this than there was in my reading your book at my little table in silence. Am I more active now? Or am I more active because I was allowed to be “passive”? The same has always been true for cinema in my case. I often feel how it takes away the power of films, those that thwart representations, those that keep a distance, those that don’t, as soon as words about it are spoken too soon after a screening, as soon as cinema is understood as a space where the dialogue between screen and audience has to be extended. As I now was a guest at your care taking at Courtisane, I must tell you that I didn’t discover your writing in your way of showing films. Where is the space for dialogue at a festival where you have to run from one screening to the next? Where is the possibility of going blind again at a festival if many inspired and passionate cinephiles cannot help but fall asleep at Peter Nestler’s films because they started the day with Ogawa and had no chance for a meal in-between? Moreover, I was disappointed by the inability of the festival to project film in a proper way. What is the point in having such a beautiful selection of films as in the program consisting of Nestler’s Am Siel, Die Donau rauf and Straub,Huillet’s Itinéraire de Jean Bricard when it is projected and cared about in such a manner? Please don’t misunderstand me, I understand that there might be problems with projections, it is part of the pleasure and the medium but a projectionist running into the room, asking the audience “What is the problem?”, not knowing what the problem is when a copy is running muted, staff running through the cinema, no real excuse and all that in front of the filmmaker present is far away from any idea of caring. I wonder why you don’t get rid of half of your screenings and get some people who are able to project instead. I am pretty sure I leave out some economical realities here, such as the time you have for preparation and so on, but I decided to take your writing as a standard. In my opinion, the space and time you create for cinema needs more concentration. What my friends and I discovered was a festival with a great program talking about utopias, struggles and a different kind of cinema that worked like any other festival in the way of showing this program.

Ödenwaldstetten von Peter Nestler

Ödenwaldstetten von Peter Nestler

When you speak about displacement in cinema in your letter to Sarah Vanhee, about the dream to make art active, I feel inspired and doubtful at the same time. Yes, I want to scream out, I want to fight, I want to show films, I need to discuss, write, make films. However, I also want to keep it a secret, keep it pure (in your letter to Mohanad Yaqubi you write that there is no pure image; you are probably right. Is there an illusion of a pure image?), silent, innocent and embrace what you call via Barthes the bliss of discretion. I wonder which of those two tendencies is more naive? When Rainer Werner Fassbinder said that he wanted to build a house with his films, was it to close or to open the doors of the house? In my opinion it is also curious that the path to disillusion Serge Daney wanted us to leave always comes when the lights in the cinema are turned on after a screening, when there are no secrets and the work of cinema is talked about instead of manifested on the screen. It is this community of translators I have problems with. Yet, I enjoy them immensely and I think that translators in whatever form they appear are more and more important for cinema as a culture. Mr. Rancière’s thoughts on the emancipation of the spectator and your reflections on them seem very true to me. We are all translators to a certain degree. What I am looking for may be a translator in silence. Somebody who lights in darkness and speaks in silence. So you see, my lament is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, I ask for more space for dialogue while on the other hand I don’t want to have any dialogue at all. Maybe I should replace “dialogue” with “breathing”. It is in the breathing between films I discover them and their modes of visibility. It is when I am not looking, talking or listening that cinema comes closer. For me, a festival like Courtisane should have the courage to remain silent and to burst out in flames of anger and love.

Of course, when thinking about caring and politics it is rather obvious which tendency one should follow. I am not talking about discourse, but I am attempting to talk about experience. Perhaps experience and discourse should be more connected. You rightly state in almost all of your letters that a direct translation from watching into action is impossible. For me, the same is true for everything that happens around the act of seeing. Let’s call it discourse. Marguerite Duras wrote that for her it is not possible to activate or teach anyone. The only possibility appears if the reader or audience member discovers things by himself or he/she is in love. Love could convince, activate, agitate, change. This idea of loving brings me back to your thoughts on caring. With Friedrich Schiller you claim: “The solitude of art bears within the promise of a new art of living.” With Rancière, you make it clear that art is not able to change the world. Instead, it offers new modes of visibility and affectivity. Isn’t it a paradox that they say love makes you blind? In a strange dream, I wished for cinema to make us blind. In the concepts of political cinema you describe visibility is king. Things are either revealed, highlighted or shown. I am not certain whether cinema is an art of light or of shadows. In my view, it was always very strong, especially in political terms, when it complicated perceptions instead of clarifying them; an art of the night, not of the day, or even more so: something in between.

Four Diamonds von Ute Aurand

Four Diamonds von Ute Aurand

This is also the case with all the discussions and dialogues following the screenings and in the way you conducted them, sometimes much too hastily, at this year’s Courtisane. There is a next screening but we talk with the filmmaker because, because, because. Did any of the discussions inside the cinemas go beyond questions about facts and the production of the films? I am not saying that the production is not very important and/or very political. It is maybe the most political. Yet, I miss the talk that goes beyond cinema/which follows where cinema is leading us. Discussions about caring and fighting, being angry and beautiful, discussions that don’t take things for granted too easily. I could sense a bit of that in the Q&As with Ute Aurand but never in the ones with Peter Nestler. It is a problem of the so-called cinephile that he/she loves to declare instead of listening. Being a cinephile seems to me like being part of an elite club and sometimes Courtisane felt like that, too. For example, showing the problems of farmers in Japan to a chosen few is a feeling I don’t like to have. This has very little to do with the way you curate but more with cinema itself. It is like an alcove pretending to be a balcony. I was expecting Courtisane to be built more like a balcony asking questions and looking at the world surrounding it instead of celebrating itself. In one of your letters, you propose the idea of two tendencies in cinema: that of cinema as an impression of the world outside, and that of cinema as a demonstration of the world enclosed in itself. For me, despite all its potential, the cinema of Courtisane remained too enclosed in itself.

There were also things I liked concerning your guests. For example, I found it to be very nice that the Q&As didn’t take place at the center or in front of the screen but almost hidden in a corner of the screening room. It is also very rare and beautiful that you could approach filmmakers like Ute Aurand very easily because they were also just part of the audience. Peter Nestler joining the Ogawa screenings and asking questions afterwards was another good example of this. Friends told me of having the feeling of a community, the feeling that there is a dialogue. Maybe I was just at the wrong places sometimes. Still, I have to tell you my concerns. This doesn’t happen due to discontent or anger but out of respect. There are amazing things at Courtisane and I find it to be one of the most important festivals in Europe. The possibility to see those films in combination, to see those films, to have contemporary cinema and “older” films in a dialogue and to feel a truly remarkable sense of curatorship in what you do, is simply outstanding. For example, the screening of Right On! by Herbert Danska together with Cilaos by Camilo Restrepo was amazing and many questions about framing and music in revolutionary cinema were asked and possible paths opened. Cinema was a place of difference, of equality and thus of dissent. You could answer me and my critique by saying that what I search for is in the films, not in the way they are discussed, not discussed or presented. I would agree with you until the point where the way of presentation hurts the films.

My favourite letter in your book is the one you wrote to Ricardo Matos Cabo. In the text, you talk about the question of mistakes and innocence. Your writing always concerns the loss of innocence. In it, there is the idea of a world which has disappeared behind its images, a world we all know. It is the world of too many images and no images at all. You write: “But perhaps the associations and dissociations, additions and subtractions that are at work in cinema might allow for a displacement of the familiar framework that defines the way in which the world is visible and intelligible for us, and which possibilities and capacities it permits.” You ask for a cinema that is able to talk with our relation to the world. How to face such a thought without lament?

Well, up to now I always thought about dissent when I thought about the title of your book and screening series. Maybe I should think more about the figures. The figures on screen, the missing people, those we need to perceive. Those I could see at Courtisane. Not inside or outside of the cinema, but on the screen.

In hesitant admiration and hope of understanding,

Viennale 2015: Singularities of a Festival: NEONRÖHREN

Notizen zur Viennale 2015 in einem Rausch, der keine Zeit lässt, aber nach Zeit schreit. Ioana Florescu und Patrick Holzapfel sind am neunten Tag des Festivals endgültig im Traumdelirium angekommen, weil die Filme es ihnen gleichtun. Es herrscht eine Beruhigung bezüglich der Verunsicherung durch Bilder, als wolle man 24 Bilder jede Sekunde sehen, die es nicht gibt.



  • Zu Joe/Cemetery of Splendour: Für mich ging es sehr stark um diesen Moment vor dem Einschlafen, der gleich dem Moment des Aufwachens ist und das ganze gilt auch für das Sterben und die Geburt. Diese Ebenen waren ineinander verschlungen, ebenso natürlich Traum und Realität. Ich wusste nicht, ob diese Träume eine Flucht waren oder eine Offensive. Es geht auch um den Stillstand zwischen Geschichte und Gegenwart.
  • Diese Passage mit dem Kino, den Rolltreppen und den Lichtern war unglaublich. Ich werde mehr darüber schreiben müssen.
  • Marco Bellocchio und sein Sangue del mio sangue gehört zu den Überraschungen für mich. Diese Mischung aus spirituellen Spiegelungen zwischen Fragen des Berührens und der Unberührbarkeit beziehungsweise des Innen (Blut, Tränen, Sperma) und Außen (Blicke, keine Blicke, Oberflächen) sowie dem Komischen und Satirischen, ja bitteren Blick auf eine Welt habe ich so noch nicht gesehen. Für mich ging es sehr stark, um einen Verlust und die Schuld dieses Verlusts in einer patriarchalischen Welt.
  • Es gibt rotes Licht vor dem Gartenbau, das ähnliche Lichter wirft wie die Traumneonröhren in Cemetery of Splendour; Neon Dreams/Neon Bull, Diego Garcia will eine Neon Vague starten.
  • Ein weiteres Delirium gibt es bei Jean-Marie Straub und seinem L’aquarium et la nation; das laut Cutter Christophe Clavert “un-coupable”  Aquarium, in dem man sich verliert…man schwimmt gegen eine Wand oder man schwimmt nach draußen, aus dem Frame, aus dem Gefängnis? Was ist die Nation, ein Cadre oder der Hors Champs?
  • Ein solches Publikumsgespräch wie nach Straub kann es eigentlich nur auf der Viennale geben.



  • Es war bislang der beste Tag des Festivals, an dem ich Cemetery of Splendour, den zweiten Teil von As mil e uma noites, Sangue del mio sangue und L’aquarium et la nation sehen durfte.
  • Cemetery of Splendour ist ein großes Werk der Dazwischenheit. Der Film findet zwischen zeitlichen und räumlichen Dimensionen, zwischen Zuständen (wach sein und schlafen), zwischen dem, was man sieht, und dem, was man sich vorstellt (Schlafende, die in den Körpern eines Mediums aufwachen, Paläste) statt. Schon bei einer Schlafkrankheit, die davon kommen könnte, dass begrabene Könige, bettlägigen Soldaten die Kraft aussaugen, kann man Weerasethakul lieben.
  • As mil e uma noites wird so viel intensiver im zweiten Teil, es liegt vielleicht daran, dass man mehr bei den einzelnen Geschichten bleibt, die in sich genau so viele Abweichungen haben, aber auch immer weniger verspielt scheinen. Ich fand Ähnlichkeiten zwischen der ersten Geschichte und Japón, Gomes und Reygadas waren bislang nie gleichzeitig zusammen in meinem Kopf.
  • Bellocchios Sprung zu Vampirismen (nicht nur politische), Isolation und Berührungslosigkeit war so überraschend, dass ich zum zweiten Mal während des Festivals während eines Films überlegen musste, was ich bis zu dem Zeitpunkt eigentlich gesehen habe.