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August 2017, arsenal cinema

Cours, cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi – 
The Cinema of Med Hondo

WEST INDIES, 1979

"Run, comrade, the old world is after you" is the English translation of the title of this program, which stems from one of the slogans of the French '68 movement. This slogan found its way in turn into SOLEIL Ô (1969), probably the most well known film by Med Hondo, the avant-garde filmmaker, actor, and voiceover artist who was born in Mauretania and has been living in the Paris banlieue for more than 50 years now. In his lengthy career as an independent filmmaker, Med Hondo hasn't just made films that reveal the political topicality of African and diaspora history and dared to make artistic breakthroughs in the process. He has also succeeded in setting cinema itself in motion and developing alternatives to European and American production and distribution structures. The film program of the exhibition and film project "Cours, cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi" curated by Enoka Ayemba, Marie-Hélène Gutberlet, and Brigitta Kuster is aimed at the vanishing point which speaks forth from Med Hondo's films against social encrustation and ignorance towards everyday racism. Med Hondo's films draw their power from the need to be always be one step ahead of constraints, prejudices, and regulations in order to create a space for oneself, for anger, for big images, for a pluriversal historiography, for corporealities, colors, and temperatures. Med Hondo is a self-made man who begun working in theater and appropriated the methods of filmmaking in uncompromising fashioning: with his head, his heart and senses, with passion, eclecticism, and fashionable moments and ruptures. Seven of the twelve films made by this cinematic border-crosser between 1968 and 2004 will now be shown anew and in combination with auteur films, experimental films, and video art. The intention here is to emphasize connections based on geography, motifs or the senses and he points of contact with different forms of abstraction and sound and to amplify the echoes of Med Hondo's cinematic cosmos, which extends beyond the Mauritanian/Algerian/Western Saharan/Malian/Caribbean, and Parisian film locations and his own origins.

The silent film portrait CINÉMATON MED HONDO (Gérard Courant, France 1995) opens the program on 23.8., followed by MES VOISINS (Our Neighbours, Med Hondo, France 1971), a fragment of a much larger documentary film project with which Hondo wanted to explore the Parisian policy of housing migrant workers. The film was based on the idea of a serial diary film, which was not able to be realized but still revealed possibilities for a cinema of the streets which shares a kinship with direct cinema and cinétract. CONCERTO POUR UN EXIL (Concerto for an Exile, Désire Ecaré, France 1968), RÄUME (Gunter Deller, West Germany 1989) and TOURBILLONS (Whirlwinds, Alain Gomis, France 1999) are all suitably brief in bringing the big questions of the transcultural coexistence of people, spaces, and visual material to the surface and round off this opening program on neighborhood circumstances.

MUNA MOTO (The Child of Another, Jean-Pierre Dikongué-Pipa, Cameroon 1975, 24.8.) In moving fashion, the film reveals the social and economic constraints that love is subject to. The contrast between desire and condition is filmed in black and white images of impressive spatial depth and makes clear that emotional integrity is a good reason to leave.

TABATABA (Raymond Rajaonarivelo, Madagascar 1988, 24.8.) In the same cinematically imposing form that goes hand in hand with the grandeur of Med Hondo’s films, TABATABA remembers the independent movement and the massacre carried out by the French army in Madagascar in 1947.

SOLEIL Ô (Oh Sun, France 1969, 25.8.) Med Hondo's first internationally celebrated film interweaves the experiences of an immigrant in 60s France with narrative echoes of slavery and labor migration within capitalist model of exploitation. The improvisational, hyperrealist style inspired filmmakers and artists to meet the structural racist reality in France and the experience of indifference with experimentally fractured documentary and fictional forms.

LA FEMME AU COUTEAU (The Woman With a Knife, Timité Bassori, Ivory Coast 1969, 25.8.) Bassori attempts to grasp the trauma of a young man returning from Europe in images in psychoanalytical-surreal fashion.

SHADOWS (John Cassavetes, USA 1959, 25.8.) The combination of films in the orbit of SOLEIL Ô also includes Cassavetes' SHADOWS and SALLY'S BEAUTY SPOT (Helen Lee, Canada 1990), which take the stories and references spanning the Black Atlantic further. They visibly and audibly accentuate the power of cinema to assert, criticize, or subvert blackness and color lines.

POLISARIO, UN PEUPLE EN ARMES (Polisario, A People in Arms, Med Hondo, France/Algeria 1978, 26.8.) POLISARIO and "Nous aurons toute la mort pour dormir" (We Will Have All Death to Sleep, 1976) are Hondo's documentary films he created with the Sahrawi resistance movement and were co-produced by Algerian television; POLISARIO is shown together with Skip Norman's CULTURAL NATIONALISM (West Germany 1968) and NINE MUSES (John Akomfrah, United Kingdom 2010) and thus placed in a context of documentary essay films. The idea of temperature and color lead in the process back to relationships of how politics and aesthetics can be dissolved: snow, sand, and then heat and ice are not just simple metaphors for migration, they are sensitive conditions for the forced and chosen mobility seemingly repeated in these stories.

WEST INDIES (Med Hondo, France 1979, 27.8.) This furiously opulent, sarcastic historical musical about the Antilles and the French slave trade is a chamber drama staged on a pitching slave ship, which encompasses all the possible sets between disco and court sessions and is positively bursting with quotes and allusions. The attempt to approach such a heavy subject matter with such fast-paced glee is a real coup, resulting in a crazy play whose craziness is equally transferred to the viewer and opens out in all directions.

BEATLES ELECTRONIQUE (Jud Yalkut, USA 1966–69, 27.8.) transforms the British pop icons into magnetic abstract loops and breakbeats to function as an omen of the subcutaneous substances of a black pop culture. It creates an acoustic link to Haiti in the form of L'HOMME SUR LES QUAIS (Raoul Peck, Haiti 1993, 27.8.). Peck lived in exile in Zaire before studying at the dffb in Berlin and returned to the place of his birth to make this feature. L'HOMME SUR LES QUAIS evokes the Duvalier regime by collecting different haptic and musical fragments, as if to try and escape a bad dream.

HANDSWORTH SONGS (John Akomfrah, United Kingdom 1986, 29.8.) Created during the 1985 riots in London and Handsworth in reaction to British media reporting, the film formulates a personal and situational desire for political participation and involvement. The film doesn't just document reality, it intervenes in the mechanisms of representation, creating a place for black British artistic positions in public and a space for abstraction and improvisation that makes critical analysis possible. NIGHT MUSIC (Stan Brakhage, USA 1986, 29.8.) The experimental film classic accentuates this sensual, abstract space in the cinema.

LUMIÈRE NOIRE (Black Light, Med Hondo, France 1994, 29.8.) Med Hondo's description of a claustrophobic airport geography permits hardly anything else than thoughts of conspiracy. The deportation of migrants without valid residency papers, drives through Mail, and abandoned French industrial ruins on the outskirts are superimposed on top of one other. What might be a dream, nightmare or reality becomes hard to determine; the interplay of colors and social temperatures only accentuates the connection with LIGHTS (Marie Menken, USA 1964–66, 29.8.)

BORDERLINE (Kenneth Macpherson, United Kingdom/Switzerland 1930, 29.8.) This experimental film was shot at Lake Geneva and shows American migrants in Switzerland in an indeterminate realm of experience both internal and external, on the shaky terrain of desire and isolation.

POURVU QU'ON AIT L'IVRESSE (Jean-Daniel Pollet, France 1957, 29.8.) The unforgettable Claude Melki celebrates his first film appearance here in the role of a melancholy music hall character who the camera follows as if dancing with him at a drunken ball.

FATIMA, L'ALGÉRIENNE DE DAKAR (Fatima, the Algerian Woman of Dakar, Med Hondo, France 2004, 30.8.) interrogates the social distance between victims and perpetrators in the post-war era and the prospects for reconciliation.

SAMBIZANGA (Sarah Maldoror, France/Angola 1972, 30.8.). Shot on seven weeks in the People's Republic of Congto, Sarah Maldoror described the film as follows: "In SAMBIZANGA, I mainly wanted to express the loneliness of a woman as well as the time you need to march". It's followed by FREE RADICALS (Len Lye, USA 1958/79, 30.8.), which provides an energetic finish.

SARRAOUNIA (Der Kampf der schwarzen Königin, Med Hondo, France/Burkina Faso 1986, 31.8.) takes up the story of the titular queen, who led the war against the French colonial army in the south of Niger in 1899. The film acknowledges this daring attempt to halt the occupiers and thus revises the historical image. Linton Kwesi Johnson rhymed that "It's no mystery, we're makin' history.” His song "Making History" alludes to the history of Jamaica and the Windrush generation; it can be seen in MAKING HISTORY (Antenne 2, 18.10.1985, 31.8.). (mhg, bk & ea)

Martin Ambarra, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Madeleine Bernstorff, Ute Fendler, June Givanni, Astrid Kusser Ferreira, Olivier Marbœuf, Shaheen Merali, Viktoria Metschl, Akin Omotoso, Abdoulaye Sounaye, and Ibrahima Wane will be speaking about the films, together with the curators Enoka Ayemba, Marie-Hélène Gutberlet and Brigitta Kuster.
As guests we welcome Max Annas, Ahmed Bedjaoui, Darryl Els, Pascale Obolo, Lyès Semiane, and Cara Snyman.
Cours, cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi—an exhibition with Theo Eshetu (Archive Kabinett, 20.8.–10.9.), Sebastian Bodirsky and Guy Woueté (SAVVY Contemporary, 26.8.–3.9.); Workshop (silent green Kulturquartier & Archive Kabinett, 1.–3.9.).

The project is being supported by the TURN fund of the Federal Cultural Foundation. With thanks to the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Goethe-Institut Yaoundé, Archive Kabinett, SAVVY Contemporary, and silent green Kulturquartier.

Brochure download here.

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