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In the last two years dominated by the pandemic, a large number of films were rarely shown in cinemas or at festivals. For this reason, and on the occasion of the theatrical release of James Benning's THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which premiered at this year's Berlinale Forum, we are turning our attention on our streaming platform arsenal 3 to films from our distribution program of the last two years that show parallel worlds and have themselves disappeared into a kind of invisible parallel world due to the pandemic.

MAGGIE’S FARM (USA 2000) by James Benning: A portrait of an art institution as a cinematic landscape: in a succession of static shots, James Benning explores the buildings and terrain of the California Institute of the Arts, where he teaches. A series of views of nature filmed in the surrounding park and woods transitions into images of floors, seating areas and other details of a public building not meant for show. In both parts, an uncanny feeling dominates: the geometries of nature, the dark green and brown tones, the rushing of the highway in the background on the one hand and the humming of halogen lamps, the sound of steps in an otherwise seemingly empty school on the other – it all seems to be hiding a secret. The camera’s gaze is almost always restricted; it rarely penetrates very far into the image.

In 2008 und 2009, Clarissa Thieme travelled through Bosnia-Herzegovina and set up her camera in places where war crimes had taken place in the 1990s. Those trips resulted in the short film Was bleibt / Sta ostaje / What remains (Forum Expanded 2010). With WAS BLEIBT I ŠTA OSTAJE I WHAT REMAINS / RE-VISITED (Germany/Austria/Bosnia and Herzegovina 2020) she returns to these locations and sets up her camera in precisely the same spots, with two women carrying a still from the first film into the frame as a kind of performative act. It’s a process as simple as it is clever, revealing similarities and differences between 2009 and 2019. A ruin has been torn down, a house has been given a new coat of paint, the place where a herd of sheep once huddled is now covered with scrub. At the same time, the poster arouses the curiosity of passers-by; they engage the director and her associates in conversation. Furthermore, this mini-performance starts up a kind of game: What can be seen when an image from the past blocks one’s view of the present, or only allows it to be glimpsed from the margins? Almost in passing, the film expands into a reflection on the question of what visible and invisible traces does a violent past leave behind on a landscape and in people’s memories.

The program is complemented by two films that were screened at Forum Expanded in 2021: Pablo Álvarez Mesas BICENTENARIO (Colombia/Canada 2020) and Moritz Sieberts ZAHLVATERSCHAFT (Germany 2020). On the 200th anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s liberation journey across Colombia, BICENTENARIO reflects on the far-reaching consequences of the liberator’s legacy, a legacy kept alive through a wide range of intentional and unintentional rituals of remembrance. Summoning Bolívar’s spirit in the exact landscapes that witnessed the battles, BICENTENARIO reveals the contemporary social rituals that perpetuate the ongoing violence residing deep within the social and political unconscious. Two hundred years after his campaign, Simón Bolívar’s spirit has become a mix of political mysticism, unquestioned doctrine, and enigma—or perhaps a curse that has fixed itself in the collective imaginary of an entire continent.

ZAHLVATERSCHAFT/FATHERLAND portrays Gerson Liebl, grandson of a German colonial officer from Togo, who has been fighting to get German citizenship and residency permission for the last 30 years. As a last-ditch effort he resorts to a hunger strike. Images of his unwavering persistence in front of the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin are accompanied on the soundtrack by statements, testimonies, clauses from laws, legal texts, political positions, and prevarications—then and now. 

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