In Search of Time
One is becoming more and more aware the responsibility to document memory that may soon be lost forever, because its carriers - the living witnesses - are dying out.
And, simultaneously, with the advancing of time, more and more film material is being accumulated and has become a part of our collective memory. This is a challenge for filmmakers: to work with this material, to gain a new perspective on known images and to rescue the unknown from being lost.
Many films in this year's Forum programme are characterised by their efforts in saving images and memory from being forgotten. For example Ulrike Ottinger's epic cycle EXIL SHANGHAI, which describes a relatively unknown chapter of emigration history: the European Jews' escape from the Nazis to the city of Shanghai. This city was one of the last refuges for the persecuted, because it had no immigration restrictions. For a short time a unique cosmopolitan life developed, the traces of which live in Chinese films and have become mythical. Ulrike Ottinger brought people to tell their story and, as one expects of her work, in her research she has discovered multi- layered, expressive and hauntingly beautiful pictures.
The Italian film MEMORIA by Ruggero Gabbai concentrates on history in a different way. He places Italian Jews in front of the camera who were deported to Auschwitz and survived. The film was shot at many different locations at the conclusion of a period of in-depth research. It is a moving experience, particularly due to its simplicity and sensitivity: a further chapter in a story that can never be told to its end. Ruth Beckermann from Austria is concerned with a similar subject in her film EAST OF WAR it deals with the crimes committed by the German Army in Russia during the 2nd World War.
The American filmmaker Alan Berliner argues with his father in NOBODY'S BUSINESS about if and when he will be able to tell the filmmaker something of his past and of the family's history. The father is stubborn and often closed to his son's questioning. The result is the protocol of a friendly duel. The atmosphere is sometimes funny and occasionally desperate; in the end, a lot of history and experience is in fact passed on.
Another American, Daniel Eisenberg, who lived in Berlin as guest of the DAAD, subtly orchestrates - as a stream of consciousness - the layers of the past that lie over Berlin in PERSISTENCE. He combines different kinds of observations with citations from films and diaries. The perspective of a foreigner catches the things that a resident of this city may no longer see. Thus this film becomes a thoughtful essay, a meditation that penetrates the levels of time the way only film can.
The confrontation with history is also the focal point of the French film REPRISE (Resumption) by Hervé Le Roux. The starting point is one of the most fascinating cinematic documents from May 1968 in France: the short documentary LA REPRISE DU TRAVAIL AUX USINES WONDER. It describes the spontaneous discussions on the streets of a Paris suburb when the female employees of a flashlight-battery factory are asked to return to work after a strike. One woman rebels, the union representative tries to calm her down. A prototypical great film (this year's poster is modelled using an image from this work) that was considered to be anonymous. In REPRISE, the filmmaker and critic Hervé Le Roux took on the task of reconsidering the old document and to searching out all the people who stood "anonymously" in front of (or behind) the camera. It becomes a fascinating chapter of new film history based on dramatic detective work in which many surprises occur. It also leads to a new perspective on the glory and tears and the "May 68" phenomenon. What has happened to the protagonists from back then? The result is instructive, tragic, comic and moving. A film like REPRISE might be representative of a new genre that, with its focus on film and picture material (the "film in film" method), offers new impulses for cinematic historiography.
A number of German documentary filmmakers move along similar paths in their memory research. Winfried and Barbara Junge haven't given up their "Lebensläufe" project that was begun in the GDR. This year they present us with their lively portrait of a citizen of the town of Golzow: DA HABT IHR MEIN LEBEN - MARIELUISE, KIND VON GOLZOW (There is my life - Marieluise, child of Golzow). In the back and forth of observations and cinematic history, the film offers a fascinating and finely structured narration. Volker Koepp's method in WITTSTOCK, WITTSTOCK differs from that of the Junges'; it is perhaps more intuitive and laconic. Here too a cross-section through time, the identity of individuals and their survival and life is the centre of attention. Both films are stocked with material and observations that suddenly become so visionary that they easily outdo any feature film. The confrontation with contemporary issues is occurring almost exclusively in documentaries.
Other interconnections or relationships between films exist within this year's Forum programme. For example the theme "migration": undoubtedly an issue that will continue to be relevant and may be the central phenomenon at the end of the 20th century. Johan van der Keuken, one of the great filmmakers from the the Netherlands, followed the traces of this phenomenon and fixes them in AMSTERDAM GLOBAL VILLAGE. This film shows the fate of individuals who are torn from their homes and end up in completely different geographic zones. In THEY TEACH US HOW TO BE HAPPY the Swiss filmmaker Peter von Gunten doesn't just describe the incredibly difficult and long journey taken on by individuals and families who apply for political asylum in Switzerland; he also shows us the absurd formalities they must go through. Both films orchestrate their themes in an impressive form - van der Keuken begins with the realism of the moment and reaches great visions, while von Gunten allows the development of a feeling for the passing of time and its existential threat.
Another current issue, the Balkan conflict, is found in a number of important Forum contributions. The German film NACH SAISON (Off Season) by Pepe Danquart and Mirjam Quinte is one of them: for over two years they recorded the activities of Hans Koschnick in the city of Mostar and the life of the people living in a destroyed city under the constant danger of war. CALLING THE GHOSTS by Mandy Jacobson and Karmen Jelincic from the USA/Croatia is the story of a concentration camp as well as an exposé about war crimes, especially those committed against women. BLACK KITES by Jo Andres (USA) describes the existence of an artist in the Sarajevois cellars on the basis of diaries.
However, the Forum films are not only chosen according to their subject matter: their formal characteristics and artistic quality are also criteria (that explains the despair experienced by the selection committee in the face of 700 applications). One finds a particular structural element in a number of Forum films that I would like to call the "existential in cinematic language". While most feature films attempt to tell an invented story within the co-ordinate system of storyline, dramaturgy and the psychology of the characters, a minority of films are less concerned with the story than the representation of a feeling, a condition or a sensitivity. The moment and its resonance and associations are important in these films. FROST by Fred Kelemen belongs to this genre: it describes the wanderings of a mother and her son through unreal, visionary spaces and landscapes. It is a film that is brilliant in its suggestive narration; it transcends all traditional ideas of what film is. Or the American Todd Verow's LITTLE SHOTS OF HAPPINESS, in which a young woman tries to escape the monotony of daily life and becomes a drifter. In CLUBBED TO DEATH, a film by Yolande Zauberman (France), the apocalyptic view of life held by the visitors of a disco is examined. She develops fascinating pictorial visions but is simultaneously very discrete. These films operate with the poetic power of images and silence but also with the elements of design found in noise and music. Perhaps they are helping to bring cinema on a new path and the viewer into new forms of experience and perception. These films may be the true avantgarde of this century.
A number of other films are more appropriately ordered according to their geographic origins. THE BRAZIL SERIES is definitely worth seeing this year: 11 a.m. in the Delphi cinema (repeated in other theatres). Brazil seemed to have slipped from the cinematic map until recently a renaissance in film production took place. In our Brazil panorama we are showing a selection of eight titles: they range from genre films with "classic" Brazilian characteristics up to sociological and political investigations and experimental works. Most of the directors of these films (the majority are women) will be present in Berlin.
Another South American country is visibly present this year: Argentina. Two works by film students and or young directors that reach an impressive niveau are screening: MOEBIUS (directed by students of the Film School in Buenos Aires) could be termed a surreal investigation, but it still takes place in the present (it's about the search for a lost subway in a labyrinth of tunnels). PICADO FINO (Fine powder) by Estabian Safir is a refreshingly dadaistic and foaming test of talent for a young cineast.
The Asian cinematic region is once again in the middle of the Forum map. A special atmosphere of new beginnings is now dominant in Korean films. We invited three feature films from the first Korean film festival in Pusan: THREE FRIENDS by Yim Soon-Rye (a female director) is the story of three young men drafted for service in the military; THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL by Hong Sang-so, a story of a threesome told with a very modern narrative, focuses on an unsuccessful writer (the title of the film is a metaphor for daily life); and FESTIVAL, a film by the renowned director Im Kwon-Taek which describes a burial ceremony as the mirror of different fates, develops into a moving family and personal portrait.
The Japanese contributions to the Forum are equally varied and current. [FOCUS] by Satoshi Isaka looks at the exploitative practices of Japanese television and develops from cinéma vérité to a crime drama. MY SECRET CACHE by Shinobu Yaguchi tells the fantastic story of a resolute girl who invests all her energy in finding a cache of money hidden by bank-robbers in a magic forest. SLEEPING MAN by Kohei Oguri meditates about life and death - the film is a loving portrait of a small city in the country. In addition, Oguri proves that he is the master of an unusual and poetic pictorial approach. These three films offer a good overview of different trends in contemporary Japanese cinema.
The Hong Kong director Allen Fong, a film auteur pathfinder in his region, shot a film in southern China about a travelling opera troupe: A LITTLE LIFE-OPERA has all the characteristics of a Chinese film, is however cast with actors from Hong Kong and captures the viewer with its meaningful, controlled and sensitive directing. At the same time it delivers a critical picture of the present development in China's rural society. Two midnight films from Hong Kong are being screened in the Forum: YOUNG AND DANGEROUS III is a triad film with a realistic background; FORBIDDEN CITY COPS is a humorous Kung-Fu drama. Both films reach a high formal niveau and demonstrate temperament and creativity. A CHA CHA FOR THE FUGITIVE by Tai-sheng Wang is an ultramodern and refined film that focuses on the attitudes of a young generation in the form of an expressionist vision articulated in rapid montage and series of images.
Besides the Taiwanese films, FUN BAR KARAOKE by Tom Pannet could be seen as a new discovery from Asia. Pannet presents us an essay using very modern cinematic language in this debut film. Its father-daughter story is a critical reflection of the Thai economic boom. At the same time, the film also has a mythical and fairy-tale dimension and thus is working on creating a new model for Asian cinema.
Two films from India are also in this year's Forum programme. In Malay Bhattacharya's KAHINI, the protagonist goes on a journey with a taxi driver and a painter; after many adventures and exotic encounters, he finds his way back to his own childhood. TUNNU KI TINA by Paresh Kamdar describes the daily life of a young man who sees himself as a Hollywood hero in his dreams. The film is simultaneously a parody of Indian mainstream cinema.
Among the American contributions one has to highlight illtown by Nick Gomez. It is a fascinating and brilliantly shot gangster story set in Miami. illtown is stylised and controlled to the very last detail; the film develops a view of a deeply beautiful and violent world that is made up of fantasy and dreams, in which all the exits are blocked.
Avantgarde and Experimental
The avantgarde films in the Forum are in a completely different cinematic category. Yvonne Rainer's MURDER and Murder can certainly be included among them; this films tells the amusing tale of two completely different women. Yvonne Rainer, known as a leading representative of feminist film, pulls out all the stops and presents us with an ironic view of American society. Ernie Gehr also belongs to the representatives of the avantgarde; he is presenting his latest work FOR DANIEL. Here, using a home-movie style, he describes the development of a child. Another avantgarde artist is Ken Jacobs, who will be presenting his "NERVOUS SYSTEM FILM PERFORMANCES" in the Akademie der Künste. Ken Jacobs has specialised in reworking old and ancient film material and "found footage". Using self-constructed apparatuses, he separates the films into their base elements, works with single pictures, mirror images, reversed images and contrasts of all kinds and thus creates an experience that goes far beyond traditional cinematic methods of perception.
Two English contributions can also be considered experimental works. GALLIVANT by Andrew Kötting sends a grandmother on a trip through England with her granddaughter, where both experience a number of adventures. This is simultaneously a very human film from daily life and an attempt at reaching a new cinematic language. Yoram ten Brinck takes a journey in THE MAN WHO COULDN'T FEEL AND OTHER TALES "into the history of the 20th century using my own film diaries".
The subject "Africa" is taken up by two very unique films. The Frenchman Raymond Depardon is a great documentary filmmaker and cinematic journal-writer of the painful sides of the continent in AFRIQUES: COMMENT ÇA VA AVEC LA DOULEUR? (Africas: How about the pain?). In his new film MOI FATIGUE DEBOUT, MOI COUCHE, Jean Rouch gathers stories, adventures and legends from Nigeria that have to do with a tree that was hit by lightning but continues to live and develop magical powers.
Europe and More
A number of films should also be mentioned that originate from different parts of Europe: Michael Haneke's DAS SCHLOSS (The Castle), a reference to Kafka and a formal masterpiece; the Swedish film I AM YOUR WARRIOR by Stefan Jarl, an accusation against the destruction of the environment spoken in the form of a children's story (13-year-old Viggo sees himself as an Indian and protector of nature); and Fridrik Thor Fridikssonis new Iceland saga DEVIL'S ISLAND, a dark and wild tale of despairing humour, set in a temporary shelter from the early post-war period.
Signs of life from eastern European cinema are provided by Gennady Poloka's THE RETURN OF THE BATTLESHIP from Russia (a bizarre, tragically misled bureaucrat prevents Eisensteinis shoot in Odessa), LATE FULL MOON by Eduard Sachariev from Bulgaria (the director, a stunning satirist, died during the making of the film) and STRANGE TIMES by Huseyn Mehtiev from Azerbaidjan (a hypnotic film about the life of a girl with her paralysed father as well as a protocol of madness). AN ORDINARY PRESIDENT by Juri Chaschewatzki from Bielorussia is a grimly satirical portrait of the Bielorussian president. It is remarkably sarcastic and lives from its exceptional cinematic power.
The video section of the Forum in the Arsenal cinema (open for all accredited festival-goers!) is also loaded with many excellent contributions from renowned directors; among them IN THE GLAMOROUS WORLD OF THE ADLON HOTEL by Percy Adlon, the two Israeli films HOW I LEARNED TO OVERCOME MY FEAR AND TO LOVE ARIK SHARON by Avi Mograbi and Dalia Karpel's EMILE HABIBI- I STAYED IN HAIFA. The feminist double-programme GOOD SISTER/BAD SISTER> by Liza Johnson (USA) and NAISENKAARI (Gracious Curves) by Kiti Luostarinen deserves special attention.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.