November 2012, living archive

Specters of Freedom: Cinema and Decolonialization 5.–7.11. & 27. –28.11.

"Specters of Freedom: Cinema and Decolonialization" establishes relationships between the Arsenal film archive and two archives in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau which relate an important chapter in the story of anti-colonial African cinema. As part of his "Living Archive" project, curator Tobias Hering has invited Portuguese artists Catarina Simão and Filipa César to present their respective, not explicitly related research on each of these archives at the Arsenal cinema. Over a total of five evenings, films of different origins, visual fragments and sound recordings create a resonance chamber which serves to bring up both the role of cinema in the decolonialisation processes of the 70s and the politics of archives for discussion. The timeframe of the film selection is the 70s. The program also includes a video installation by Catarina Simão in the Black Box in the Arsenal foyer (5.11.-12.11. and 26.11.-28.11., 4pm–10pm, projection restarts on the hour). On 27 und 28.11., filmmaker Sana na N'Hada from Guinea-Bissau will also be in attendance.

"Off Screen Project" - Film and Decolonialization in Mozambique (Guest: Catarina Simão)

Catarina Simão's project "Fora de Campo/Off Screen Project“ reevaluates cinematic production in Mozambique in the years both before and after independence and how the films made in this period might be made visible once again. Her research also focuses on the role of the film institute founded in Maputo in 1976 and the treatment of the film archive. A three-day film program and an installation put various examples of this film work up for discussion within the context of other works of "Third Cinema".

During the ten-year war for liberation (1964 - 1974), the Mozambican liberation army FRELIMO was already regularly inviting film teams from the various countries they were allied with to document the armed struggle and promote international solidarity against the Portuguese colonial power. This sort of invitation practice was also continued following independence (1975), meaning that film production both in and about Mozambique carried on at a fairly continual pace. This nascent independent film production was also able to benefit from the fact that the Portuguese had left behind a fairly good film infrastructure and a comprehensive film archive in the Mozambican capital of Maputo. 

One of the first filmmakers to be invited to shoot in Mozambique after independence was Ruy Guerra, who was born in the country but became well-known as one of the central figures of the Brazilian   Cinema Novo. Although his film MUEDA, MEMORIA E MASSACRE (Mozambique 1979, 5.11.), which was shown at the Forum in 1981, is the only Mozambican film in the Arsenal archive, it is a clear milestone. It shows a piece of anti-colonial reminiscence work, a public reenactment staged by non-professionals of the massacre of Mueda (1960) carried out by the Portuguese. The event was regarded as triggering armed resistance in Mozambique in subsequent historiography and was remembered at regular intervals even before independence by means of popular reenactments. Ruy Guerra shot MUEDA with a clear documentary interest in this theatrical form of commemorative practice. Its subsequent marketing as the "first Mozambican feature film" provided an initial taste of the interpretational conflict that was to follow, which resulted in a complicated history of censorship.  Guerra's A QUEDA (1978, 5.11.), which was produced the year before in Brazil, throws light on the political dimensions of the open, realist form employed by the director, in which improvisation and working with non-professionals plays a central role.  A QUEDA uses the story of a work accident at a large construction site to explore the continuous nature of exploitation and corruption. 

One of the few anti-colonial films to be produced in Mozambique before independence is DEIXEM-ME AO MENOS SUBIR ÁS PALMEIRAS (Mozambique 1972, 6.11.) by Joaquím Lopes Barbosa. Shot in the style of a Russian avant-garde film, it tells the story of the suffering of and revolts carried out by a gang of rural workers. The film was banned by the Portuguese censors at the time and has only recently been given a new reception in Portugal. Sarah Maldoror's fictional short MONANGAMBEE (Algeria 1969, 6.11.) will be shown beforehand, a thematically and aesthetically similar work, which also sets its sights on Portuguese colonialism. Like Lopes Barbosa's film, Sarah Maldoror's tale lives from a heaviness and silence that bears testimony to centuries of repressed anger ready to explode. The soundtrack by the Art Ensemble of Chicago also does its bit to this end.

Catarina Simão created the installation THESE ARE THE WEAPONS (5.-12.11. & 26.-28.11. daily from 4 pm) especially for the Arsenal program. Her installation uses a split screen to present a new reading of the film ESTAS SÃO AS ARMAS (Mozambique 1978) in visual terms. This agitprop film by Murilo Salles was edited together from archival images and formed one of the first works to be produced by the newly founded film institute in Maputo. The third day of the cinema program (7.11.) takes up the theme of the archive once again with two films from the Arsenal archive that also concern the disempowerment of colonial images. For LA ZERDA ET LES CHANTS DE L'OUBLI (Algeria 1978), Algerian writer Assia Djebar changed professions in order to recapitulate the colonialization of the Maghreb using French newsreels. The film employs montage to search for the truth in these "images of a killing gaze", a truth which they pointedly do not show: the "resistance behind the mask". The soundtrack brings together multi-vocal chants and experimental music to form a furious swan song to colonial violence. Trinh T. Minh-ha's debut film REASSEMBLAGE (USA 1982) was shot in Senegal and also places image and sound in opposition, primarily as a means of deconstructing the stigmatizing, ethnological visual archive of Africa we all have in our heads.

The presentation of Catarina Simão’s Projekt in Berlin was made possible with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon) and the ZMO - Zentrum Moderner Orient (Berlin) as part of the 2012/13 winter colloquium "The Impossible Aesthetic: Situating Research in Arts and Social Sciences/Humanities".

"Luta ca caba inda" – The Struggle Is Not Over Yet (27. and 28.11.)
At the start of the 70s, four activists from Guinea-Bissau were sent to the country's ally Cuba in order to learn the craft of film from Santiago Álvarez. The liberation movement's political leadership, which was centered on Amílcar Cabral, also made strategic use of film in the subsequent construction of an independent state. When Guinea-Bissau's short socialist phase ended in a military coup in 1980, most of what the young filmmakers had been shooting all over the country since 1973 remained unedited raw material. It was soon forgotten, with much of it disappearing or disintegrating over time.

Filipa César's project "Luta ca caba inda" was initially about finding the remains of this short phase of militant cinema in Guinea-Bissau in the archive of the National Film Institute (INCA) and allowing them to be seen once again. With the help of two of the filmmakers involved, Flora Gomes and Sana na N'Hada, she was recently able to have the preserved material digitalized. Parts of this material will now be shown for the first time with Sana na N'Hada in attendance. The two-day program takes the fragmentary and unfinished state of the material as the impetus to think about possible films. The role of the gap as a constitutive element of the archive is intended to come to the fore here, without the history which it is indebted to being played down in the process. By showing rough cuts and unfinished works alongside subsequently realized films or those produced elsewhere, a sketch of a cinema of decolonialisation in Guinea-Bissau should come into focus at the very least. Seven years were spent working on such a cinema without the fruits of these labors ever being shown.

Arguably the only film in the Arsenal archive to directly explore the fight for liberation in Guinea-Bissau is ACTO DOS FEITOS DO GUINÉ (Portugal 1980, 27.11.) by Fernando Matos Silva, which does at least contain some traces of the work of the young filmmakers surrounding Sana na N'Hada and Flora Gomes. Matos Silva was stationed in Guinea-Bissau as a Portuguese soldier. His film settles the score with the Portuguese colonial project in self-critical fashion, its sarcasm, disillusionment and bitter humor also fueled by the revolutionary impetus of the "Carnation Revolution", which was largely brought about by the disenchanted military. Matos Silva draws on archive material to visualize the fight for liberation, most of which can be attributed to the Swede Lennart Malmer, who shot a great deal of material in Guinea-Bissau at the time and became a mentor to the young filmmakers there. One of the central scenes in the film is the unilateral declaration of independence for Guinea-Bissau on September 25 1973, a memorable event that took place in the bush at which the voice of the already deceased Amílcar Cabral declared the republic's independence via tape recording. Flora Gomes and Sana na N'Hada were also filming on that day, with several of their film rolls having been preserved in the archive in Bissau. Scenes from these rolls have been cut together to form a 20-minute sequence which will be shown before ACTOS DOS FEITOS DE GUINÉ, which is also intended to function as the "reverse shot" to Malmer's material, as all three filmmakers took turns at filming one another working on that day.

Of the four filmmakers trained in Havana at the behest of Amílcar Cabral  - Josefina Lopes Crato, José Bolama Cobumba, Flora Gomes and Sana na N'Hada – it is above all Flora Gomes who went on to make a name for himself internationally. His film MORTU NEGA (Guinea-Bissau 1988) is of particular interest in this context, as it tells the story of the last months of the battle for liberation in the form of a complex film drama, which fictionalizes in the process the proximity to events that the camera of the documentary filmmakers who had just returned from Cuba actually had. A short film roll of direct clashes shot by Flora Gomes himself in 1973, which was preserved in the Bissau archive, will be shown beforehand to visualize this relationship.

On 28.11., the focus is primarily on the role of propaganda images in processes of decolonialization. This is linked to a thought by film historian and filmmaker Manthia Diawara, who made the wide lack of heroic images of the anti-colonial battle in African cinema responsible for how easily the moments of glory in the continent's history could be forgotten in the post-colonial depression. What would a propaganda film from Guinea-Bissau have looked like at the time? The centerpiece of the evening is an uncompleted militant cinema film project from Guinea-Bissau, the film GUINÉ-BISSAU, 6 ANOS DEPOIS (Guinea-Bissau, Six Years Later) which was planned for 1980 but whose completion was thwarted by the military coup in the same year. 

The program starts with several Cuban newsreels by Santiago Álvarez as well as his short film AÑO 7 (The Seventh Year, Kuba 1967), in which the accomplishments of the Cuban revolution are celebrated with classical demonstrations of power. Afterwards, Chris Marker's LA BATAILLE DES DIX MILLIONS (F 1970) from the Arsenal archive will be shown, which Álvarez also worked on, a differentiated, but solidarity-minded work on Cuba and Fidel Castro’s person. The film follows the failure of a large national project set in motion by Castro himself, a strived-for record harvest of ten million tons of sugar. One of the many interesting aspects of the film is how Marker dramatizes the predictable failure of the campaign and thus creates a portrait of a self-critical Castro as a new type of socialist leader. Castro's concluding mea culpa speech, which is comprehensively documented in the film, is a unique political moment. 

Around two hours of unedited raw footage from the abandoned film project GUINÉ-BISSAU, 6 ANOS DEPOIS have been preserved in the archive in Bissau. At the end of the 1970s, Flora Gomes and Sana na N'Hada had begun to shoot footage with an alternating film team which was supposed to document progress in the country since independence. The film rolls preserved convey the optimistic picture of a growing civil society rolling up its sleeves after years of war. Parts of the unfinished project will be shown and commented on live by Sana na N'Hada. This "rough cut" screening will be preceded by a excerpt from the soundtrack of another unfinished film project in the Bissau archive, "Luta ca caba inda"(The Struggle Is Not Over Yet), a documentary film intended to explore the dangers still lurking after independence whose title Filipa César took for her project.

The presentation of "Luta ca caba inda" at Arsenal is a collaboration between Le Jeu de Paume (Paris), The Showroom (London) and ZDB (Lissabon). The project is supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon) and the German Foreign Office.