Of Sea and Soil: The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke

Tsuchogawa

Publication compiled and published on the occasion of the film programmes dedicated to Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro (CINEMATEK Brussels, 1 April – 5 May 2019) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Courtisane Festival Ghent, 3 – 7 April 2019). Both programmes, initiated by Courtisane, would not have been possible without the dedication of Ricardo Matos Cabo.

Ogawa Shinsuke (1935-1992) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (1928-2008) are considered as the two towering pillars of Japanese documentary film. Both filmmakers forged parallel trajectories through the tumultuous landscape of postwar Japan, during which they developed extraordinary forms of committed cinema which remain unequalled in their dedication and perseverance.

Ogawa and Tsuchimoto were among a number of crucial postwar Japanese filmmakers who emerged from Iwanami Productions, a studio run by the Iwanami publishing house that mostly produced educational and PR films. Heated discussions on cinema and politics amongst these filmmakers led to the creation of an informal group they called the “Ao no kai”, or “Blue Group”. When the group dissolved, Ogawa and Tsuchimoto each went on their own way to make their first important independent films, which took sides with the student protest movement in Japan in the mid to late 1960s.

In the years that followed, their filmmaking approach underwent a profound transformation, which can be described as a movement from “outside” to “inside”. This inward shift, which evolved towards a full implication in the struggles of the people they filmed, reached its most refined and profound development in the Minamata and Sanrizuka Series. While Tsuchimoto committed himself to document the disastrous consequences of the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata, Ogawa recorded with great diligence the struggle by farmers and student protesters to prevent the construction of the Narita International Airport in Sanrizuka.

After the waning of the Sanrizuka protests, Ogawa and his colleagues of Ogawa Productions devoted themselves to an equally ambitious project, relocating to Yamagata Prefecture and beginning a series of films focusing on the rural village of Magino. Living and working with the farmers they filmed, the collective created a unique portrait of a culture and a way of life that are rarely depicted. From his side, Tsuchimoto – and his crew – continued to painstakingly document the effects of the Minamata tragedy on the life of the local fishing communities, while also redirecting their focus towards the dangers of nuclear power and the “theft of the sea” perpetrated by giant business conglomerates.

With the benefit of hindsight, the films of Ogawa and Tsuchimoto reveal themselves as monumental works in progress which remain open to incessant processes of debate and development. They made films that convey a material understanding of the world they document, films not on a subject, but with the subject. The astonishing commitment and persistence invested in their work continues to raise timely and pertinent questions about the responsibility, politics and ethics of documentary
filmmaking in the face of injustice and adversity. In that way, their films still accomplish what they were meant to do in the first place: to cultivate shared spaces of collective thought and struggle.

This publication aims to trace the trajectories of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, who film critic Hasumi Shigehiko respectively called “the filmmaker of the soil” and “the filmmaker of the sea”. The publication has taken the form of a scrapbook which assembles a patchwork of writings, quotes and interviews that we were able to track down and translate, with the help of numerous other “amateurs” who admire and cherish the work of these two filmmakers.

In all its modesty, we dearly hope that this body of texts, most of which are available here for the very first time in English, can serve as a stepping stone to a wider recognition and appreciation of these unique and singular practices of filmmaking which never cease to inspire and actuate.

Stoffel Debuysere, Courtisane
Elias Grootaers, Sabzian

Of Sea and Soil can be found on Issuu

Conversation with Valeska Grisebach & Syuleyman Alilov Letifov

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In the context of a retrospective program dedicated to the work of Valeska Grisebach (15 FEBRUARY – 27 FEBRUARY 2019, Brussels), after a screening of ‘Western’ (2017) on 20 February. An initiative of CINEMATEK and Courtisane, in collaboration with KASK cinésessies, KASKcinema, STUK & Goethe-Institut.

“I’ve never set out to make a film with a story in mind. Instead, there’s always a relatively abstract theme that I approach through a process of highly associative, personal research. For me, this act of going out and seeking contact is a fundamental part of writing and shooting. For me, it’s important to use documentary methods at every stage, because that’s how you let the unexpected in: the things you can’t make up.”

After the critically acclaimed relationship drama Sehnsucht, which was awarded the Prix Cinédécouvertes by Cinematek in 2006, Valeska Grisebach needed no less than eleven years to finish a new film. But Western (2017) was more than worth the wait: rarely has a film evoked the contours and challenges of today’s Europe so poignantly. Just as her previous work, Grisebach’s third feature-length film – again with the renowned Bernhard Keller behind the camera – is the result of an extensive research process, in which she patiently searches for suitable locations and a cast of non-professional actors. For this film she found Petrelik, a hamlet in the south of Bulgaria that symbolizes the myth of the “Wild East”, the perfect location to base her own interpretation of the western genre. Inspired by the ambivalent heroic figures in classical genre practices such as Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 (1950), the duelling neo-cowboys in Western are embodied by a group of German construction workers who, in their confrontation with the foreign, waver between curiosity and paranoia, between a desire towards communality and a fear of the unknown. That’s how Grisebach’s self-proclaimed “dance with the western” touches on a number of issues that are central to the European debate today, including the “gold rush” to the East, a theme that also resounds throughout another film from the so-called Berliner Schule: Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (2016), on which it’s no coincidence that Grisebach collaborated as a script consultant. This retrospective programme, which also includes a hand-picked selection of films placed in dialogue with her own, illustrates how her work, ever since her graduation project Mein Stern (2001), balances between construction and improvisation, between the exploration of the real and the invention of fiction. A balancing act that Valeska Grisebach knows how to handle like no other.

Conversation with Lisandro Alonso

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In the context of a retrospective program dedicated to the work of Lisandro Alonso (8 – 16 NOVEMBER 2018, Brussels), after a screening of ‘Jauja’ (2014) on 8 November. An initiative of CINEMATEK, Cinea and Courtisane, in collaboration with the Embassy of Argentina in Brussels and Instituto Cervantes.

La Libertad: the title of Lisandro Alonso’s debut film can also be used as a fitting description for his approach to cinema, one that allows him to follow cinematic paths that aren’t paved with convention or certitude. Instead, The Argentinian filmmaker prefers to intuitively venture forward from the desolate hinterlands that he encounters on his travels to the outskirts of so-called “civilized” life: the endless barren pampas in La Libertad (2001), the swarming green jungle in Los muertos (2004), the frigid snow country of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in Liverpool (2008), the immense, surreal desert landscapes of the Patagonia region in Jauja (2014), and even the shadowy bowels of the Teatro San Martin in Buenos Aires in Fantasma (2006). Every film’s meticulously filmed setting plays a fundamental role as the backdrop to the wanderings of a solitary, taciturn figure, whose inner life and social history remain shrouded in mystery. The reticent figures drift through frontier places where different worlds come together, where nature and civilization meet, different eras collide, memory and history, fantasy and reality coincide and become entangled, giving Alonso’s cinema a fable-like dimension that seems to shift in complexity and density.

From the circularity of La Libertad’s portrayal of the Sisyphean life of a lumberjack and the linearity of an ex-con’s downriver homeward voyage in Los muertos to the tangential shift in point of view from a sailor to a farmer in Liverpool: for every new film, Alonso finds a new freedom, driven by a searching energy that leads him time and time again towards uncharted territories. His latest film, Jauja – the result of his first collaboration with a writer and professional actors – follows the ever-widening orbit his films have been tracing even further into the register of myth. Starting with a text that refers to a place in Inca folklore, a “mythological land” which men “tried to find but got lost on the way to that earthly paradise,” the film gradually mutates into a hypnotic, trance-like odyssey during which all boundaries between the real and the unreal dissolve. With every new venture, Alonso seems to ever more radically engage with the essential pursuit of his cinematic quest: to leap into the unknown in order to rediscover freedom.

Anne-Marie Miéville retrospective Brussels 04 > 30/10/2018

LE LIVRE DE MARIE dancing

“The love experience will be reshaped into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman.”

This quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, which adorns the end of Lou n’a pas dit non (1994), encapsulates the essence of Anne-Marie Miéville’s quest, which is driven by a universal, imperishable question: how to live together? The same film illustrates par excellence how her singular trajectory finds its way through art history in all its forms, from the sculpture of the mythical couple of Mars and Venus, which occupies a central place in the film, to an extensive pas de deux from Jean-Claude Gallotta’s Docteur Labus that expresses a broad palette of friction and tension between a man and a woman. Again and again, the possible relationship with another is examined as a constant field of tension between stasis and movement, between silence and speech.

Miéville’s delicate study of the challenges of communication and the trials of love is already central in her first short film, How Can I Love (a Man When I Know He Don’t Want Me) (1983), whose title is extracted from Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954). The theme of Carmen doesn’t accidentally recall Prénom Carmen (1983), a film for which Miéville herself provided the screenplay to Jean-Luc Godard, her companion in life and work since they collaborated on the film that would become Ici et ailleurs (1973-‘76). But whilst Prénom Carmen revolves around the unrequited love of a man for a woman, the roles in How Can I Love are reversed. A reversal, as Alain Bergala has remarked, that changes everything, not in the least as seen in the mise-en-scène that reflects the desire for togetherness as a permanent arena in which men more often than not shield themselves, incapable or unwilling to open up to a possible dialogue.

The figure of the man who has lost his confidence in the potential of discourse returns in Le Livre de Marie (1984-‘85), in which a marital separation is portrayed with remarkable elegance and precision from the perspective of the young daughter, who expresses her resistance to the parental drama with the help of language, music and dance. In Miéville’s first feature length film, Mon cher sujet (1988), the power of word and song is employed by three women of as many generations — grandmother, mother and daughter — to acquire a place in a world where women are expected to share everything while men tend to flee from every commitment to share. Also in her following film, Lou n’a pas dit non, it’s the woman who, by exploring various forms of expression and creation, paves the way for a possible exchange, in a perpetual movement of approach, confrontation and reconciliation.

How to give shape to commonality in difference? In Nous sommes tous encore ici (1996), originally devised for theatre, this question is approached using extracts from the work of Plato and Hannah Arendt that resonate in the life of a couple played by Jean-Luc Godard and Aurore Clément, who unmistakably evokes the presence of Miéville. In Après la réconciliation (2000), Godard and Miéville themselves act as two of the four characters involved in philosophical reflections on the powers and limits of language and the challenge to learn to live together with someone else who will always remain a stranger. Sometimes brutal and confrontational, then tender and comforting, Anne-Marie Miéville’s work continues to trust in “the love we are struggling and toiling to prepare the way for, the love that consists in two solitudes protecting, defining and welcoming one another”. (Rilke)

Apart from the films by Anne-Marie Miéville mentioned here, the programme also contains a selection of the work that she accomplished with Jean-Luc Godard, from the films that they produced between 1973 and 1979 under the name Sonimage to Miéville’s collaboration in Godard’s self proclaimed “second life in cinema” and the series of video-essays that they made together from the end of the 1990s onward. Full programme can be found on www.courtisane.be.

An initiative of CINEMATEK and Courtisane, in collaboration with Le Service de Culture cinématographique (SCC). On the occasion of this program, Courtisane, Sabzian and Cinematek have collected a series of writings and interviews in a small-edition publication (French / English).

DISSENT ! Ruth Beckermann

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12 September 2018 20:30, Het Bos, Antwerp

A conversation with Ruth Beckermann, preceded by a screening of Waldheims Walzer (The Waldheim Waltz) (2018, 93′).

“When I looked at the material I shot 30 years ago, I was shocked. Had I really forgotten how easily emotions can be stirred up against others and used by populist politicians? In ‘Waldheims Walzer’ I attempt to analyse what was going on back then, things which seem all too familiar in our present day of Trump, Kurz & Strache and other masters of alternative facts and populism.”

“Waldheim no, Waldheim no” shouts a crowd in the center of Vienna in 1986. Ruth Beckermann was one of the activists trying to prevent the election of Kurt Waldheim and documented the political events with her camera. More than 30 years later she goes back into her own archive and additionally uses international TV-material to analyse this turning point in Austrian political culture. The film shows the tangled web that former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim became ensnared in by concealing two years of his wartime biography. It shows the swift succession of new allegations by the World Jewish Congress against him, the denial by the Austrian political class, the outbreak of anti-Semitism and patriotism, which finally led to his election. Austria was highly successful in practising the deception on itself and the world that it had been the first victim of the Nazis. Despite the fact that a whole generation knew the truth, this image of innocence was serially reproduced in official speeches, books and Heimatfilms. This film shows how deeper-lying levels of consciousness slowly carve out a path to the surface. Narrated by Ruth Beckermann, The Waldheim Waltz sets the Waldheim affair in a bigger international political context, yet 30 years on, it is dauntingly timely.

An initiative of Courtisane & De Imagerie, in collaboration with and supported by Austrian Cultural Forum Brussels, Goethe-Institut Brussels and Bozar Cinema.

In the context of DISSENT!, an initiative of Courtisane, Auguste Orts and Argos.