Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was an essayist and writer, activist and theorist, as well as a pop culture icon. She combined intellect, glamour and dissent effortlessly. Her texts on photography and reporting war, on cancer and AIDS, as well as of course film and cinema have become legendary. Her formulation in her 1964 essay "Against Interpretation" about cinema being "the most alive, the most exciting, the most important of all art forms right now," has been quoted innumerable times. She was firmly convinced that because of the perception of reality that films create, they had an exceptional educational function, not only in an aesthetic sense but because they can enlarge the capacity to feel. Although she made half a dozen films between 1969 and 1993, Susan Sontag’s activity as a filmmaker remained largely unknown. In a 1969 interview with the New York Times about filmmaking, she "confessed" that before making her first film DUET FOR CANNIBALS she had harbored an unfulfilled ambition to direct for years. "I would have taken any offer just to show I could do it," she said. "I would have gone to Afghanistan." "As it turned out, she only had to go to Sweden," quipped journalist Mel Gussow with palpable smugness.
To direct seemed to Susan Sonntag a logical continuation of her career - others, European writers that she admired, such as Jean Cocteau, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Pier Paolo Pasolini, had made the transition from writing to filmmaking - but perhaps it was Pasolini whom she saw as a direct role model, he with his self-declared fingers in many pies.
For the first time in over two decades, Arsenal is showing the films that Susan Sontag directed or co-directed in a season curated by Ralph Eue. These will be complemented by works that provide an insight into her universe.
2015 will be dedicated to the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust – a subject that is of particular significance for our institution, given that the cinematic engagement with the Holocaust has formed a key concern of our work since the very foundation of our association in 1963, then called the Friends of the German Film Archive. This is still apparent to this day, whether in our cinema program, that of the Berlinale Forum we organize, or in our arsenal distribution portfolio. One of the most prominent events at the 1986 Forum was thus the German premiere of Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH at the Delphi-Filmpalast, a film that has since formed part of our distribution range. Additional films on the same theme shown at the Forum and subsequently added to our film archive include DIE FEUERPROBE by Erwin Leiser, HABEHIRA VEHAGORAL (Choice and Destiny) by Tsipi Reibenbach or Lanzmann's SOBIBOR, 14 OCTOBRE 1943, 16 HEURES. These special audiovisual documents of their times are in danger of fading into obscurity. On the one hand, the film print stock is under threat from both decay and wear and tear, while the media shift of recent years on the other means that there are fewer and fewer places capable of screening analogue films. In order to ensure this form of cinematic remembrance also remains accessible for coming generations, a selection of around 50 titles from our film collection has been put together, 10 of which will be digitalized or, if already available in digital form, acquired for digital projection over the next 10 months. The selection includes both well-known films as well as those that have received less attention or been undeservedly forgotten. From January 2015, a catalogue of the 50 thematically relevant works from our collection will be available to present and contextualize the films in question.
From January 27 to February 4 2015, a comprehensive film series including introductions to the films, Q&As, and discussions will be taking place at the Arsenal cinema to mark the start of the project. The focus is on questions of memory, archives, and public spheres. We are glad to present the digital versions of the following films in January: DER LETZTE JUDE VON DROHOBYTSCH and DARK LULLABIES. Christian Pischel's FU seminar at the Department of Film Studies will present three more public screenings in cooperation with the project on January 5, 12 and 19. The entire selection will be available from arsenal distribution.
The full programme for the tenth edition of Forum Expanded, entitled "To the Sound of the Closing Door", is now confirmed. The group exhibition at the Akademie der Künste on Hanseatenweg consists of 19 installations by 16 contemporary artists as well as the film loop version of a 1971 performance by David Askevold: For CONCERT C WITH DOOR, he used a tuning fork to produce the sounds of a door opening and closing. Canadian artist Michael Snow’s installation Taut takes up an entire room of its own, consisting of a classroom full of journalistic photographs from the Black Star Collection made available by the Ryerson Image Centre.
Two performances and 32 films across 18 different programmes from a total of more than 20 different countries will also be presented at the Akademie Studio and the Arsenal cinema. Last year’s trend also continues to make its presence felt this year, as the medium-length format continues to make inroads against the short film. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the longest film in the programme is the 243-minute LES CHOSES ET LES MOTS DE MUDIMBE by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, in which we watch an autobiographical interview with Congolese literary scholar Valentin-Yves Mudimbe as he takes up clear positions to the various shifts and revolutions in contemporary history.
The 45th Berlinale Forum will show a total of 43 films in its main programme, of which 31 are world premieres and 10 international premieres. This year’s programme will be opened by what is probably Canadian director Guy Maddin’s most rampant and anarchic film to date. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM comes across like an apparently chaotic, yet always significant eroto-claustrophobic nightmare that never seems to want to end. Its countless fantastic plotlines are inspired by real, imaginary and photographic memories of films from the silent era now lost, to which the half-damaged nitrate print aesthetic also pays fabulous homage.
Jack Edward Berger Germany 2014
DCP 102 min
Verhängnis Fred Kelemen Germany 1994
35 mm OV/EnS 80 min
*Golden Eighties Chantal Akerman Belgium 1985
35 mm French OV 96 min