"Specters of Freedom“ focuses on films produced during a period of political upheaval which either document the period in question or can themselves be seen to express a “new time”. These films are carried by a revolutionary drive or seek to stir up such feelings, films in search of images and sound capable of conveying a new sense of freedom that is imminent or has already been attained whilst still often having to grapple with the specters of freedom: ideas thought overcome reappearing in fresh garb, the scrap heap of symbols, images and slogans and a suddenly anachronistic language, a future more frequently evoked than actually lived.
As the focus here is on the relationship between cinema and history, the temporality of films forms another key theme. In what way are films able to represent a particular time or influence the happenings of “their” time? How do they turn audiences into historical witness and how do they themselves become to a certain extent contemporary witnesses of the events they depict? The emphasis on periods of revolution or upheaval accentuates the discrepancy between the immediacy of a film’s relationship to time at the point it was produced and the way in which is it seen in retrospect during archive work, whether in terms of what a particular film still “says” today, how it can be viewed, and how archive screenings affect our relationship to our own time. In addition to the temporality of film and the archive’s special relationship with time, the temporality of curatorial work is also of relevance here, given that it consists of activating the archive as a “memory”, thus also bringing up the question of modes of forgetting and deferral.
Handling archives and viewing the films within them also presupposes the sort of concept of “legacy” described by Jacques Derrida both in “Specters of Marx” and elsewhere. As such, if living inevitably means accepting a legacy “whether we want to or even know we are doing so or not”, handling any given archive raises the question of which aspects of this wanted or unwanted legacy the archive recounts as well as our own willingness to engage with it. Derrida’s view of legacy, namely that it represents a greater challenge to our relationship to the future than our handling of the past, can also possibly be applied to the archive. As far as “Specters of Freedom” is concerned, the key question here is how open we are to the invariably “spectral” experience of making images and voices from another time into a contemporary experience as well as to the possibility of recognizing the still unfulfilled hopes of the present in the upheavals of the past. It goes without saying that the very concept of the specter is characterized by the way in which it appears to come from the past but actually awaits us in the future.
The programs "Specters of Freedom 1 & 2" establish relationships between the Arsenal film archive and two archives in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau which relate an important chapter in the story of anti-colonial African cinema. The two archive films ACTO DOS FEITOS DE GUINÉ (Portugal 1980) by Fernando Matos Silva and MUEDA, MEMORIA E MASSACRE (Mozambique 1979) by Ruy Guerra formed the impetus for inviting Catarina Simão and Filipa César to present their respective, not explicitly related research on the film history of the former Portuguese colonies at the Arsenal cinema. Over a total of five evenings, films of different origins, visual fragments and sound recordings create a resonance chamber which serves to bring up both the role of cinema in the decolonialisation processes of the 70s and the politics of archives for discussion.
This program (5.–7.11.2012) was curated in collaboration with Catarina Simão and focuses on the different narrative strategies employed within decolonialist cinema: improvisation and cinema verité in the case of Ruy Guerra, densely symbolic parables in the case of Sarah Maldoror and Joaquim Lopes Barbosa, the deconstruction and disempowerment of the colonial visual archive in the case of Assia Djebar and Trinh T. Minh-Ha. The findings and questions arising from Catarina Simão’s research project Fora de Campo/Off Screen on the national film archive in Maputo will be supplemented and extended with films from the Arsenal archive. The video installation THESE ARE THE WEAPONS (2012) by Catarina Simão in the Black Box in the Arsenal foyer is a visual new reading of Murilo Salles’ film ESTAS SÃO AS ARMAS (Mozambique 1978) and also forms parts of the program.
This program was curated in collaboration with Filipa César (27. & 28.11.2012) and sketches out a possible decolonialist cinema in Guinea-Bissau by means of fragments, rough cuts as well as films produced either later or elsewhere. Filipa César’s project "Luta ca caba inda" (The Struggle is Not Over Yet) is dedicated to the only partially preserved archive at the National Film Institute in Bissua and the fragmentary, unfinished period of militant cinema in the former Portuguese colony. Here too, the visual inventory and imaginative space of the archive in Bissau are supplemented with films from the Arsenal archive and placed in a critical dialogue with them. Filmmaker Sana na N'Hada will be attending the screenings, one of the key players in the militant film work carried out in Guinea-Bissau between 1972 and 1980 to which the archive in Bissau (as does ACTO DOS FEITOS DE GUINÉ in fragmentary fashion) attests.
The third section of the program is intended to generate additional discussion by using eight to ten films from the Arsenal archive in order to take previously outlined questions relating to cinema in times of upheaval and the historical witness function of film further. Although the broad thematic context remains decolonialisation, it no longer necessarily forms the direct focus of attention. Every exploration of “Third Cinema” - a cinema that doesn’t merely show decolonialised realities but also explores how power relations can be “decolonialised” by cinematic means - shows that colonial violence necessarily implies visual violence, a violence of gazes, framings and stigmatization that cinema can both draw on or break with in equal measure.
LADONI (Artur Aristakisjan, USSR 1990)
In Kischinjow there is a beggar, who roams the streets all day and talks loud and clearly to his unborn son. The people listen to him. Twenty years ago the child was supposed to be born, but his bride had an abortion. [...] I shot the film between 1986 and 1990 and spend months on end with the beggars. They were willing to expose themselves for the camera. One of them told me, he would even be willing to kill himself in front of the camera, so that I could film his death. (Artur Aristakisjan)
SADY SKORPIONA (The Scorpions's Gardens, Oleg Kovalov, USSR 1991)
From fragments of spy movies, medical, musical and propaganda movies, we tried to create a surrealist phantasy on the Sowjet thaw period of the 1950s. (Oleg Kowalow)
LE FRANC (Djibril Diop Mambety, Senegal 1994)
What does a worried musician dream of if not his instrument? Marigo dreams of his congoma, which was confiscated by the evil landlady because of unpaid rent. But the cogoma is his life. (Djibril Diop Mambety)
MABABANGONG BANGUNGOT (The Perfumed Nightmare, Kidlat Tahimik, Philippines 1977)
Far beyond, near the Amok-Mountains, in the village of Balian, lives Kidlat Tahimik and dreams of the wide world. Only an old stone bridge connects Kidlat’s bamboo hut village to civilization, but he is proud and confident: "I pick my vehicle and I can cross any bridge". And so he practices his departure, first with toy cars of different sizes, then with his brightly colored "Jeepney" a customized US-military vehicle, which Kidlat uses to transport people and products.
WEST INDIES (Med Hondo, France 1979) tells the story of an island in the Caribbean, the history of the people of the Antilles: Just yesterday slavery ruled: the strongest men and women are taken from the African continent by the millions, forced onto slave ships and sold in public squares.