May 2015, arsenal cinema

Visionary Archive Festival

May 21–31, 2015

Two years ago, Arsenal initiated a translocal experiment. The "Visionary Archive" project, which is funded by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, places different cinematographic contexts in Berlin, Bissau, Johannesburg, Cairo, and Khartoum in relationship with one another. The central question here is what transcultural, curatorial and artistic work with archives and archival research can look like today. Alongside Arsenal and the perspective that comes from its unique in-house collection, the project partners are the non-governmental project Cimatheque – Alternative Film Centre (Cairo), the independent cinema The Bioscope (Johannesburg), the archive of deceased filmmaker Gadalla Gubara (Khartoum), and the Geba Filmes association (Bissau). From May 21-31, the participants will be giving insights into their material, presenting their findings and discussing open questions with invited guests and audiences. This festival brings the project to a close even as there are still many things yet to be accomplished and takes in films, exhibitions, three workshops, and open-air cinema screenings. In addition to Arsenal, the festival is also taking place at the Scriptings and Archive Kabinett project spaces. The festival language is English.

There will be a booklet with the festival program that is already available for download (PDF).

Day 1: Things get started with a forgotten film that is beamed into the present like a space probe. The title of Ahmed Bedjaoui's LE GRAND DÉTOUR (Algeria 1968, 21.5.) reveals its prophetic qualities, as it finally receives its world premiere after a full 47 years! This story of a young street trader in Algiers who goes to France to seek his fortune still carries considerable bite and topicality. Could it be that LE GRAND DÉTOUR entered the Arsenal archive as a blind passenger with LA ZERDA ET LES CHANTS DE L’OUBLI (Algeria 1982, 21.5.)? LA ZERDA is one of two films made by recently deceased writer Assia Djebar in the late 1970s, both produced by Ahmed Bedjaoui. It is a fervent poem of resistance, skilfully pieced together from remnants of French newsreels from the colonial period. Ahmed Bedjaoui will be in attendance.

Day 2: Two films from the holdings of the Cimatheque in Cairo which explore art and performance in the Egypt of the early 70s: SAD SONG OF TOUHA (1971) is the portrait of a group of street artists that drifts increasingly into the surreal, while HORIZONS (1972) draws a line between different art forms, running the gamut from a staging of Hamlet to the craftspeople in the streets of Cairo. (22.5.)

A gangster will stop at nothing to manipulate the result of a football game. But justice and revenge have a name – Joe Bullet! Action-packed and clearly indebted to the conventions of 70s Black pop culture, JOE BULLET (South Africa 1971, 22.5.) was one of the first South African films with an entirely black cast, putting Ken Gampu front and center, whose nonchalant physicality is reminiscent of Shaft.

Ken Gampu aka Joe Bullet also appears in Jean-Pierre Bekolo's crazy meta-film about the very notion of African cinema, with LE COMPLOT D’ARISTOTE (France/United Kingdom/Zimbabwe 1996, 22.5.) once again sending him off in search of justice. He is supposed to find out why actors that you see die in one film are suddenly large as life in the next. Gampu gets caught in the cross fire between the forces of popular film and those of auteur cinema, who in a glorious showdown are both granted eternal life.

Day 3: The Materiality Workshop (23.5., 12-2pm & 3-6 pm, Arsenal 2, free entry) is dedicated to the material state of archive films, which throws up very different questions in the five "Visionary Archive" sub-projects in Berlin, Bissau, Cairo, Khartoum, and Johannesburg. Physical and virtual storage and accessibility play a role here, as do the aesthetic and ethical aspects of re-discovering films. With contributions by and film excerpts from Filipa César & Sana na N’Hada, Ala Younis, Yasmin Desouki, Darryl Els, Sara Gubara, Katharina von Schroeder, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus. Moderation: Tobias Hering

The estate of Sudanese filmmaker Gadalla Gubara (1920–2008, see below) includes an unfinished fictional portrait of his daughter Sara, who became a professional swimmer despite suffering from polio. The bulk of the existing material from VIVA SARA! (23.5.) was produced at the beginning of the 80s in the midst of the hustle and bustle on the beach in Capri. Shot with visible enjoyment, Sara Gubara plays herself in the scenes and will be providing a commentary on the raw material.

Revisiting Memory: Amateur Footage and Cinema in Egypt – An important element of the Cimatheque’s work in Cairo is grappling with private 8-mm film archives, which tell and experience different stories than those contained within the state cinema apparatus. Dealing with this sensitive material involves allowing those who have donated the material to curate their own archives. The curator for this evening is Shaymaa Shokry. (23.5.)

The discriminatory passport laws passed by the South African Apartheid state repeatedly provoked massive, yet futile protests. MY COUNTRY, MY HAT (South Africa 1983, 23.5.) tells the story of James, a young man from Soweto who attempts to find work in Johannesburg without a passport.

Day 4: one hour – one film "When men die they enter into history. When statues die they enter into art" is how Alain Resnais and Chris Marker's provocative early work LES STATUES MEURENT AUSSI (F 1953, 24.5.) begins, which sets its sights on the aftereffects of colonialism in the European perception of African history and culture.

Over the course of his 60-year filmmaking career, Gadalla Gubara was often a producer, director, cameraman, and editor all in one. Sara Gubara, Nadja Korinth, and Katharina von Schroeder present a selection of his work entitled "60 Years, All Genres" that shows how Gubara continually moved back and forth between different formats. (24.5.)

In FANADO (Guinea-Bissau 1984, 24.5.), Sana na N'Hada documents the initiation ritual of the Balanta community, to which he himself also belongs. Following the film, he will be discussing the conflicts that still link him to the film and his own role in it to this day.

Dean Slotar's POST APARTHEID POPCORN (USA 1992, 24.5.) is a daring political snapshot of South Africa taken directly after the end of Apartheid. His montage of interviews and advertising films forms a trenchant statement on the distribution of wealth in the New South Africa. 

Yasmin Desouki is showing the found piece THE WHITE LINE that forms part of the Cairo Cimatheque's "Revisiting Memory" project, "a hybrid animation, live action musical from 1962, 24 min long." (24.5.)

At the start of the 70s, Gadalla Gubara shot a portrait of Khartoum that showcased the city as the motor of a modern Sudan. Today, KHARTOUM (Sudan 1974, 24.5.) comes across like a look into an unfulfilled future. Part of the "Studio Gad" project involved a workshop in which young filmmakers created cinematic responses to Gubara’s visions. The dialogue between KHARTOUM and their films is accompanied by Stefan Pethke and Rhea Schmitt, who headed the workshop, as well as filmmaker Khaled Bella.

"Ceddo" does not refer to an ethnic group, but rather a stance: a people made up of rebels and outsiders who protect their cultural tradition and identity against slavery, Islamization, and Christianization. Reviving historical material from 16th and 17th century Senegal, Ousmane Sembène's CEDDO (Senegal 1977, 24.5.) creates a staggeringly topical epic on power, religion, language and speech acts, in which a princess plays a crucial role.

Day 5: Visionary Archive @ the Archive Kabinett Two Visionary Archive projects exhibit material from their film research at the Archive Kabinett. Darryl Els’ “South African Pulp: Photo-Comics and the B-Schemes Subsidy Films” documents the parallels between the B-Schemes films and the South African photo-comic culture, whose popularity makes them of interest for a revisionist approach to South Africa’s cultural heritage. The exhibition "Revisiting Memory: Building an Alternative Archive in Egypt" brings together material from the print archive of the Cimatheque – Alternative Film Centre (Cairo) and Egyptian amateur films, which Yasmin Desouki discusses as the elements of an alternative archive. (Archive Kabinett, Dieffenbachstr. 31, Presentations: 25.5. at 7pm, Exhibition: from 22.5., Mo–Sa 2-7pm)

Day 6: Visionary Archive @ Scriptings Gadalla Gubara (1920–2008), pioneer of Sudanese cinema, made features, TV reports, educational material, and advertising films for nearly 60 years. In 2013, a large part of his archive was digitized by Arsenal. The goal of Nadja Korinth and Katharina von Schroeder's "Studio Gad" project is to work together with Gubara's daughter Sara Gubara to preserve and honor his unique life work. Digitized material from the archive can be seen for the first time at the Scriptings project space in the form an installation. The three curators will also be presenting the archive. (Scriptings, Kameruner Str. 47 | Studio discussion: 26.5., 7 pm, Exhibition: 25.–30.5., 12-7 pm)

Day 7: In 1991, Angelika Levi travelled with Lilly Grote and Julia Kunert to Namibia as a camera assistant, where they were shooting a film about Namibian children who had grown up in East Germany. Angelika Levi filmed what happened off-camera. Although most of this footage has remained unused to this day, it somehow wouldn't leave the filmmaker in peace. In this collage of voices and images with a running commentary, she poses the question of "What to Do with the Material?" in the cinema space: "Collection and Disappearing” – Questioning my Material from Namibia in 1991". (27.5.)

In 1985, Pape Badara Seck directed AFRIKA AM RHEIN (27.5.), produced by the West German public broadcaster WDR, in which Goór travels to Cologne in order to demand the return of a mask he once sold to a German tourist in Senegal. His clandestine, yet insistent presence throws the German post-war consensus into sharp relief. Bernd Mosblech did the camerawork for this visionary piece of television history, in which Gilbert Diop, Ronald Mkwanazi and Hanns Zischler all appear and the Rhine is given an African shore.

Day 8: "Colonial Neighbours" is an archive project by SAVVY Contemporary (Berlin) that is conducting a search for clues relating to German colonial history and brings together objects and stories to this end. Part of "Visionary Archive" involved Colonial Neighbours embarking on a journey into the Arsenal film collection. By exploring one selected film in suitable depth, processes of searching and selection and the gaps in the hegemonic construction of history will be addressed. (28.5.)

Med Hondo's internationally celebrated debut film SOLEIL Ô (France 1969, 28.5.) weaves together the experiences of a black immigrant in France in the 60s with echoes of slavery and lucid observations on contemporary labor migration. With his explosive, unconventional narrative style, Hondo manages to address blatant racism and alarming statistics with something more exciting and vigorous than plain social realism.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Larry Clark, Haile Gerima, and others were also searching for alternatives to Blaxploitation and American mainstream cinema. In KILLER OF SHEEP (USA 1977, 28.5.), Burnett tells a story plucked from everyday life in Los Angeles' black community. Working with children and young actors both professional and non-professional, he creates an inside view of conditions there and life’s difficulties, even as moments of great beauty still emerge.

Day 9: Much like in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, foreign film teams also documented the anti-colonialist struggle for independence in Guinea-Bissau. One of the contemporary witnesses of this struggle was Swedish filmmaker Lennart Malmer, who worked closely with his Guinean colleagues. The central moment of BIRTH OF A NATION (Sweden 1973, 29.5.) is Guinea-Bissau’s unilateral declaration of independence on 24.9.1973, even before the end of the war. POETRY OF ANGER (Sweden 1978, 29.5.) blends fiction and documentary to create a personal report of Malmer's recollections of those formative years. After the screening, Malmer will be speaking with Sana na N'Hada about the experience of filming during an armed struggle.

Chris Marker's political analysis LE FOND DE L'AIR EST ROUGE (France 1977, 29.5.) is a recollection of the 60s and 70s, in particular the emergence of the New Left in Europe and the liberation movements in Latin America. Empathy for the promise of socialist utopias can be felt in many of the militant cinema projects which the film cites.

Day 10:  "Reprendre" Workshop (30.5., 12-2 pm & 3-6 pm, Kino 2, free entry) – Philosopher Y.V. Mudimbe describes the strategy of "reprise" (resumption) as a process of knowledge realignment in contemporary African art whereby previously interrupted traditions are taken up again and meanings created in a colonially dominated contexts reexamined. The workshop explores cinematic practices that create archives themselves or look to archives in order to re-contextualize material that has been forgotten. With contributions by and film excerpts from Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Kudzanai Chiurai, Brigitta Kuster, Sana na N'Hada, Litheko Modisane. Moderation: Enoka Ayemba.

NO PINCHA! (France 1970, 30.5.) is a film shot by French activists about the PAIGC struggle for liberation in Guinea-Bissau. Tobias Engel and his co-directors eschew martial gestures in order to allow the images to put across their argument all the more convincingly. The tactical function of the film is attested to by an inserted appeal to German Chancellor Willy Brand. In CARNAVAL DE GUINÉE BISSAO (F 1982, 30.5.), Engel  documents a central collective event in the country scarcely ten years after independence.

Haile Gerima's ASHES AND EMBERS (USA 1982, 30.5.) uses the character of Vietnam veteran Ned Charles in order to explore the restless and disjointed character of his generation. The story moves back and forth between Washington D.C., Hollywood, and his grandmother in the country, weaving together the period’s different ideological options in the process: African roots, internationalist struggles, and the garish promise of an American dream that doubles up as a racist nightmare.

Day 11: The "Mobility" Workshop (31.5., 12-2 pm & 3-6 pm, Kino 2, free entry) takes a look at the mobility and translocalism of film and the influence of mobile cinema practice on reception scenarios, whether spectatorships in South Africa under Apartheid or the experiences with a travelling cinema gathered in Guinea-Bissau as part of "Visionary Archive".

With contributions by and film excerpts from Filipa César, Darryl Els, Marie-Hélène Gutberlet & Tobias Hering, Sifiso Khanyile, Sana na N'Hada und Aïssatu Seidi. Moderation: Marie-Hélène Gutberlet.

The "Von Boé nach Berlin" project gifts the end of the festival with an open-air cinema outing. After a joint walk through the city (Start: Arsenal foyer, 7 pm), films from the National Film Archive of Guinea-Bissau (INCA) will be shown at Prinzessinnengarten (Prinzessinnenstraße 15, at 9 pm), including O REGRESSO DE AMÍLCAR CABRAL (Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sweden 1976, 31.5.), a tribute to one of the great personalities of the 20th Century. (mhg, th)

The "Visionary Archive" project is supported by the TURN fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. We would like to thank the Goethe-Institut, in particular the institutes in Algiers, Dakar, Cairo, Johannesburg, Khartoum und Yaoundé, for their generous support.

Please find more information about the project "Visionary Archive" here.

September '16