April 2020, arsenal cinema

arsenal 3 – week 3

Joint Action
“…we explored the possibilities of gesture, stance and facial movement in hundreds of photo sessions, using everything in the apartment as draperies and props” (Ulrike Ottinger on working with Tabea Blumenschein)
Cinema is collaborative work. The possibilities of changing the system via joint action are investigated by Minze Tummescheit and Arne Hector in their interview film IN ARBEIT (2012) and by Sandra Schäfer and Elfe Brandenburger in PASSING THE RAINBOW, which was shot in Kabul in 2007. Annika Larsson’s BLIND (2011) and Agnieszka Brzezanska's BLUE MOVIE (2007) are about shared body language and sensorial perception. The films THE RIGHT (2015) by Assaf Gruber and DIE AUSSTELLUNG (2005) by Juliane Zelwies examine relationship structures in the art world. A CRIME AGAINST ART (2007) by Hila Peleg and KILLER.BERLIN.DOC (1999) by Jörg Heitmann und Bettina Ellerkamp attempt to do the same by having real figures from the world of art and culture play themselves, in the former in a courtroom show, in the latter by playing a crime game. Two films are from this year’s Forum Expanded program: In LETTER TO A FRIEND (2019), Emily Jacir asks research agency Forensic Architecture to open an investigation before anything has actually happened. Caitlin Berrigan’s IMAGINARY EXPLOSIONS (2019) follows a group of trans-feminist scholars who want to fulfil the Earth’s desire to have all volcanoes erupt at the same time. We’re contrasting the-se new works with two historical films digitally restored by Arsenal: In RAMDENIME INTERVIU PIRAD SAKITKHEBZE (Some Interviews on Personal Matters, USSR/Georgia 1978), Lana Gogoberidze gives an account of the intertwining of the private and the political, while in the short films by Ibrahim Shaddad, member of the Sudanese Film Group, the question of joint action becomes a question of life and death. Last, but not least, we are particularly happy to be able to present Ulrike Ottinger’s Berlin trilogy over the next three weeks. We’re starting with BILDNIS EINER TRINKERIN (Ticket of No Return, 1979) and are thus commemorating actress and artist Tabea Blumenschein, who died recently.

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IN ARBEIT (Arne Hector, Minze Tummescheit, Germany 2012, OV/English ST, 148 min)relies on the basic social gesture of people introducing themselves to one another. To explore the possibilities of collective action, Minze Tummescheit and Arne Hector set off a chain of interviews, with the first interviewee leading the film team to the second, and so on. What they all have in common are the cooperative structures in which they work. To open the series, we meet film laboratory L’Abominable, the Coordination des Intermittents et Précaires, Île de France (CIP) and two Sicilian agricultural cooperatives. The most important question they debate is that of their own legitimacy: does it make sense or is it even possible to position oneself outside of industrial progress, the public arena of politics or the global market? We learn much about film laboratories and the materiality of film, about the relationship between trade and industry, about French employment policy for film and theatre professionals and the resistance it breeds, and about Mafia-dominated Sicilian structures. Each cooperative creates its own images, sounds and rhythms, with these images forming a series that ultimately becomes a collective political discourse, not least about cinema itself.

PASSING THE RAINBOW (Sandra Schäfer, Elfe Brandenburger, Germany 2007, OV/English ST, 70 min) deals with performative strategies to undermine the rigid gender norms in Afghan society: on the level of cinematographic stagings, in political work and in everyday life. The protagonists of PASSING THE RAINBOW include a teacher who is also an actress, a policewoman whose second job is working as an action film director, an activist of the organisation RAWA which advocates the radical separation of state and religion, a girls' theatre group in Kabul, and Malek_a who lives as a boy to earn a living for her family. The directors show excerpts of films from the history of Afghan cinema, accompany the actresses during shooting and stage new scenes together with them. The local actors are co-producers and a corrective to Western perspectives. PASSING THE RAINBOW is a film staging scenes from the actresses' daily life, reflecting on gender relations and opening new areas of action in fiction. The film sheds light on the construction of representation, revealing interdependencies and contradictions between images, real living conditions and dreams and desires.

BLIND (Annika Larsson, Sweden/Germany 2010, OV/English ST, 20 min) shows a group of blind football players during a game. Filmed at night, this exploration around issues of vision and blindness shows the players and the field in close up and in great detail. Images from different viewpoints succeed one another, but without offering a view of the whole. In the spectator, the film arouses an oppressive feeling or even a form of claustrophobia, not only because of the close ups but also the apparent strangeness of the environment in which the figures move about. Through iteration Larsson produces a kind of psychological slow motion, where the spectator gets lulled into a soporific state in which time is clearly flowing but also standing still. The video artist Annika Larsson is interested in incidental but meaningful gestures and rituals, in corporal-linguistic patterns of behavior that conceal hierarchical social power structures.

BLUE MOVIE (Agnieszka Brzezanska, Poland 2007, without dialogue, 4 min) For BLUE MOVIE Agnieszka Brzezanska invited other women artists in her circle to perform as nudes in an empty dark space to a track by Blondie. The resulting film is an impro-vised free dance of shadows of female bodies. The nudes are captured in casual, graceful or discreetly suggestive poses. one senses a touch of ‘70s psychedelia and pop aesthetic. At the same time, they are reminsicent of a more austere context – the abstract studies of Matisse or the late esoteric nudes of Yves Klein.

THE RIGHT (Assaf Gruber, Germany/Poland 2015, OV/English ST, 12 min) A 73-year-old security guard from the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden writes a letter to the director of the Muzeum Sztuki of Łódź, requesting to volunteer as a security guard there. The fourth in a series of short films entitled “The Anonymity of the Night,” THE RIGHT is a fictional story framed by historical sentiments. The ostensible reason for the security guard’s wish for a transfer – apart from her personal history as a Polish-German refugee in the 1940s – is the Łódź museum’s collection of avant-garde pieces by the “a.r.” group (“revolutionary artists”, “real avant-garde”) from the 1930s, one of the most renowned leftist Polish avant-garde groups of the interwar period, which she values much more highly than the old masters in the Caravaggisti room in Dresden, where she is currently placed.

DIE AUSSTELLUNG (Juliane Zelwies, Germany 2005, OV/ English ST, 19 min) The four recipients of the art award, which is given every year by the power plant corporation ELUX, are invited to discuss the conditions of the planned exhibition. When the manager suddenly leaves the meeting and the artists are left behind with the moderator, it becomes clear not even the basics for the exhibition are predecided. While the corporation wants to establish the subject of the exhibition, the artists insist on their artistic freedom. Knowing that all following ideas are useless and redundant, the meeting turns for all participants into an hopeless nightmare.

A CRIME AGAINST ART (Hila Peleg, Spain 2007, English OV, 101 min) is based on a trial staged at an art fair in Madrid in February 2007. The trial, inspired by the mock trials organized by André Breton in the 1920's and 30's, playfully raised a number of polemical issues in the world of contemporary art: collusion with the "new bourgeoisie", instrumentalization of art and its institutions, the future possibility of artistic agency and other pertinent topics. The trial begins with the assumption that a crime has been committed, yet its nature and evidence are allusive and no victims have come forward. The testimonies and cross-examinations become an attempt by the Judge to unravel the nature of the mysterious "crime against art". Set as a television courtroom drama and filmed by four camera crews, the six-chapter serial presents a condensed 100 minutes version of the trial.

KILLER.BERLIN.DOC (Jörg Heitmann, Bettina Ellerkamp, Germany 1999, OV/ English ST, 76 min) In May 1998, ten people, wanting to talk about their lives in a changing city, decide to turn their lives in Berlin into fiction. They play ‘killer’, a game in which no one knows of the others, each one is culprit as well as victim. The task is to find a person, designated but unknown to the player, and to plan the perfect murder for the victim. Knowing that yet another person is searching for him or her, the player looks for the designated victim. The players create a web across the city, the paths they take, the places they visit and the encounters with people all draw a subjective sketch of contemporary life in Berlin in the meantime… “killer.berlin.doc is a documentary with many fissures and fictive elements, a subjective artists’ portrait, an unusually beautiful architectural film, a diary with many voices focusing on two weeks in May 1998. The filmmaker collective combines different techniques successfully and in an aesthetically convincing style (subjective S8 in diary-style, video sequences of players, their ‘own’ sequences). The innovative structuring of images is extraordinary and unique, the flowing transitions between documentary and ficticious elements repeat emotional insecurity on a formal level, an insecurity experienced not only by the players during the game. Berlin is at the same time a dreamscape tinted in blue, a projection of a multitude of desires, an agglomeration of very diverse architectural styles.” (Detlef Kuhlbrodt)

LETTER TO A FRIEND (Emily Jacir, Palestine 2019, English OV, 43 min) A close friend is asked to start an investigation before an inevitable act occurs. Interlacing images, textures, movements, traces, and sounds from over a century, LETTER TO A FRIEND recounts in minute detail a home and street in Bethlehem.

IMAGINARY EXPLOSIONS (EPISODE 2) (Caitlin Berrigan, USA/Germany 2019, English OV, 23 min) follows an affiliation of transfeminist scientists cooperating with the desires of the mineral earth to simultaneously erupt all volcanoes. Through episodic videos, the scientists interpret volcanic activities across place and time. Their shared objectives are to divest technoscientific instruments of their military and corporate power, and to re-embody them in the service of the mineral earth. The non-fictional research of an archaeology team is woven into the inventive narrative of EPISODE 2, as signals arrive from a cave at the foot of the Chaitén volcano in Chile. IMAGINARY EXPLOSIONS draws upon geology and embodied knowledges to investigate how deep time and interspecies communication might assist us in radical planetary transformation. Artists and scholars whose real-life work pushes the limits of science and culture depict fictionalized versions of themselves in the videos and collaborate on the scores, narratives, and sculptures. The speculative fiction cosmology explores what other presents and futures become possible once we begin to think beyond the framework of the human.

RAMDENIME INTERWIU PIRAD SAKITCHEBZE (Some Interviews on Personal Questions, Lana Gogoberidse, Georgia 1978, OV/English ST, 94 min) Sopiko is around 40 and completely absorbed in her profession. As a journalist, she interviews a wide range of different women about their living conditions and desires, while she herself also makes a considerable effort to maintain the fragile balance between professional fulfillment and family obligations. Lana Gogoberidse tells a sensitive story of the connection between the private and the political in almost documentary style and with dynamic camerawork. With its focus on the everyday struggles of an emancipated woman, RAMDENIME INTERWIU PIRAD SAKITCHEBSE is regarded as one of the first feminist films of the Soviet era.

JAGDPARTIE (Ibrahim Shaddad, Sudanese Film Group, GDR 1964, OV/English ST, 41 min) Ibrahim Shaddad’s graduation film JAGDPARTIE (which he shot at the Deutsche Hochschule für Filmkunst Potsdam-Babelsberg; now: Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF), is a treatise on racism. Shot in a forest in Brandenburg, it uses a Western look to portray the hunt for a Black man.

JAMAL (Ibrahim Shaddad, Sudanese Film Group, Sudan 1981, without Dialogue, 14 min) is a report from the life of a camel, most of which plays out in a dreary, small room – a sesame mill.

AL HABIL (Ibrahim Shaddad, Sudanese Film Group, Sudan 1985, without Dialogue, 32 min) documents two blind men making their way through the desert accompanied by a donkey. Connected by a rope, sometimes the two men decide the way, and sometimes the donkey leads them through the desert.

BERLIN-TRILOGIE TEIL 1: BILDNIS EINER TRINKERIN (Ulrike Ottinger, FRG 1979, OV/English ST, 107 min) She, a woman of exquisite beauty, of classical dignity and harmonious Raphaelesque proportions, a woman, created like no other to be Medea, Madonna, Beatrice, Iphigenia, Aspasia, decided one sunny winter day to leave La Rotonda. She purchased a ticket of no return to Berlin-Tegel. She wanted to forget her past, or rather to abandon it like a condemned house. She wanted to concentrate all her energies on one thing, something all her own. To follow her own destiny at last was her only desire. Berlin, a city in which she was a complete stranger, seemed just the place to indulge her passion undisturbed. Her passion was alcohol, she lived to drink and drank to live, the life of a drunkard. Her resolve to live out a narcissistic, pessimistic cult of solitude strengthened during her flight until it reached the level at which it could be lived. The time was ripe to put her plans into action. (Introduction, excerpt from the script)

AKHER AYAM EL MADINA (In The Last Days of the City, Tamer El Said, Egypt 2015, OmU, 118 min) Downtown Cairo is an organism that still seems alive back in winter 2009/10, but is becoming increasingly alien even to those born there. Khalid is looking for a flat. He’s a filmmaker. He looks at his images over and over again, as if he were waiting for them to produce some sort of meaning. The stories of his protagonists seem to come from somewhere inside him, he seeks points of reference in the outside world. The more he looks for them, the more they seem to disappear; not abruptly though, but in lengthy moments full of tenderness, such as when he bids farewell to his girlfriend who is leaving him, to his ill mother, to friends who have come to the city to premiere their films. For them, Cairo is a fixed reference point: One left Baghdad and is now living as a refugee in Berlin, another stayed there, a third lives in troubled Beirut. When they decide to send Khalid video material from their cities, it's not so much about helping him with his film than preserving something they still associate with Cairo via this bond, fully aware that it’s already a fantasy. An almost noiseless film in which time is overtaken by history.

This week we would like to thank the filmmakers Arne Hector & Minze Tummescheit, Sandra Schäfer & Elfe Brandenburger, Annika Larsson, Agnieszka Brzezanska, Assaf Gruber, Juliane Zelwies, Hila Peleg, Jörg Heitmann & Bettina Ellerkamp, Emily Jacir, Caitlin Berrigan, Lana Gogoberidse, Ibrahim Shaddad & The Sudanese Film Group und Ulrike Ottinger.