Figures of Dissent: Sergei Loznitsa

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12 march 2015 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. In collaboration with Cinematek

Maidan (2014, NL / UA, 133′)

In the presence of Sergei Loznitsa

“It is a popular movement, and what I wanted to show, the subject of my film, is the people… That is why I chose a style that enabled me to have many characters, groups, masses of people in the frame at the same time—to observe their actions and movements.”

Maidan is an enigma to me, which I am yet to solve,” declares Sergei Loznitsa. What does it mean to film an event that surpasses all the ideas and presumptions that the one who films might have? How does one film and keep on filming the making and unmaking of a singular collectivity, itself composed of countless singularities who are caught up in a political process that resists simple identification and illustration? Loznitsa found himself confronted with these questions when he went to Kiev in the middle of December 2013, a few weeks after the wave of demonstrations had begun on Maidan square. He ended up staying for ninety days, as the events unfolded: from the peaceful rallies demanding closer European integration, to the bloody street battles between the protestors and riot police. But in contrast to the tendency of many “militant” filmmakers to position themselves in the heart of the struggle and capture its flow and flux by way of hand-held camera work, vivid testimonies and dynamic editing, Loznitsa presents the mounting unrest in a series of statically framed long takes, without interviews or commentaries. Rather than focusing on individual stories – as in, for example, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer’s depiction of the uprisings on Tahrir Square – he seems to be more interested in the collective aspect of the so-called “Euromaidan” protests, chronicling the sheer mechanics of human mass movement. What does this choice entail exactly? How are we to relate to these images of nameless bodies and sounds of bodiless voices? Which kind of relation between the small and the large, the singular and the collective does it propose to us? And how does filming the “body of the people” relate to the dominant notions of populism that we have inherited from some of those who deplored the rise of the revolutionary movements that put an end to the reign of kings and nobles?

In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)”
KASK / School of Arts

DISSENT! Pedro Costa & Thom Andersen

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3 April 2015 15:30, Sphinx Gent

Talk with Pedro Costa & Thom Andersen preceded by a screening Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (Pedro Costa, 2001, 104′). In the context of the Courtisane Festival (1-5 April), in collaboration with ciné-sessies KASK en HISK.

“Oddly, the older I get, the more optimistic I become about the possibilities of film, cinema, movies, whatever you want to call it, as a medium. I think for the way it brings together so many different arts, because of the fact that there is a kind of existential bond between the representation and the thing being represented, because of the way that it can take us to different places, give us an insight into lives that are very different from our own, show us things that we can never possibly see, describe an aspect of reality that hasn’t been acknowledged.” – Thom Andersen

“Cinema is not about the artist. It’s about being in the world, our world, choosing a place and figuring out elements of time and space and limits that are common to all of us. I believe that, if cinema goes beyond its realistic borders, it loses all of its powers.” – Pedro Costa

Pedro Costa and Thom Andersen: two filmmakers who, to all appearances, seem to have very little in common. One is mainly celebrated for his portrayals of the inhabitants of Fontainhas, a quarter on the margins of Lisbon, the other is most well known for his investigations into the history of cinematic representations, in particular those of Los Angeles. But for those who prefer to embrace cinema as a “supplementary country”, as Serge Daney was so keen to say, the geographical or categorical borders that tend to divide it are doomed to be nothing but nuisances and hindrances. If there really is an imaginary country called cinema, it might be because it has true inhabitants who all speak the same “language”, no matter how far apart they may find themselves from one another. This shared language, in all its impurity and hybridity, is precisely grounded in the one sentiment that seems to be lacking these days: trust. A trust in cinema’s capacity to describe the world, in all its terrifying splendor and intolerable horror, in all its vulnerability and resilience. But how does one hold on to this trust, in defiance of the waves of cynicism and defeatism that persistently threaten to erode it? Perhaps that is what Thom Andersen means with “Cinema Against the Grain” – which is the name he has given to one of his classes. What does it mean to think of cinema as an oppositional force? What or whom does cinema need to resist or stand against? And what exactly does this resistance imply? Does it entail stubbornness by remaining in place or the confidence to push ahead? In the latter case, one cannot fail to ask: Where to? Is it not when the answer to this question remains unclear that one is confronted with what is perhaps the most critical question of all: For whom? And perhaps more importantly: With whom? These and other questions will be at stake during this talk, which will be preceded by a screening of Pedro Costa’s magnificent portrait of two filmmakers whose work is undoubtedly one the most powerful manifestations of “Cinema Against the Grain”: Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.

Pedro Costa and Thom Andersen are both Artists in Focus at the Courtisane 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! Billy Woodberry

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2 April 2015 20:00, Paddenhoek Gent.

Talk with Billy Woodberry preceded by a screening of Bless Their Little Hearts (1984, 80’). In the context of the Courtisane Festival (1-5 April), in collaboration with Tate Modern & UCLA Film & Television Archive.

“The black experience, in some ways, is particular, but in that it is also universal… Our concern was to speak about these people and their relationship to the world. Their problems are in many ways the defining ones—the massive unemployment, the difficulty of male-female relationships—which seem to be universal—the maintenance of the family. These are big problems. But they aren’t unique to black people.”

Billy Woodberry is one of the leading directors of the so-called “L.A. Rebellion” movement, a critical mass of filmmakers of African origin or descent – most of whom studied at the UCLA in Los Angeles in the late-1960s to the late-1980s – who committed themselves to depict the everyday lives of Black communities in the U.S. and worldwide. In his feature debut, Bless Their Little Hearts, Billy Woodberry boldly embraced the spirit and challenge of this movement to forge an independent mode of filmmaking in the shadow of the Hollywood studios. Filmed on location in South Central Los Angeles, Woodberry’s film gently reveals an America overlooked and all too rarely seen on screen, a wholly authentic vision of the black experience that makes clear the stubborn rigidity of racial and class hierarchies in the United States. What does it mean to represent and consider “black experience” in cinema? How can one wage war on the prevailing raciological orthodoxy in cinema, while at the same time escaping the burden of representation that tends to befall films that grapple with the lives of the discriminated and marginalized? How does one challenge, disrupt and redirect dominant renderings of blackness without falling into the trap of essentialism? How does one tell a story and find a form that is consistent with the fate and destiny of black people as a group, engaged in a protracted struggle for social equality? And how does one prolong that struggle, in cinema as elsewhere? In this session, we will talk with Bill Woodberry about how these challenges have been addressed in his own work, and in the L.A. Rebellion movement.

The Courtisane Festival will show a selection of films that were preserved and presented in the context of “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema”, a project by UCLA Film & Television Archive developed as part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.

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.

Collateral Damage: Los Angeles Continues Playing Itself

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by Thom Andersen

Originally published in Cinema Scope no. 20 (2004). Thom Andersen is one of the Artists in Focus on the forthcoming Courtisane Festival (1-5 April 2015), on the occasion of which the restored version of ‘Los Angeles Plays Itself’ will be shown.

Since my video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself was launched in Cinema Scope a year ago, it has had a curious career. Somehow it’s been better received than I anticipated. I thought I had gone out of my way to make agreement difficult. But not far enough, it seems. There have been so many good reviews I find myself resenting the bad ones—and taking them too seriously. When Gary Indiana, writing in Artforum, took exception to my claim that Hollywood movies denigrate the modernist residential architecture of Los Angeles by citing the “many less ‘negative’ representations” of buildings by R. M. Schindler, I actually wrote a letter to the editor asking what movies he had in mind. I knew one, but had he even seen Impulse (1990)? Did I miss something else? I never got an answer.

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