DISSENT ! Lizzie Borden

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3 February 2017 19:30 Cinematek Brussels

Screening of
Born in Flames (1983, 85′, NEW 35MM PRESERVATION PRINT), followed by a conversation with Lizzie Borden. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Lizzie Borden, which also includes a carte blanche program (03 > 28 February).

“I made the film because it seemed that people now were either completely cynical about the effectiveness of any kind of political process, or burned out and caught without any kind of language. It seemed important to re-ask certain questions, and to re-ask them as mediated through Europe, where the left is still a very vital force. If it relates to the sixties, it’s only because that energy of the sixties was so good – not just here but in Europe too. Where has that all gone?”

Bearing in mind the recent attempts of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann to revitalize the spirit of 1970-80’s New York, the heydays of no wave, post-punk and “the get down” seem to making a swift comeback. Sure, the imagery of The Big Apple as modern slough of despond and vibrant beacon of creativity might have some appeal as backdrop for glistening nostalgia trips and epic rock operas, but its highly doubtful that the large-scale and hyped-up entertainment drama’s invading our screens these days can measure up to the untethered vitality and relentless waywardness of Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983). The recent restoration of this in Downtown NY and guerilla-style produced science-fiction fable manifests a radical vision that detonates like a molotov cocktail amidst an actuality that is marked by political unrest and reactionary tendencies. Perhaps as never before, the speculative vision of a post-revolutionary world order which, despite rhetorical promises of change and equality, indulges in systematic discrimination and oppression evokes multiple echo’s of recognition. No wonder that the film serves as a blueprint for many activist movements in the US: its zealous and kaleidoscopic portrayal of dissident struggle against heteropatriarchy and racism appears to have only gained in urgency and pertinence. Swinging between various perspectives and characters, with the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Adele Bertei and Florynce Kennedy playing a version of themselves, and driven by the grooves and hooks of The Red Krayola en The Bloods, this challenging reflection on gender, sex, race and class confronts us like no other with the limitations and possibilities of resistance today.

Born in Flames is the focal point of an extensive film program that was composed in consultation with Lizzie Borden. Among the works in the program are two other rarely screened films of Borden: her debut film Regrouping (1976), a portrait of a woman’s group whose homogeneity of race and class Borden would later counter, and Working Girls (1986), a demystification of sex work that was initiated during the production of Born in Flames. Furthermore this program offers work by friends and compagnons-de-route like Vivienne Dick and Sheila McLaughlin, as well as a series of films that have served as source of inspiration or that evoke contemporary resonances. The full program can be found here.

An initiative of Cinematek & Courtisane, in collaboration with the Embassy of USA, ERG, Macba & Tabakalera.

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.

Europe, past future

NICARAGUA. Managua. 1979. Street fighter.

11 December 19u, TABAKALERA International Centre for Contemporary Culture, Donostia / San Sebastián.

Program proposed by Stoffel Debuysere (Courtisane) in the context of “Europe, past future,” a project by Pablo La Parra Pérez produced within the 2016 Artistic Research Residency.

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Nicaragua: Voyages
Marc Karlin, UK, 1985, 16mm, video, 42′

The first film in Marc Karlin’s four-part series on the Nicaraguan revolution that brought down President Somoza’s regime in 1979, Voyages is composed of five tracking shots, gliding over blown-up photographs that Susan Meiselas took during the insurrection. The film takes the form of an imagined correspondence, which interrogates the responsibilities of the war photographer, the line between observer and participant, and the political significance of the photographic image.
“Photographs are in a way far ahead of our ability to deal with them – we have not yet found a way of dealing, living with them. We have appropriated them in a channel – ‘language’, ‘papers’, ‘magazines’, ‘books’ – all of which seem the only tools by which we can give them an earthbound gravity. We brush past them, flick them, demand of them things they cannot give… Liberate photographs from its priests and jujumen – including myself. We do not need interpreters. We need looks – and thus the task is up to the photographer to renew his or her contract i.e. what can photographs and their arrangement do to defy the prison house interpretation à la John Berger – and make us think of ourselves in relationship to Nicaragua.” (MK)

twilightcity

Twilight City
Black Audio Film Collective / Reece Auguiste, UK, 1989, 16mm, 52′

“A love story about the city and its undesirables,” this third film by the Black Audio Film Collective evokes the New London – in the filmmakers’ words “a fading world of being and unbelonging, invisible communities, the displaced and the rise of redevelopment.”
“The film presents an imaginary epistolary narration of a young woman’s thoughts as she writes to her mother in Domenica about the changing face of London, then in the throes of the new Docklands development. She fears it is a city that her mother would not now recognise should she return. The film cuts between this narrative voice and interviewees bearing witness to their youthful experience of the city as a territory mapped by racial, cultural, sexual, gender and class boundaries, a place ‘of people existing in close proximity yet living in different worlds.’ This polyvocal narrative moves restlessly back between past and present, reflecting on the loss of roots and erasure of history caused by the demolition of old established neighbourhoods. The further displacement of already marginalised communities falls under the shadow of the films’s recurrent motif of the public monument to a heroic British imperial history notable for its effacement of its disruptive descendants.” (Jean Fisher)

Talk with Nicolás Pereda

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21 October 2016 19:30 Cinematek Brussels.
A collaboration between Cinematek, Courtisane, Embassy of Mexico in Belgium, VDFC, Universiteit Antwerpen and Nederlandse Filmacademie Amsterdam School of the arts, supported by Instituto Cervantes Brussels.

“Cinema is about believing. On some level you have to believe what is happening in front of you… I find it strange that there is still this division between fiction and documentary. Both are interpretations of truth. When you grab a few tools from documentary and introduce them into fiction, then fiction can become more ‘real’ in viewers minds. I like when fiction and documentary become hybrid, when all the conventions of documentary filmmaking fall apart. Right now documentary has a strong hold on truth, which is ridiculous.”

Perpetuum mobile, Latin for “perpetual motion,” refers to both the unattainable ideal of a self-motive motion of bodies that continues as an unspooling of inconsequential events without external motivation or compulsion, and to a form of composition in which sections and themes are repeated, often with varied modulations and progressions. Perpetuum mobile is also the title of Nicolás Pereda’s third feature film, and the phrase, in both senses, could as well be applied to describe his body of work as a whole. First, because Pereda wholeheartedly rejects the conventional narrative logic that represents the actions of men according to the laws of probability or necessity, and instead seems to focus his attention on what has traditionally been asserted as its opposite: the observation of the mundane world of everyday lives. A world of lackluster prosaicness in which nothing much happens, taking place in an empty, stationary time in which gestures have no continuation or effect and exchanges are either unproductive or rendered trivial by a consciousness of their futility. Secondly, because each of Pereda’s films tends to resonate with the others through the use of repeated themes and the same actors, playing characters who often have the same names, placed in an ever-shifting configuration of relationships to one another and their social environment, which is predominantly set in Pereda’s country of birth, Mexico. This escalating set of variations and permutations reveals itself as one grand, unfolding exploration of cinema and its possibilities and limitations of representation and narration. Pereda’s interest in class divisions, social structures and family relations in Mexican society seems to have fueled his determination to cross boundaries and blur categories, which has resulted in a constant drift between the documentary and the fictional, shifting between interviews and enactments, between actors portraying fictional characters and performers playing themselves. Each film, relying on bare dialogues and long takes, probes anew the borders of fiction as an arrangement of actions linked by verisimilitude and necessity and characters defined by consistency and credibility. As if the filmmaker, in creating a multiplicity of indirections, indeterminations and irresolutions, seeks to stretch fiction beyond the limits of its logic: at which point will the fictional pact between cinema and its spectators shatter beyond rebound? How far can one go in blurring the lines between artifice and reality, in defying the dramatic codes of transformation and resolution, without annulling the cinematic game of identification and distantiation altogether? The greatest merit of Nicolás Pereda might be that he tackles this challenge to the heart of cinema to its fullest extent, while managing to deepen its very mystery.

Figures of Dissent : Artur Aristakisyan

ladoni

17 November 2016 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. Presented by courtisane.

Ladoni (Palms), RU, 1994, 35mm, b&w, 139′

“Even as a child I had a relationship with film as if it were a church. It was a God-given territory upon itself. You can’t watch a film without wanting to be saved. It’s a meeting with the living light. The light works with you as you work with it. I would like the film to answer the need for community – to show how people are tied together, sometimes paradoxically.”

In a striking sequence of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vrai faux passeport, which the filmmaker has chosen to describe as “a documentary fiction on the occasions for passing judgment about the manner in which films are made,” two different ways of filming poverty are being compared. First, we recognize a fragment from Chantal Akerman’s D’Est showing a long tracking shot gliding past a line of people standing in the snow at a Moscow bus stop, waiting to sell things. Then a fragment from another film appears, showing an elderly woman with a crooked back pulling a large trunk behind her, before cutting to a shot of a blind boy begging in the streets. A voice-over recounts how, in order to survive, the woman would allow her back to be kissed for money, and that the boy has been told by his parents, who are also blind, that everyone in the world is in fact blind, that no-one can see oneself. Godard, always the examiner, gives the first approach an all-too-severe “malus,” while appraising the second with a “bonus”. While the former approach tends to over-stress the will to art, he says in a commentary, the latter shows no compunction whatsoever, which makes it much more grandiose and frightening. Where does this mysterious piece of cinema, with its handheld shot, overly-contrasted black-and-white images and this haunting, solitary voice-over narration, come from? It is taken, so we learn, from a film entitled Ladoni. It was the graduation film of a student of the famous Moscow All-Union State Institute, whose name is Artur Aristakisyan. We learn that the footage of Ladoni was collected over the course of several years after the fall of the Soviet Union and Moldova’s independence, during which the filmmaker lived amongst the outcasts and marginalized of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova. The film’s “heroes” are a woman who has been lying on the ground for over forty years, fighting her own struggle against the system; a young man who has escaped from the mad house, shrouded in silence till the day when people will have exhausted all combinations of words; a legless man roaming the city on his knees, fortune-telling about the girl he once loved; the hunchbacked old woman who keeps the head of her beloved hangman in her trunk; the blind beggar boy who has figured out that all people are women, throwing coins at him for being a man; a mute old man who believes that the state of Israel lies within the borders of his house, collecting a pile of rubbish so that it can reach the sky… In recounting these parables, Aristakisyan addresses his yet unborn son, offering him a path to salvation, the path of sacred “madness.” An anarchic messianism pleading irrationality as an escape from the rational structures that define our waking lives? A gnostic mysticism that finds hope in a transmigration of souls and a resurrection of bodies at the price of deprivation? Whatever sense we find in its delirious message, rare are those truly “grandiose and frightening” films that leave you with the conviction that, against all odds, you haven’t seen anything yet. That the shudder of awe and wonder has never left cinema.

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

DISSENT ! Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige

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9 October 2016 14:00 Cinematek Brussels

Screening of El film el mafkoud (The Lost Film) (2003, 42′) and The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012, 93′), followed by a conversation with Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige in the context of L’Age D’Or Festival 2016.

“We have always feared that it would start again. In fact, we never really believed it was over, hence our focus on latency, on the state of what exists in an unapparent manner but can, at any time, manifest itself. Traces, recollections that become ghostly and haunt, the photographs, the films and the documents, whether true or false. This latency coincides with an ambiguous relation to images, as we have been working on them since the end of the Lebanese civil war.”

What are the stories that can be told about a region that continues to be submerged in turmoil and chaos? What narratives are left to write when the thread of History is broken? How to devise fictions that can give new visibilities to places that have been overdetermined by images of violence and suffering? From places like these we tend to expect testimonies of suffering and death. We are used to consume info-bites larded with descriptive captions and knowledgeable commentaries. In the films and installations of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige we get none of that. Instead, their work attests to what the violence inflicted by war has in common with the violence inflicted on its images: absence. A Perfect Day (2005) tells the story of a woman who has to decide whether to pronounce her long-disappeared husband deceased, entailing a transformation of a lack of visibility into a residue of words. In Khiam (2000-2007), a detention camp in South Lebanon, of which no images exist, is represented by way of spoken testimonies of six former prisoners. The Lost Film (2003) documents the artists’ search for a copy of their first film which has disappeared in Jemen, resulting in an interplay of images that are allowed and those that are forbidden, those that have been suppressed and those that have been preserved. Since the beginning of the 1990s, as Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war came to an end, Hadjithomas and Joreige have explored the prism of invisibility and latency to tear the representation of their native country away from the dominant regimes of tele-information and propaganda that never stop producing images of war and wars of images. In defiance of the voices that lament that there are “too many images” or those that mourn that there is “nothing left to see,” their work has persisted in producing ways of seeing differently. This operation also involves the re-introduction of fiction in a landscape that supposedly no longer allows it. In Je Veux Voir (2008) fiction is introduced by way of two bodies, belonging to two different actors who play themselves: Catherine Deneuve, the French film star who wants to see the effects of the war of 2006 with her own eyes, and Rabih Mroué, the Lebanese artist-performer who acts as her guide while admitting to feel “like a tourist in his own country.” Together these two out-of-place bodies carve out a singular trajectory through the landscape of ruins and rubble, at the same time recomposing its visibility and displacing the expected sentiments of good-willed commiseration and reductive generalization. In The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012), the search for fictions takes us to a past time of dreams and aspirations, in particular to a moment when a group of students and researchers attempted to develop a Lebanese space program. How does this echo from a forgotten history resonate in a time when the dominant imaginary evokes missiles rather than rockets? Hadjithomas and Joreige take this question to its limits by building a rocket identical to the original and moving it through the streets of Beirut. Introducing fiction in the present by giving presence to what is absent: this remains the main principle of what has established itself as a singular art of resistance, an art that keeps on redrawing the landscape of the visible.

14:00 The Lost Film
15:00 The Lebanese Rocket Society 
16:30 Discussion with Hadjithomas and Joreige

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.