The conditions of fiction
GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI / UNO SPECCHIO CHE VIAGGIA NEL TEMPO originally emerged from the Living Archive project, initiated by Stefanie Schulte Strathaus in 2012, which invited filmmakers, curators, theorists, and other cultural producers to investigate and work with the archive of the Berlin-based Arsenal Cinema, containing more than 8,000 films, in order to develop contemporary projects and productions. This archive also holds a 16mm copy of a film called ANNA by Italian underground director Alberto Grifi and actor Massimo Sarchielli, which became the starting point and reference film for GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI.
This film, which was made in the years 1972-75, documents a few months in the life of a girl called Anna, a young, homeless and pregnant drug addict that Grifi and Sarchielli encountered in spring of 1972 in Piazza Navona in Rome. Grifi and Sarchielli offered her help until the birth of her baby; in return, Anna agreed to become the subject of a cinéma vérité film project that oscillates between documentation and (re-)staging, reality and fiction, between empathy, observation and exploitation. In the film ANNA, the girl Anna Azzori becomes the actress of her own life – a role that over time she increasingly refused.
The film exists in different lengths and versions, ranging from Portapak video to 16mm film. The overall length of Grifi and Sarchielli’s final version from 1975 (almost four hours), and the unused rushes amounting to a duration of nearly 11 hours that are kept in the archive Associazione Culturale Alberto Grifi in Rome, are due to the fact that in 1972 Grifi was the first Italian director to work with new video technology instead of expensive 16 or 35mm material. With a self-invented device called “Vidigrafo”, the original video material was later transferred to 16mm film stock. In 1975, ANNA premiered in the Berlinale section Internationales Forum des Jungen Films.
“By using the ‘Vidigrafo’ I was able to reach places that a film usually wouldn’t be able to reach. In relation to the cinematographic language I’d say that it perhaps constitutes the first attempt to escape from the economic imperatives that usually determine filmmaking, and therefore to be able to film ‘life’.” (Alberto Grifi)
The suspended future
Alongside images from other Roman archives and new original footage, GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI makes use of image and sound material from the estate of the Associazione Culturale Alberto Grifi that hadn’t found its way into Grifi and Sarchielli’s film. In the course of the project’s development, a large part of the dialogues and conversations from the unedited original rushes were transcribed, in order to render the corpus of the film, its world, its polyphonic and multi-layered narrative more accessible, in order to better illuminate and enter the story of the film and of Anna as a person – its historical context as well as the specific circumstances of the production history of Grifi and Sarchielli’s film.
By using these archival materials as a departure point, GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI examines the relationship between chance and intention, rehearsal and reality, artificiality and authenticity.
Amongst other things, it investigates such subjects as the life and death of fictions, the “conditions of fiction” that here are derived from a work of non-fiction. It researches the past of an archive, in which a future emerges that has not yet come to pass. As science fiction author Bruce Sterling writes, “The future is just a kind of past that hasn’t happened yet.” This is all the more true with regards to Grifi’s archival footage: it embodies a future that was put on hold, suspended and released for the first time in GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI, in which Anna herself speaks out.
ANNA, the film, as well as Anna, its protagonist, emblematically represent the end of an epoch in which “politics and aesthetics [still] seemed indissolubly linked” (Rachel Kushner). The film reflects the profound defeat of a movement that was simply incapable of changing the course of things – similar to Grifi and Sarchielli, who were unable to steer Anna’s life towards a more stable course, as Grifi admitted some years later in a filmed post-scriptum, a kind of apology to Anna.
Not least, GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI is a story about cinema: it tells of a type of filmmaking that exposes itself to life by observing it, while at the same time always remaining aware of the conditions under which it operates – namely, the conditions of fiction. As Godard once put it, “Everything on the screen is fiction.”
GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI tells the story of a female film character suspended between reality and fiction, and literally represents “uno specchio che viaggia nel tempo”: a mirror that travels through time (a phrase from a poem by Alberto Grifi). At the same time, it is dedicated to its heroine: being based on Anna’s (fictitious) notes it can be considered both an imaginary portrait and a feminist response to Grifi and Sarchielli’s template. It accompanies and documents this character named Anna, Daphne, and sometimes also Gemma during a time travel through her own (film) history, through fragments of stories from other films, through cities, film archives and also the virtual landscapes of a contemporary computer game.
She was a human, then a tree, then a human again; she was Ovid’s river nymph Daphne fleeing from Apollo, later she became Anna, and eventually turned into a young actress named Gemma, who is cast for the role of Grifi’s Anna. She looks for this casting, as there are a few things she wants to clarify. In the process, she crosses an enchanted forest where she meets some young women, former virtual heroes of a long-forgotten game who now live there as a feminist collective; she arrives in 1970s Rome, where she takes part in women’s rights demonstrations. She joins an assembly of young female activists in Rome’s Cinema Planetario and eventually ends up at an abandoned open-air cinema where the casting has already taken place and where she finally “changes the frame”.
In GLI APPUNTI DI ANNA AZZORI, the past (of the archive) finally connects with a possible future: a queer-feminist utopia, which conceives of different models of life. An image of this future also appears in the framework of another casting, in the fleeting encounter with a number of young women whose faces illuminate the frame for a few instants: Anna’s revenants and companions, whose reflections become visible for just a brief moment in some shards of this fragmented film mirror. (Constanze Ruhm)