DISSENT ! Haile Gerima

Bush-Mama

8 April 2017 19:30, Cinematek Brussels

Screening of
Hour Glass (1971, 13′) and Bush Mama (1975, 97′), followed by a conversation with Haile Gerima. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Haile Gerima, which also includes a carte blanche program (8 April > 12 May).

“To this day when I watch Bush Mama, I’m in tears. Not because of my talent, it’s the talent of the community; but those things were real to me when I was a student. I see all my films as a staircase of emotional evolution. They have my dreams, my nightmares, my wishes, my fantasies, my rage, and so they’re never obsolete. I was responding to the time as a black man and how I felt excluded by the system that was prevailing. And many people feel that now. And so to me, it goes back into not doing movies for anybody else. Say this is a story I want to tell before I pass from this earth, and the film becomes relevant, however imperfect technically it is.”

“Play it again, Sam.” We certainly remember the catchphrase. We might even remember the song Sam is playing, just before Ilsa and Rick come to face each other for the first time since they parted ways many years before. But how much do we actually remember of Sam? What existence is this character given, besides being assigned the role of exotic sidekick? What kind of history is ascribed to him, besides having carried his piano all the way to Paris and Casablanca to accompany a love story between white folks? These were the questions that animated the debates that were held among some of the students of the University of California at Los Angeles in the late 1960s, some of whom would eventually set out to correct the distorted and orphaned representations of black people in Western cinema. Taking their cues from the wave of “Third cinema” which had emerged in Latin-America, Africa and elsewhere, these filmmakers regarded it as their mission to break free from the ideological and cinematic entrapment which tends to keep everyone in their place, tied up in their racial and social identities. One of the most diligent members of this movement, which has been branded “LA Rebellion”, is undoubtedly Haile Gerima. Born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1946, he left for the US in 1967, where he studied theater in Chicago before enrolling in the film department of UCLA. It is there that he gave shape to his first short films, Hour Glass (1971) and Child of Resistance (1972), which were infused with the legacy of the Black Power and Black Consciousness Movements and the influence of the work of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and Angela Davis. The call for resistance against systemic injustice is even more pronounced in Gerima’s thesis film, Bush Mama (1975), which chronicles the political awakening of Dorothy, a welfare mother living in the Watts neighborhood, who decides to stand up against the economic, political, and social oppression that she and many others like her are subjected to. From the very start of the film, when we get to see actual footage of the LAPD harassing Gerima and his crew during the shooting, one cannot help feeling that the ongoing struggles in the US carry with them the ghosts of former struggles, and that today’s activist movements would not be the same without the politics of resistance which emerged after the Watts Rebellion of 1965. The liberationist, anti-colonial discourse that was so prominent at the time would also have a profound effect on another, equally powerful film that Gerima conceived during his time at UCLA, a film which saw him tracing back what he called “the actual footprints of my youth.” Shot during a stay of two weeks in his native Ethiopia in the tumultuous days following the overthrow of Haile Selassie, Harvest 3000 Years portrays a family’s struggle for survival under a feudalistic landowner, revealing itself as an anti-colonial allegory of class exploitation and a tribute to the collective dissent against “the harvest of centuries of oppression.” Since 1975, Gerima has tirelessly continued to explore the conditions and struggles of black existence in the US as well as the histories of oppression and empowerment in Ethiopia. His singular research has found a provisional culmination in Teza (2008), a film he started writing at UCLA, chronicling three decades in the life of an Ethiopian man who leaves his home in search for knowledge, only to find himself anguished by his country’s social and political crises.

The full program of the retrospective and the carte blanche (including films by Med Hondo, Jorge Sanjinés and Miguel Littín) can be found here. An initiative of Cinematek & Courtisane, in collaboration with the Embassy of USA, Le Jeu de Paume & Afrika 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 ! Jacques Rancière

kailiblues

30 March 2017 13:30, Minard Ghent, in the context of the Courtisane festival 2017.

“An infinity of emotions is created in cinema — gestures, gazes, movements of bodies, possibilities for bodies to relate to one another: this is the treasure we should cherish. It’s fundamental with regard to the formatting of fictions, of expressions, of expected effects. This is why cinema has to be thought of as a global historic adventure — we lose sense of it if we continue to focus on the “releases the year”. Rather than dabbling in actuality we ought to take up cinema as a whole, in relation to all its potentialities, which assumes a real militant cinephilia. We should rethink cinema as part of a history of possibilities of life.“

How can cinema challenge us to imagine something other? This question has been stirring Jacques Rancière ever since he was taken in by the wave of cinephilia that churned through Paris in the 1960s. From his first interview in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1976, via his own series of writings for the same magazine between 1998 and 2001, to the publication of La Fable cinématographique (2001) and Les écarts du cinéma (2011), cinema has remained an important strain throughout his work, linking his dwellings on the shores of politics with his ventures into the realms of aesthetics.

How can cinema be thought of in relation to these two ever-shifting and intertwining landscapes, as a terrain of struggle that bears the original responsibility of politics: the organization of dissent? How can cinematic arrangements of appearances open up spaces of play where the consensual order of things can be questioned and displaced? How can they unsettle the common sense that proposes a sense of reality in conformity to what is already known, to what it cannot but be? In other words: how does cinema allow for an emergence of fiction?

In light of a torpid reality which is said to trump all possible fictions, couldn’t measuring the changes in the nature of cinematic fiction and its criteria of necessity, consistency and credibility say something about the way we make sense of our time? In variance with the verdicts of those who continue to bewail the reign of the spectacle and call for a revenge of the real, could it be that it is not the experience of the real that is waning, but the possibility of fictioning? During this conversation, we will take a selection of recent films as a starting point for an exploration of the possible relations between cinema, fiction and politics, and the continuous negotiations between reality and appearance, between what is and what could be.

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 Multimedia institute (Zagreb), Collective Eimigrative art and Edicija Jugoslavija (Belgrade/Brussels), Phd in One Night Collective (Brussels/Vis). On 29 March Jacques Rancière will also present his new book Modern Times — Essays on Temporality in Art and Politics at La Bellone in Brussels.

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 ! Patrick Keiller

London

1 March 2017 20:00, STUK Leuven.

A conversation with Patrick Keiller, preceded by a screening of London (1994, 85′).

“I had embarked on landscape film-making in 1981, early in the Thatcher era, after encountering a surrealist tradition in the UK and elsewhere, so that cinematography involved the pursuit of a transformation, radical or otherwise, of everyday reality. I recently came across a description, in Kitty Hauser’s Bloody Old Britain, of O G S Crawford’s photography: ‘Like photographers of the New Objectivity, clarity was his goal. Like them, he favoured stark contrasts, with no blurring or mistiness. His focus, like theirs, was on the object or the scene in front of him, which it was his aim to illuminate as clearly as he could… It was commitment that lit up his photographs… Such photographs suggest a love of the world that was almost mystical in its intensity.’ I had forgotten that landscape photography is often motivated by utopian or ideological imperatives, both as a critique of the world, and to demonstrate the possibility of creating a better one.”

What is the “problem of England”? In the aftermath of the Brexit and the ensuing rise of English nationalism this question might be lingering in the minds of many, but already two decades ago it was raised by a fictional character named Robinson in what became a trilogy of films examining the economic and cultural doldrums of neoliberal England. This rather unreliable character who is never seen but only heard of by way of an unnamed and equally unseen narrator acts as a modern-day flâneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, Breton and Benjamin, dwelling on the hidden stories and forgotten histories of his everyday surroundings, in pursuit of a “problem” whose signs he hopes to find reflected in the landscapes and cityscapes of “dirty old Blighty”. The first film in the trilogy, London (1994), tracks the wanderings of the eponymous character and his narrating companion through Britain’s capital at a time when the city was marked by a series of IRA bombings and the Tory party was surprisingly re-elected for the fourth consecutive time. Drifting from Soho, where the likes of Montaigne and Mallarmé lived in exile, to Vauxhall, where the ghosts of Holmes and Watson still roam, from the Stockwell flat where Apollinaire stayed to the Savoy suite which gave Monet his view of the Thames, the film follows the pair as they engage in exercises of psychic landscaping and free association, in an attempt to wrestle themselves free from the constraining patterns of a city which is, as Robinson claims, “under siege from a suburban government which uses homeless, pollution, crime, and the most expensive and run down public transport system of any city in Europe as weapons against Londoners’ lingering desire for the freedoms of city life”. If London has failed, Robinson suggests, it might not only be because of the city’s civic void and invisible social life: perhaps its failure is deeply rooted in a typical English fear, a fear of “Popery and socialism” and of “Europe, that had disenfranchised Londoners and undermined their society.”

Three years later, just before the general election that brought New Labour to power, Robinson in Space (1997) shifted the field of inquiry from England’s capital, one of the metropolitan centers of global financial capitalism, to its ex-urban landscapes of globalized production and consumption. Inspired by Daniel Defoe’s A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, Robinson and his companion embark on seven voyages, beginning with a trip downriver from Reading to the Thames estuary at Sheerness, before striking out on journeys to other major ports, including Bristol, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Hull. In contrast to the familiar critique which considers the UK’s economic decline as the result of its old fashioned “gentlemanly capitalism,” what the duo’s expeditions reveal is the advent of a newly constructed landscape of manufacturing plants, business parks, retail sheds and shopping malls, bristling in the hinterlands of cities that are said to have failed to flourish as post-Fordist enclaves for finance, leisure and service economy. In the third travelogue, Robinson in Ruins (2010) the mythology of Anglo-Saxon capitalism is explored further by focusing on issues of mobility, belonging and displacement, and their relationship with landscape in a context of economic and environmental crisis. The “ruins” Robinson finds himself dwelling through turn out to be the wreckage of a neoliberal culture that fails to accept its own demise. But despite this looming deterioration the flâneur leaves us with sparkles of hope, finding “imperceptible tremors of an inconceivable future” amidst depopulated landscapes where “non-human intelligences” silently and stubbornly refuse to bend to the brutality of capitalism.

What can be seen, then, in the work of Patrick Keiller is an exploration of the potential of “architectural cinematography” to not only develop a critique of the configuration of space, but furthermore to imaginatively transform it. In this way he places himself in a long lineage of artists and thinkers who have expanded on the surrealists’ notion that spaces can be changed by displacing the way we look at them. Perhaps Robinson, the peripatetic scholar, merely acts as a stand-in for the more delirious side of the architect-turned-filmmaker’s own expeditions through the spatial arrangement of neoliberal England, in a diligent quest to trace the ever-changing contours of a “problem” that is seemingly not going to go away any time soon.

In collaboration with STUK, Lieven Gevaert Centre and the Institute of Philosophy (KUL), Bozar Cinema + Architecture and LUCA Brussels. On 2 March 20:00 Patrick Keiller will also be present at Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels to present and discuss The End (1986, 18’) and Robinson in Space (1997, 82’).

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 ! Lizzie Borden

borninflames

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.

nicaragua_marc_karlin

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)