January 2022, arsenal cinema

Consultations – Documentary Works from Past and Present

WOHNHAFT ERDGESCHOSS, 2020

Entrusting films to dialogue, providing images from diverse perspectives, archiving discourses and keeping them alive—this emphatic mission on the part of the Duisburger Filmwoche and Arsenal functions as the impulse for this joint program running from January 20-22. Current documentaries screened at recent editions of the renowned festival for documentary cinema from Germany, Austria and Switzerland will placed in relationship with older works from the festival’s illustrious 45-year history.Films can be seen that are dedicated to people, milieu and moods for which few or only stereotypical images circulate: works that go along with the circumstances they find and devote themselves to their protagonists. The various correspondences between the selected films reveal impressions of autobiographical exploration and supposedly marginal or marginalized ways of life and feelings, with each work creating its own usual visual language in so doing. The combination of historical and current films creates unexpected connections and allows new impressions to be created in the space brought about by the temporal distance between the individual films. While the Duisburger Filmwoche creates a space for committed debates between filmmakers and audiences in November every year, “Consultations” functions as an encounter between images themselves as they enter into an exchange. As a written protocol of each discussion in Duisburg is produced and stored in the festival’s protocol archive at protokult.de, the research now being carried out in this archive forms the starting point for new cinematographic dialogues, allowing images to enrich and find new paths to one another that have yet to appear on any map.

WOHNHAFT ERDGESCHOSS (Germany/Austria 2019, 20.1.) by Jan Soldat opens the series. The drastic physical presence of the protagonist moves through the various obstructions blocking his way through his apartment. Heiko also sees his life as full of obstructions. He no longer wants to meet his mother, the past wasn’t good for him. “If bloody reunification hadn’t happened, I’d still be in work”, he says defiantly—and pisses on the floor, naked. Lots of people do the same on the Internet, there are videos of them doing it. That’s why Heiko also makes such images of himself. Jan Soldat’s images of Heiko carefully weave together the history of his body with contemporary history both internal and external, with repressed aggression and occasional moments of relief.

Sexuality, family history, current political events—DAS BLEIBT, DAS KOMMT NIE WIEDER (Germany 1992, 20.1.) by Herbert Schwarze weaves together these subjects into a “documentary that is no longer a documentary”, as he commented in 1992 in the Filmwoche catalogue. In this work, the individual traumas and collective memories peeled away from 60 years of film history are associated with rather than brought to bear on the biography of his mother. As in Jan Soldat’s film, the focus is on the body as an object of social projections: memory images between Nazi kitsch and post-war guilt settle over the body of a woman who doesn’t want to be one. The frame of her biographical account is just as hemmed in by images as Heiko’s living room is hemmed in by devices for image production.

In PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (Germany 2021, 21.1.), Naama Heiman sets out in search of a subject for her film and finds her roommate Biniam wherever she looks. An obsession. He eludes the frame, barricading himself into the apartment they share behind closed doors. Their neighbors in the complacent Bickendorf district of Cologne use the lockdown to vacuum the awnings on their conservatories. In the meantime, Heiman sorts through analogue images of a past togetherness and lurks in the corridor, hoping for some sort of encounter. A hermetic, asymmetric diary: the pigeons on the balcony mate pragmatically, the filmmaker loves at a remove.

Jan Peters nervously attempts to make contact in diary form in DEZEMBER, 1–31 (Germany 1998, 21.1.). Across 31 film rolls, an erratic act of grieving comes into view that is dedicated to his dead friend Grobi, an attempt to battle forgetting in entirely materialistic fashion. As in Hieman’s film, bitterly amusing self-irony blends with a despairing treatment of absence. Diaries are experienced in both cases as media of personal requirement: what is entrusted to them is not always immediately legible to third parties. Yet while Heiman refrains from formulating a yearning, Jan Peters allows space for associative self-reflection: although he manages to conjure up his everyday surroundings in search of signs and messages, Heiman is not even able to shake off the impression of her roommate after fleeing to her parents’ house in Tel Aviv.

The final coupling begins with JETZT ODER MORGEN (Austria 2020, 22.1.) by Lisa Weber. Her protagonist Claudia sings “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey at modest family celebrations, although the vile optimism of the cheesy hit has no longer been able to convince her for some time now. The only future expectation that the young unemployed mother who didn’t finish school still has is that the burden of her precarious situation will only grow heavier. She caresses her son, of whom her boyfriend impatiently despairs, dozing with her watchful hand on the child’s head, without finding any reason to get up afterwards.

In ICH DENKE OFT AN HAWAII (West Germany 1978, 22.1.) by Elfi Mikesch, tropical harmonies run contrary to the normal habitus. Ideas and sounds from far-off idylls are all that the father, a Puerto Rican American soldier, has left his daughter. 15-year-old Carmen sits in her cramped room and complains that her mother’s job as a cleaning lady is too monotonous for her. Mikesch creates compositions of neon-colored buckets and gloves which wring the water out of the mop in the same way paternalism is wrung out of the image of class. In the process, she burnishes the documentary elements until a piece of the murky West German present shines forth: while Claudia in JETZT ODER MORGEN is a contractual documentary partner and receives sincere empathy, Carmen’s hair and face gleam like the freshly washed porcelain in the tiny kitchen. A sense of solidarity with their young protagonists is what unites the two films, as does an awareness for social and gender-political hardships. (as)

A collaboration with the Duisburger Filmwoche.