DISSENT ! Kidlat Tahimik

perfumed-nightmare-les-blank-films

20 March 2016 18:00, Bozar Cinema, Brussels.

Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare)
PH, 1977, color, English spoken, 16mm, 93’
Sinong Lumikha ng Yoyo? Sinong Lumikha ng Moon Buggy? (Who Invented the Yo-Yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?)
PH, 1979, color, English spoken, 16mm, 93’

In the presence of Kidlat Tahimik.

“A cultural politics, a politics of daily life, which emerged in earlier decades but as something of an adjunct and a poor relative, a supplement, to ‘politics’ itself, must now be the primary space of struggle. This is indeed precisely what Kidlat’s film teaches us: that the other levels must be inscribed – from the sheerly eventful or punctual to the great class warfare of the national liberation struggle – but that today as never before we must focus on a reification and a commodification that have become so universalized as to seem well-nigh natural and organic entities and forms.”
– Fredric Jameson

Werner Herzog counted the film amongst the most original and poetic works of cinema made anywhere in the 1970’s. It reminded Susan Sontag that “invention, insolence, enchantment – even innocence – are still available on film”. And Fredric Jameson hailed it as a model example of how cinema could invent new geotopical cartographies within the landscape of late capitalism. But for all these words of praise, Perfumed Nightmare, Kidlat Tahimik’s first feature film, has overall remained a hushed secret within the dominant historiographies of cinema. If it is mentioned at all, the film tends to be associated with “Third Cinema”, a catch-all term that once embodied the hope for a new kind of cinema that could challenge the hegemony of the dream factories of Hollywood and Mosfilm, a hope that coincided with a political aspiration that was called “Third-Worldism”. Today, the idea of a “third” world or cinema seems to have become nothing less than an embarrassment in view of a time of globalization whose economic reality has, or so it appears, supplanted all possibilities of alternate ways of life or alternate modes of production. Perhaps this explains why a Marxist critic like Jameson is fascinated with the work of Kidlat Tahimik, which succeeds in remapping the new into the old and the old into the new, rather than aiming to simply replace or destroy old paradigms. In Perfumed Nightmare (1977) Tahimik plays a jitney driver in a Philippine village who dreams of becoming an astronaut or at the very least to strike it rich in the land of dreams which is the United States. He makes it as far as Europe, where a series of rude and comical awakenings unfolds and Kidlat learns that the modern Western world is far from paradise. In the follow-up film, the self-proclaimed “third-world space spectacle” Who Invented the Yo-Yo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? (1979), our hero finds himself as a guest worker in the Germanic lands of “Yodelburg,” where he dreams of organizing the Philippines Official Moon Project. After all, even the global juggernaut of the American space program can’t get to the moon without Philippine innovations: the yo-yo, the early cousin of the gyroscope, which was placed on spaceships to the moon, was invented by Philippine tribesmen, while a Filipino living in the U.S. created the moon buggy. Both films, as Sontag pointed out, “makes one forget months of dreary moviegoing”. Like the festooned “jeepny” that Tahimik’s character constructs from an abandoned U.S. Army vehicle, they create something wholly original and imaginative from the discards of colonialism, like a pair of omnibuses hovering back and forth between different worlds with generous hilarity.

In collaboration with Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Cinematrix distribution and the Birkbeck Essay Film Festival.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

DISSENT ! Sylvain George

sylvain

9 March 2016 20:00, STUK / Cinema Zed, Leuven.

Qu’ils reposent en révolte (des figures de guerre) (Sylvain George, FR, 2010, b&w, 150′)
Followed by a discussion with Sylvain George and Jacques Lemière (in French)

“Cinema not only bares witness to the struggle of migrants, it also offers the sensible world that responds to it: a world where there are not only makeshift tents, cold, hunger and grids, but also their transmutation in always changing spectacles, in movements and shimmering, in shadows and reflections. This is the most profound politics of Sylvain George’s films: not only in showing the capacity of the ‘wretched of the earth’ to live and think in accordance with the violence they are subjected to, but also in making them antecedently inhabit this world that is refused to them, the world where everyone has access to everything, including the superfluent and the artificial.”
– Jacques Rancière

Thousands of women, men and children, worn out after a long and terrible voyage, left to their own devices in what is considered as the largest slum of Europe, where they survive in inhumane and insanitary conditions. Without basic hygienic facilities, they face the constant threat of epidemics and infectious diseases. While local authorities increasingly impose restrictions on the work of health organizations and aid agencies, clashes with police forces and right-wing militants are deteriorating into a spiral of violence. To this dreadful situation, the state governement responds with more repression in the name of “security”. These are the facts that we all know about the “jungle” of Calais, as well as the more recent migrant camps in Dunkerque and elsewhere in the North of France and Belgium. For over eight years now Sylvain George has committed himself to give visibility to the living conditions of those suffering this injustice. Qu’ils reposent en révolte, the first feature film that resulted from this commitment, is composed of fragments that were filmed in Calais between Juli 2007 and November 2010. The film however does not merely offer an illustration of a utterly scandalous situation. The migrants depicted in the film do not correspond to the figures of victims silenced by oppression or of fighters crying for their rights. Instead of showing the clash of one violence against another, the film rather depicts how individuals rise their bearings and thoughts to meet the state violence inflicted on them. Instead of depicting them as eternal victims or “bare lives”, it shows their capacity to state their own history and take charge of their destiny. “Politically speaking, it is about standing up”, says Sylvain George, “about contesting these grey zones, these spaces or cracks like Calais situated somewhere between the exception and the rule, beyond the scope of law, where law is suspended, where individuals are deprived, stripped off their most fundamental rights. And that while creating, through some dialectic reversal, the ‘true’ exceptional states. Space-time continuums where beings and things are fully restored to what they were, are, will be, could be or could have been”.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.
In collaboration with STUK, Lieven Gevaert Centre and Hoger Instituut voor Wijsbegeerte (KU Leuven).

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

In Between Times: The Song of the Shirt

thesongoftheshirt01

15 February 2016 20:00, Art Cinema OFFoff, Gent. Preview of the program In Between Times (Courtisane Festival 23 > 27 March 2016), which will present a selection of British films that have attempted to document and reflect on the changing political landscape in a period that stretches from the mid-1970’s to the beginning of the 1990’s.

Sue Clayton & Jonathan Curling
The Song of the Shirt

UK, 1979, 16mm, 135′, b&w, English spoken

An independent feature film about women in the sewing trade in the nineteenth century, about whom poets wrote, philanthropists raved, and finally government interest was stirred – bringing about legislation to protect them which formed the origins of the Welfare State. Made collectively with over 200 cast, crew, musicians, artists, historians, academics in various fields, womens’ groups and trades unions.
“The “slop-house’’ workers were a favourite of both the bourgeois and radical presses. They were horrified by the picture they saw of the single woman in this casually organized and over-supplied trade. Her independence and misery disturbed the hypocritical convention of the “protection of women” in the family and in the Law. Her person, as it was waged, starved and sexually active, disturbed the womanly ideal, the passive domestic consumer, that accompanied the rise of the bourgeoisie. She presented problems for the propaganda of social reformers and conservatives alike. However, the film is not a piece of historical detective work, awarding the unknown figures their proper (and final) recognition. The presence of the seamstresses was acknowledged in certain ways: the film is concerned with the forms which that recognition took. The motivation for making the film lies partly in the persistence of comparatively bad working conditions for women in the garment trade. But in addition to its specific historical material, The Song of the Shirt also constitutes a confrontation with a problem-area which has arisen within the economic and cultural conditions of independent filmmaking in England, and within feminist film analyses and practices of the past few years.” (Alison Beale)

In the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent)

DISSENT ! Michel Khleifi

Fertile-Memory_Still-1200x760

A conversation with Michel Khleifi, preceded by a screening of Fertile Memory (1980, BE/PS, 104’).

9 December 2015 20:00, STUK / Cinema Zed, Leuven.

“Somehow, Khleifi has managed in his film to record Farah’s first visit to her land. We see her step tentatively onto a field; then she turns around slowly with arms outstretched. A look of puzzled serenity comes over her face. There is a little hint on it of pride in ownership. The film unobtrusively registers the fact that she is there on her land, which is also there; as for the circumstances intervening between these two facts, we remember the useless title deed and Israeli possession, neither of which is actually visible. Immediately then we realize that what we see on the screen, or in any picture representing the solidity of Palestinians in the interior, is only that, a utopian image making possible a connection between Palestinian individuals and Palestinian land.”
– Edward Said

It’s been thirty years since Edward Said wrote this passage, as part of a reflection on the Palestinians’ experience of dispossession and exile. For Said, Michel Khleifi’s Fertile Memory managed to call up, with astonishing precision and beauty, the painful memory of his mother and all those who had their identity taken from them by Israeli colonialism. In seeing the moment when Farah Hatoum sets foot on her land after having stubbornly refused to accept attempts by settlers to legalize its expropriation by buying it, Said was reminded of how separated he was of the experience of an interior that he could himself not inhabit. “At once inside and outside our world”: that is how he described the exile experience, one that Michel Khleifi himself is not unfamiliar with. In September 1970, the month that became known as “Black September,” he left the city of Nazareth in Galilee and settled in Brussels, where he commenced theater and television studies. It was only a decade later that he returned to his place of birth to shoot his first documentary film, which became Fertile Memory. It tells the tale of two women, one of whom, Farah, is Khleifi’s maternal aunt, a widow in her fifties who was compelled to work in an Israeli textile factory after her land was seized. The other is Sahar Khalife, a novelist whom Khleifi had gotten to know through her writing, in which she examines the struggle of Palestinian women. The intimate portrait of both women reveals the traces of a double occupation in their lives: not only do they suffer from the Israeli domination but also from the restrictions imposed on them by the patriarchal society. By focusing on the land as a symbol of Palestinian identity and taking in account internal contradictions in the fight for emancipation, Khleifi’s film marked an important shift in the history of Palestinian cinema. Rather than offering an image of unity and homogeneity, Khleifi and other filmmakers who would follow in his footsteps endeavored to re-envision Palestine as a heteroglossic multiplicity of trajectories and temporalities. The experience of dispossession is captured in its lived complexity, showing both resilience and diversity under occupation.

Much time has passed and many things have changed in the dynamics of dispossession since Michel Khleifi made Fertile Memory. The film was finished right before the first Lebanon war broke out, several years before the beginning of the first Intifada and more than a decade before the Oslo Accords. It was made more than two decades before the Israeli Security Fence began to scar the landscape and a UN Committee would conclude that Israel is engaging in apartheid practices, in violation of countless international laws. Today, violence is once again on the rise and a solution seems to be further away than ever before. Meanwhile, the land of Palestine is increasingly being severed and fragmented, further eroding claims of Palestinian ownership. As the continuity of their land gradually disappears from the life of Palestinians and the dominant narratives claiming the unavoidability and irreversibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gain evermore traction, more and more activists insist that any move towards possible futures must begin with memory. In a time when all possibilities seem to be suffocated in the stranglehold of an unforgiving “realism”, could those “utopian images” that Edward Said discerned in the work of Michel Khleifi still be of use as prisms to imagine the impossible?

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

DISSENT ! Lav Diaz

Siglo-ng-Pagluluwal-Century-of-Birthing

11 November 2015 14:00, Bozar Cinema, Brussels.

Lav Diaz in conversation with Stoffel Debuysere, preceded by a screening of Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History) (2013, 250′). In the context of the Lav Diaz Retrospective Brussels/Antwerp (10/09 – 26/11/15).

“The endless search for redemption is man’s gift and curse–because man can’t be relegated to the generic, to being a genre, to being just a dreaded cliché; because man comprehends the need for change, for progress; because man comprehends the perils of retrogression and relapse. And so, he struggles for the ideal. Struggling for the ideal means man will perpetually suffer, and thus, the vision of redemption becoming perpetually inherent to liberate him from that suffering. Hence, his concept of humanity is redemption. And his concept of redemption is great humanism. The thesis of my cinema gravitates to this discourse. Art is part of that struggle. I am trying to be part of the struggle.”

How to come to terms with the history of a country that is haunted by memories of colonization, rebellion and oppression, a country that continues to wrestle with itself in search for meaning and identity? The weight of this question makes itself felt in every frame, in every face, breath and gesture inhabiting the films of Lav Diaz. From his feature debut, Serafin Geronimo: Criminal of Barrio Concepcion (1998), to his latest From What Is Before (2014), all of his films are deeply rooted in the history and politics of his home country, the Philippines. They bear the wounds of a troubled past that have never been able to heal, as the shadows cast by the Spanish and American colonization, the conflict between Moro Muslims and Christians, and Ferdinand Marcos’ imposition of Martial Law still loom heavily over the country. Even though the dictatorship has come to an end almost thirty years ago, the harms and injuries produced by the past have never seemed to wither away, but have grown ever more inward. This legacy of trauma and disempowerment, of “stifled hands and silenced voices,” as Alexis Tioseco wrote, is what can be felt reverberating in Lav Diaz’ shattering tragedies of sin, guilt and redemption.

It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that 19th century Russian literature, especially the work of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, has never been far from his mind. Already in Serafin Geronimo, which starts out with a quote from Crime and Punishment, Diaz seems to have established his main theme: the search for redemption, a theme which continues to run through his oeuvre, from the Tolstoy-inspired Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), in which a onetime political prisoner confronts his former interrogator, to Norte, the End of History (2013), which begins with a Raskolnikov-like figure committing murder, but develops into an allegory about Marcos. And just as the Russian novelists sought to depict “the Russian soul” by making full use of the temporal spaciousness of their prose epics, Diaz’ portrayals of the lives and suffering of the Filipino people unfold over epic lengths of time, stretching over multiple hours. This duration gives Diaz a grand canvas on which he patiently sketches painstaking diagrams of the factors and events that shape the multiple, interconnected lives of the people he observes, unfurling into panoramic meditations on morality, violence and death, torn between humanist faith and materialist despair.

Cinema as window onto the troubled soul of the world, as a quest for the inner life of reality in all its mystery and ambiguity: in Lav Diaz’ work yesteryear’s dream of André Bazin appears to have found a contemporary follower, a filmmaker who is not about to tone down his search any time soon. As he himself has said, “I would go to any extent in my art to fathom the mystery of humankind’s existence. I want to understand death. I want to understand solitude. I want to understand struggle. I want to understand the philosophy of a growing flower in the middle of a swamp.”

The Lav Diaz Retrospective Brussels/Antwerp is a collaboration between CINEMATEK, Courtisane, BOZAR, VDFC, University of Antwerp, Cinema Zuid, Jeu de Paume, Paris, Le Festival d’Automne à Paris, Austrian Film Museum, Cineteca Bologna and with the support of the Philippine Embassy in Belgium. On November 10–12 the filmmaker will be present in person to talk about his work, as well as that of Lino Brocka, who has made an indelible mark on the culture and cinema of the Philippines, and to whom Diaz paid homage in Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004).

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.