Notes on courtisane (3)

What is a festival but a way of being together? Please don’t take this the wrong way: we do not want to rekindle the great flowerings of communalism that came with the era of hippies and bohemians in the 1960s and early 1970s. Holding hands and singing roaring chants of freedom and harmony? No, this is not the time for the kinds of new age utopianism that tend to advance a collective and contemplative withdrawal from the meaningless chaos of the world. Besides, there’s already plenty of European-style Buddhism to go round, whether it is pursued by taking up yoga, birdwatching or botany, or by reading step-by-step guides on how to reclaim the inner child. And there’s already more than enough babbling and blathering on the bliss and comfort of local community lifestyles and the empowerment of citizens as merry prosumers to last us a lifetime. We are not promising you a rose garden, and neither are we claiming to be some kind of bastion of resistance that could offer a safe haven from all the rubbish and rubble that keeps coming our way.

But isn’t cinema meant to be a vehicle for escapism, you say. Isn’t the world of appearances shimmering in front of our eyes meant to sweep us away to another world, where we can dream of being somewhere else, someone other? Perhaps, but not only. We like to think there’s more to cinema than meets the eye. True enough, what is in front of you is merely a surface, it is not some portal to unknown destinies, from which we return with bloodshed eyes and newfangled convictions. The screen is not some membrane that is capable of producing new cerebral circuits and revitalizing the lost link between us and our world. It remains a surface, but one that allows for a process of exchange: between what we get to see and what we come to remember, the sounds and voices we hear and the dreams and hopes we foster, the apparitions before us and the world around us. We all hear, see, feel, “understand” a film in as much as we compose it into our own cinematic poem. Not that it comes easy, on the contrary: it takes work. But the work is yours to do, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. At the risk of sounding too corny: perhaps we can think of a festival as a vast collection of poems. In which case they are yours as much as they are anyones.

Cinema is something else too: it is a place, and it is a culture. There might not be much left, at least in comparison to the good ol’ days of cinephile glory, but what good would it do to drift into the melancholic morass of nostalgia? So we keep treading forward, one step at a time, not really blind but certainly not all-seeing either. Tentatively, sometimes carefully, sometimes impatiently, we’re groping our way towards something that never stops taking shape. Surely, there are various silhouettes and outlines we are imagining while we make headway. One of the things we love to do is to devise associations: for example, between the work of Pedro Costa and Thom Andersen, who come from very different backgrounds but seem to have so much in common; between Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays itself and the films of the L.A. Rebellion movement that feature in it; between Paul Robeson’s singing voice in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and his appearance in Oscar Micheaux’s Body & Soul, which will here be infused with new life by William Hooker; between Costa’s Horse Money and the music of Jakob Ullmann, both of which owe a great deal to Olivier Messiaen. But these are just some of the countless possible connections – or disconnections – that can be made within this festival program. To each one’s own resonances, as to each one’s poem.

So here we are, amongst this collection of poems, amidst this chamber of resonances. And since we are all here, perhaps we can ask ourselves: what is it that we can do together?

Written on the occasion of the courtisane festival 2015