September 2019, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – 
Between fiction and documentary: cinematic intersections and bridges

NEMA-YE NAZDIK/CLOSE-UP, 1990

Docudramas, docufiction, performative or fake documentaries, mockumentaries, reenactment, documentary fiction – the ways of describing the hybrid forms that occupy the grey area between documentary and fiction in cinema and television are as diverse as the tradition of such works is long. Even in early cinema there were attempts, of varying guises and amounts of transparency, to blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction, to combine two commonly understood separate forms in an experimental, analytical, distancing, concentrated or reflective manner. Our Magical History Tour presents a selection of examples that cross the boundaries of documentary and fiction from the past 100 years.

MOI, UN NOIR (Jean Rouch, France/Cote d’Ivoire 1957, 1. & 5.9.) Fiction, improvisation and documentary are juxtaposed in Rouch’s early cinema vérité film, a portrait of three young Nigerians, who go by the names of Edward G. Robinson, Eddie Constantine and Tarzan. They have left behind their rural homes and families to make a living in Abidjan with odd jobs. The flow of silent shots is spontaneous, intoxicating and commented and reflected upon by the voiceover in a funny manner. Godard said this was one of the “most audacious of films as well as being the most humble. Albeit clumsily made.”

TRI PESNI O LENINE (Three Songs About Lenin, Dziga Vertov, USSR 1934, 3.9.) At the height of the glorification of Lenin, 10 years after his death, Vertov was inspired by three Uzbek songs about the revolutionary to make this film. He combined excerpts from newsreels, his own documentary footage of the European and Asian parts of the Soviet Union, improvised interviews, ecstatic singing and minimalist inter-titles to create an emphatic picture of the glorious development of the USSR. A far cry from the predominant pathos, the film becomes a rhythmic montage-poem, which gives space to Vertov’s interest in the distortion of cinematic processes and genres, as well as in establishing a new form of aesthetics.

THE EXILES (Kent Mackenzie, USA 1961, 3. & 21.9.) After making Bunker Hill (1956), a short documentary about a dilapidated district of Los Angeles, Mackenzie asked three young members of Bunker Hill’s Native American community to help him write the screenplay for his next project as well as appear in it. The lengthy discussions that ensued form not only the basis of the script but also of the sometimes melancholy soundtrack - the film provides a concise and poetic insight into the world of a group of Native Americans, whose lives alternate between restlessness in the bars on Main St and the traditions of their forefathers and between short-lived kicks and the hope of a better life.

DOKFAH NAI MEU MAAN (Mysterious Object at Noon, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand 2000, 4. & 11.9.) is at once a playful documentary and a documentary feature film. In this feature-length debut, Weerasethakul and his crew travel from Bangkok to the rural south and back. The documentary approach is connected to the fictional “Once upon a time…” : Weerasethakul asks the people whom he meets to continue telling a tuna-seller’s story about a boy in a wheelchair and his teacher, and re-enacts the scenes. We will show the restored version by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Austrian Film Museum. The Austrian Film Museum, LISTO MediaServices in Vienna, Technicolor Ltd in Bangkok and the Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata worked closely with Apichatpong Weerasethakul for the restoration.

ACTO DA PRIMAVERA (Rite of Spring, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal 1963, 7. & 15.9.) Every year, during Holy Week, farmers from the village of Curalha (Trás-os-Montes) re-enact the passion of Christ. The performance takes place in the open air and the villagers recite texts from the 16th century in vernacular dialect. Although he originally intended to make a traditional documentary about this local tradition, Oliveira re-enacted the performance of the Passion and integrated the shoot, the film team and scenes from everyday village life. “I opted for a compromise between documentary and feature, with which I could better express the power of performance and the human warmth, whose radiation so impressed me.” (Manoel de Oliveira)

NEMA-YE NAZDIK/CLOSE-UP (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France 1990, 8. & 17.9.) “The film version of a real event”: The young and unemployed Hossain is wrongly assumed to be the director Makhmalbaf. Instead of righting this confusion, he plays the “role” of the filmmaker, whom he admires and thus gains entry into the house of the wealthy Ahankhah family. He is offered a feast and even receives financial support for his film project. But he ends up in court after his fraud is discovered. Kiarostami obtained permission to film the proceedings and also convinced all involved to play their own role. “The last word till now about the mirroring of film in film – and a profoundly moving, tragicomic study of creative escape from loneliness.” (Christoph Huber)

NUESTRA VOZ DE TIERRA, MEMORIA Y FUTURO (Our Voice of Earth, Memory and Future, Marta Rodríguez, Jorge Silva, Colombia 1981, 9. & 22.9.) The dominant subject of the films of Marta Rodríguez and Jorge Silva is the oppression of farmers and indigenous peoples in Colombia. Before and during the making of NUESTRA VOZ, the directors lived among indigenous people for a year. The critical participation of these latter flowed into the narrative of the film, in which “myth, ideology, politics, the real world and fantasy, magical thinking, and current political processes interact and coexist. This duality, this dialectic became the basis of the specific kind of narration we developed for the film, in which we combined the characteristically naturalistic form of documentary film with other forms of perceiving reality.” (Jorge Silva)

AQUELE QUERIDO MÊS DE AGOSTO (Our Beloved Month of August, Miguel Gomes, Portugal 2008, 10.9.) It’s a hot August in the heart of Portugal, the mountainous region around Arganil, where people hunt wild boar, play hockey, fight forest fires, jump from bridges, take part in processions, do fireworks, celebrate feasts, sing and dance. Beginning with documentary-like observations, which concentrate largely on popular local bands and orchestras and their hits, the film glides gradually into fiction. In the end, it becomes impossible to differentiate between fiction and documentary. The film crystallizes in a melodramatic story involving a father, his daughter and her cousin.

LA TERRA TREMA (The Earth Trembles, Luchino Visconti, Italy 1948, 13. & 15.9.) Conceived as the first part of a Sicilian trilogy and co-financed by a communist trade union, this film, which combines ancient tragedy, Italian opera and ethnological observation, is one of the most ambitious works of Italian cinema. Visconti worked closely together with local fishermen, allowing the non-professional actors to improvise their dialogues and to speak in dialect. At the intersection between class struggle, verismo and the desire for style, LA TERRA TREMA centers on the young Sicilian fisherman Ntoni, who revolts against the wholesalers who control the price of fish. When he loses his boat he has to subject himself to the wholesalers again but he sees the chance of a possible liberation.

SOLEIL Ô (Med Hondo, France 1969, 14. & 20.9.) Stylized, surreal sequences, sharp satire, cartoons and an off-screen commentary provide frame and connect episodic vignettes about a Mauritanian man in Paris looking for an apartment and a job, and experiences the toughness, racism and indifference of French society. Filmed in black-and-white, the debut of one of the most important directors of postcolonial cinema is a damning indictment of the situation immigrants experience in 1960s France. It has narrative echoes of slavery and labor migration. “An authentic act of rage and liberation.” (Med Hondo)
We will show a version restored by Cineteca di Bologna/-L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory in cooperation with Med Hondo that was funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.

BESPRECHUNG (Meeting, Stefan Landorf, G 2009, 18.9.) Meetings are part of everyday life. They have their own dynamic, their own linguistic codes and they reflect the state of a company “The film shows meetings in a wide range of different institutions, placing its focus on the architecture of meeting rooms and the language and gestures of the participants in particular. It leads us into a world of small talk, phrases and rituals and reveals meetings as a stage for (self-) portrayals of all kinds. This becomes most tangible in the performative sequences, in which individual sentences are repeated by the protagonists and then taken up and recited by actors as they move the stage sets around – verbal fragments to be employed at will, liberated of any particular meaning.” (Birgit Kohler)

DIE ALLSEITIG REDUZIERTE PERSÖNLICHKEIT – REDUPERS (The All-around Reduced Personality - ReduPers, Helke Sander, FRG 1978, 19. & 23.9.) Edda Chiemnyjewski, a freelance press photographer and single mother, is trying to plan an exhibition of pictures that document Berlin with other West Berlin photographers alongside her demanding family and work life. The film has the framework of a documentary, with original pictures by the photographer Abisag Tüllmann, tracking shots of the Berlin Wall, images of dilapidated facades, street scenes, demonstrations and graffiti. Helke Sander makes not only the (divided) city a protagonist of the film, but also crosses the border between fiction and documentary. An ironic and precise portrait of divided life in a divided city.    

NANOOK OF THE NORTH (Robert J. Flaherty, USA 1922, 21. & 29.9., on piano: Eunice Martins) Unending white expanses, a sea of floating ice, which creates small channels, masses of snow: The material for Flaherty’s dramatizing and at times romanticizing description of the everyday life of the Inuit Nanook and his family was shot in northern Canada. Against this Arctic backdrop, Nanook goes walrus and seal hunting, builds an igloo, combats the cold. Combining documentary and staged shots, Flaherty’s dynamic camera sketches how tough life is in the Hudson Bay region as well as the beauty of the ice landscape there. (mg)

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
Between fiction and documentary: cinematic intersections and bridges

07:00 pm Cinema 2


Tri pesni o Lenine

*Tri pesni o Lenine Three Songs About Lenin
Dziga VertoV USSR 1934 35 mm OV/GeS 59 min

arsenal cinema: „Souls made great by love and adversity“
 – Frank Borzage retrospective

08:00 pm Cinema 1


Desire

*Desire USA 1936
With Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper
35 mm OV/GeS 95 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
Between fiction and documentary: cinematic intersections and bridges

08:30 pm Cinema 2


The Exiles

*The Exiles Kent Mackenzie USA 1961
DCP OV/GeS 72 min