Figures of Dissent: Glauber Rocha


25 October 2012 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane event.
introduced by Stoffel Debuysere

“Revolution is magic because it is the unforeseeable within dominating reason. It must be dominating reason’s impossibility to comprehend such that that same dominating reason denies itself and devours itself in the face of its impossibility to comprehend. (…) Revolutionary art must be magic capable of bewitching man to such a degree that he can no longer stand to live in this absurd reality. Overcoming this reality, Borges wrote the most liberating irrealities of our times. His aesthetic is a dream’s.”
“Political cinema means nothing if it’s the product of moralism, anarchy, opportunism. Only a wretched like me could say that art has meaning for the wretched, and that’s why I’m not ashamed to say that my films are the product of grief, of hate, of a frustrated impossible love, of the incoherence of underdevelopment.”

– Glauber Rocha

A Idade da Terra
1980, 35mm, color, sound, Portugese spoken, English subtitled, 140′

“Like nothing known to man. A torrential, hallucinatory film. A filmic UFO, no more, no less…” Serge Daney’s description of Glauber Rocha’s very last film is right on the nose: A Idada Da Terra is, just as the whole of Rocha’s oeuvre, made in the image of his much loved Brazil, that extravagant nation with its “verbose, loquacious, energetic, sterile and hysterical people”. The result is a boundless cinema-opera as radical alternative to the domineering American operetta, a dissonant anti-symphony as final convulsion of the tricontinental dream. At the same time the film can be considered as Rocha’s response to the Mexican adventures of Eisenstein, his shining example, whose well-intended attempts to translate the “Third World” in esthetic terms was for him essentially the same “as taking the word of God (and the interests of the conquistadors) to the Indians”. Or still: as a rectification of the evangelic interpretations of Pasolini, his discordant brother in arms, whose Oedipal Christ is here displaced with a more militant one, “a new, primitive phenomenum, in a very new civilization”. Catholic rituals and Afro-Indian gods, rural mysticism and revolutionary politics, Brahms and Villa-Lobos: the work of Glauber Rocha, angel-demon of the Brazilian “Cinema Novo”, defies every attempt at unequivocal classification or definition. In the light of overbearing repression, hypocrisy and consensus there is no place for evasive proposals: “the worst enemy of revolutionary art is its mediocrity”.

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

See also “The death of Glauber Rocha” by Serge Daney.

Figures of Dissent: Johan Van der Keuken


3 May 2012 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane event.
introduced by Stoffel Debuysere

“There is a debate on the relevance of the use of cinematic writing methods in the service of political ends. Some filmmakers working in the heat of a struggle claim they have no interest in developing language forms. I rather think you have to attack language itself in order to cancel out the predetermined language.“
– Johan Van der Keuken

De Weg Naar Het Zuiden (The Way South)
NL, 1981, 16mm, color, various languages, English subtitles, 145’

According to the late Serge Daney the idea of “Unequal exhange” is what defines the work of Johan Van der Keuken (1938-2001), form as well as content: the ever unequal exhange between filming and being filmed, between one image and another, but also between here and there, between those who belong and those who are left out. The “gliding Dutchman”, as Daney used to call Van der Keuken, always had an eye for the economical and ecological aberrations of the capitalist world order, not in the least regarding the relation between “North” and “South”. In the so-called North-South triptych (Diary, The White Castle and The New Ice-age, 1973-1974) he showed how the current global system of inequality and exploitation holds different worlds, which are still inseparably linked. This idea is also central to The Way South, which is in more than one way his most direct film. It is the account of a journey from North to South, from Amsterdam, his hometown, to Caïro, where he literally and figuratively looses the North; but is also a chronicle of migration, of people who see their own lives reflected in that of others, always elsewhere. Van der Keuken records his impressions and encounters with an eye as a scalpel: sharp and precise, but also fragile and pure, always conscious of the tension between a look and the world, between those filming and those being filmed. It is this consciousness, and rendering it visible, that forms the true political stake of Van der Keuken’s work: every exchange is unequal.

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

See also ‘The Way South and ‘The cruel radiance of what is‘ by Serge Daney.

Figures of Dissent: Thomas Harlan


Figures of Dissent: Thomas Harlan

Programme 1: 16 February 2012 19:00, KASKcinema, Gent.
Programme 2: Courtisane Festival (21 – 25 March 2012)

introduced by Stoffel Debuysere

“My works don’t tell political stories. They rather document a political alertness, a clairaudience for certain constellations. My films, each for themselves, are generally useless for the purpose of a position or theory.”
– Thomas Harlan

“I am the son of my parents. That is a disaster. It has determined me”, declares writer, playwright and filmmaker Thomas Harlan (1929-2010) in the interview book ‘Hitler war meine Mitgift’. Harlan, who grew up in Nazi-Germany, once shared a table with Adolf Hitler, accompanied by both of his parents, actress Hilde Körber and filmmaker Veit Harlan, the director of the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Süß. It is a heritage that he could never get rid of: the appalled son would take upon himself the sins of his repentless father. His whole life Harlan would strive for truth as the only possible justice: he spent years in the Polish archives, looking for proofs of German war crimes; in Rome he joined the radical leftist group “La Lotta Continue” and travelled to wherever the spirit of revolt and revolution emerged. In 1975 Harlan was in Portugal where, in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution, various movements of resistance and initiatives of land occupation were developing. That is where he shot his first film, a documentary about the occupation of the Torre Bela estate, which according to critic Serge Daney represents a condensation of “all the key ideas – materialised, embodied – of political and theoretical leftism from the past decade”. His following film project started as a reaction to the “German Autumn” of 1977. Wundkanal explores the relation between the events in the Stammheim prison, where several members of the RAF died in suspicious circumstances, and the logic of Nazi terror. The shooting of the film, in which war criminal Alfred Filbert played a hardly fictionalized version of himself, appears in Robert Kramer’s documentary Notre Nazi, revealing a staggering portrait of a filmmaker who, in an attempt to come to terms with his past, takes on the methods of the enemy and in doing so becomes his own worst enemy; and thus an old sin is replaced by a new one.

16 February 2012 19:00, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane programme.


Thomas Harlan

1984 – RFA/France –107’

Robert Kramer
Notre Nazi

1984 – RFA/France – 116’

“My film is perhaps another fiction: the story of a certain T., son of the greatest Nazi filmmaker, and himself a film director. All his life he has tried to undo his past. Today he is shooting a fiction film, he has given the main role to a Nazi war criminal who is more or less the same age. By this act T. releases a whole torrent of unforeseeable energy which sweeps the set and even more than the set.”
– Robert Kramer

“For the first time in the history of cinema, said Louis Marcolles in le Monde (30 August 1984), two films were shot against each other; the first being fiction, the second unmasking this fiction; the first mystifying its subject (crime), the second outrageously unveiling its methods of manipulation.
Yet, both films were produced by the same producer, both in the outskirts of Paris and with two directors who are complementary to each other: Thomas Harlan, The German and Robert Kramer, the American.
Wundkanal by Thomas Harlan is a fiction film about a killer. Notre Nazi by Robert Kramer kills the fiction.
But the Killer is a real-life killer, and never before in the history of cinema did an audience get so intimate with a murderer like doctor Alfred Filbert, did an audience get so close to his face and to his skin.
Indeed, Alfred Filbert – the archetypal gentel German grandpa – belonged to the inner circle of nine men who in Hitler’s terror state planned the Holocaust; so in the film he appears as an actor and as himself, playing his own part in history.
In Wundkanal – a quiet oratorio of long sequence shots – four terrorists interrogate a war (and peace) criminal they kidknapped in Alsatia, trying to drive him to commit suicide.
In Notre Nazi the actor playing a part in a fiction film becomes a real human being again, of flesh and blood. The members of the film crew discover their sorrow and their pity as they live through unimaginable moments of violence and despair.
Two inseperable films – lashing out against each other as ruthlessly as a couple divoring publicly – “the scandal”, as Il Messagero put it, “of the 1984 Venice Film festival.” (Editions Filmmuseum)


Note: There is actually a third film in this series: Dorenavant tout sera comme d’habitude by Roland Allard, a documentary report on the making of Wundkanal and Notre Nazi. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down a copy.
Part of the Courtisane Festival (21 – 25 March 2012)


Thomas Harlan
Torre Bela

1977 – Portugal – 106’

José Filipe Costa
Linha Vermelha

2011 – Portugal – 80′

“Torre Bela is the complete opposite of what a documentary should be. The film is a film that we, in fact, did not conceive as a film, but as reality. The reality was provoked, intentionally created.”
– Thomas Harlan

“In the revolutionary Portugal of 1975, a group of peasants occupied the vast manor and estate of Torre Bela owned by the Duke of Lafões and founded a cooperative there. The events were recorded in the film Torre Bela (1977) by the German director Thomas Harlan, son of the director Veit Harlan.

When I first started filming Red Line I asked a woman in a village near Torre Bela if she had been involved in any way in the 1975 occupation. She immediately replied that she had not and that I should ask that question to another villager who was on the other side of the street. When I asked him, the latter was extremely surprised by his neighbour’s denial: since it was even possible to see her in the film, amongst a crowd shouting slogans! After this episode I became increasingly aware of how an observational documentary had become a controversial historical object: for some it was even proof of a “crime” committed during the revolutionary period of 1975. In one of the most controversial sequences of Harlan’s film it is possible to see the squatters breaking into the palace on the estate, opening drawers and trying on the Duke’s jackets, as they play joyfully with these symbols of power. Red Line questions how the film Torre Bela played a role in how these events are viewed and examines how Thomas Harlan intervened in the flow of the events, himself becoming a squatter. Drawing on testimonies, recently discovered sound rushes and other documents, Red Line explores the complexities and ambiguities of a filmed revolution, in which the camera helps people to play new roles: “Are we actors or occupiers? If we are actors, we’re actors…” says one occupant while waiting for the camera to start filming before the group broke through the door of the palace in 1975.” (José Filipe Costa)


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

See also ‘The militant ethnography of Thomas Harlan‘ By Serge Daney

Figures of Dissent : Jean Genet


Figures of Dissent : Jean Genet
24 November 2011 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane programme.

“Power may be at the end of a gun, but sometimes it’s also at the end of the shadow or the image of a gun.”
— Jean Genet

Orphan, prisoner, deserter, vagabond, writer, dramaturge, one-time filmmaker and overall poet : the life and work of Jean Genet (1910-1986) resists easy classifications. But if there is a constant characteristic in his unorthodox trajectory, it is an ever-moving feeling of resistance and rebellion. “Obviously I am drawn to peoples in revolt”, he says in an interview in the early 1980’s, “because I myself have the need to call the whole of society into question.” From his first novel, that would earn him the respect and recognition of the likes of Cocteau, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Breton, he manifests a profound aversion towards all forms of social consensus, as well as a deeply felt affection for those who do not “belong”. And yet, it wasn’t until Les Paravents, the closing chapter of a series of theatre plays that he wrote between 1950 and 1960, that Genet would – be it implicitly – take sides with a political resistance movement: the Algerian independence fighters. A few years later he would write a tribute to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the protagonists of May 1968, and protest against the inhumane living conditions of immigrants in France. In 1970 he travelled clandestinely to the United States where he supported the cause of the Black Panther Party. That same year he visited for the first time Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, where he would remain intermittently until 1972. When he returned ten years later, he was confronted with the terrible consequences of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Genet would be one of first Westerners to witness the aftermath of the blood bath perpetrated at the Shatila camp by the Lebanese Phalangist Militia, with the tacit approval of the Israeli government. His Palestinian experiences are recounted in the essay Quatre heures à Chatila (“Four Hours in Shatila”) and in his posthumous novel Un Captif Amoureux (“Prisoner of Love”). He writes: “All these words to say, this is my Palestinian revolution, told in my chosen order. As well as mine, there is the other, probably many others. Trying to think the revolution is like waking up and trying to see the logic in a dream.” During the past two decades since he passed away, his writings have only gained more force. Two documentaries gauge the resonance of his work in the light of the continuous ghettoisation of Palestine.

Richard Dindo
Genet à Chatila (Genet in Chatila)

CH/Palestine, 1999, 16mm on video, colour, stereo, English spoken version, 99’

“Le titre du film de Richard Dindo est trompeur. Optant pour un intitulé de documentaire, Dindo, qui n’a fait que paraphraser l’un des titres de Genet, Quatre heures à Chatila, ferre en quelque sorte son spectateur avant de l’emporter dans un long poème sur le temps, de lui faire découvrir en companie du personnage attachant d’une jeune journaliste algérienne, jeune Arabe parlant difficilement l’arabe et comme habitée d’une peine infinie, que la meilleur façon d’aller dans la durée consiste à avancer dans les lieux. (…) (…) Armé d’une langue magnifique, Genet joue fondamentalement, tout comme il aurait misé au jeu, la fusion des strates temporelles. “Le présent est toujours dur, l’avenir est supposé l’être davantage. Le passé, ou plutôt l’absent, sont adorables et nous vivons au présent.” Pour se dégager de l’emprise de ces durées, plantées en chacun et apparamment inextricables, Genet va donc faire fusionner les strates du temps, ses strates du temps: son récit sera tout à la fois celui d’un premier séjour en 1970, d’un second en 1982, d’un troisième en 1983-84, et celui d’aucun d’entre eux. Et Richard dindo, qui a pour bonne habitude de coller littéralement aux textes de ses auteurs, vient à son tour mêler – et dissoudre – sa strate, celle du temps cinématographique, à celles de Genet. Il demeure ainsi dans l’oeuvre et effectue, en sa compagnie, sa propre sortie de la durée. Là où résidait la grande prouesse de Genet dans son Captif Amoureux, se retrouve le pari, réussi, de Dindo.” (Elias Sanbar)

The Otolith Group
Nervus Rerum

GB/Palestine, 2008, video, colour, stereo, English spoken, 32’

“It is perhaps with Nervus Rerum (the title is taken from Cicero and translates as ‘the nerve of things’), the 2008 film shot in the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, that The Otolith Group’s (Kodwo Eshun & Anjalika Sagar) vision achieves its greatest success. The film begins with the camera moving slowly up a backstreet in Gaza. Children look on silently as an eerie soundtrack deepens their gaze. Abandoned cookers line the sides of the road; graffiti is everywhere, a palimpsest of politics. Two men stand talking next to a pick-up truck filled with empty plastic bottles. ‘We are death,’ declares Sagar. ‘We are dead when we think we are living.’ The words are taken from Fernando Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’ and Jean Genet’s book about Palestine, ‘Prisoner of Love’; they both distance us and draw us closer to the slow, quiet images of the settlement. (…) This is the success of Nervus Rerum and The Otolith Group as a whole: when image and voice fail to coincide; when the ‘big story’ of Palestine becomes a whole series of smaller tales; when representation fails because it has to.” (Nina Power)

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

Figures of Dissent : Masao Adachi


Figures of Dissent : Masao Adachi
23 November 2011 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A Courtisane programme.

“Shooting a gun or shooting with a camera, it doesn’t make a difference to me”
— Masao Adachi

“The revolution has been continuously my theme. Main subject” says Masao Adachi (born 1939). “People Said: Revolutionary Cinema. I said: No. It’s Cinema for Revolution.” Of all the filmmakers that would be inspired by the spirit of resistance and utopia of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Adachi is without a doubt the most radically and perseveringly militant. Armed with a camera or with a gun: it made no difference to him. To him, both weapons served as possible intervention tools in the fight against political and social oppression. It is not accidental that his first films were made under the auspices of the Japanese student movements that were born after WWII against what were regarded as antidemocratic and neo-colonial policies (particularly in relation to the USA). With his surrealistically tinted and politically provoking experiments he inscribed himself rapidly as part of the so called “new wave” currents that shook Japanese culture of the time. In that context he collaborated with the likes of Nagisa Oshima and especially Kôji Wakamatsu, with whom he would inject the erotically charged “pink cinema” genre with a lively dose of anarchism. Resulting in controversial works such as Seiyûgi (Sex Game, 1968) and Jogakusei gerira (Female Student Guerillas, 1969), these experiences taught Adachi the basic rules of guerrilla-style filmmaking: fast and cheap. In 1971, after visiting the Cannes Film Festival, Wakamatsu and Adachi travelled to Lebanon, where they would film Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army / PFLP: Declaration of World War), a propaganda film in support of the Arab fight against Israeli occupation. In 1974 Adachi returned to Pastine, with the idea of making a second film. He would end up staying 26 years, at the service of the Palestinian cause. In 1997, under the pressure of the Japanese authorities, he was incarcerated in Beirut. He was extradited to his country three years later, where he remained in prison for two more years. Once free, Adachi gave the account of his experiences in a series of autobiographical publications as well as a new film – his first in more than thirty years : Yûheisha – Terorisuto (Prisoner/Terrorist, 2006). Today Adachi’s activist thought resonates with more force than ever, as show the number of screenings and retrospectives that have been organised around the world in recent years. Perhaps the most beautiful homage is the one that French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux pays to his work in a recent cinematographic portrait.

Philippe Grandrieux
Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre résolution – Masao Adachi
(It May be that Beauty has Strengthened our Resolve)

FR, 2011, video, color, stereo, Japanese and French spoken with English subtitles, 75′

“A to and fro between politics and cinema, between Trotskym and Surrealism, between armed struggle and screenplays, between Palestine, Lebanon and Japan, between the day-before-yesterday and today, between beauty and resolve, between the art of eating and that of being a father, such is the risky and precise life of Masao Adachi, the monsieur with the white hair glimpsed in his delusions. And this is just how Philippe Grandrieux, faithful to his way of doing things, decided to suggest his portrait, with no a priori, without interrupting speech, filming him and listening to his words without at first understanding them, framing him in a tight close-up that is sometimes underexposed, other times overexposed, to better abandon him later for: cherry trees in blossom, the streets of Tokyo swarming with cars and passersby, familiar objects and lactescent celling light. And from time to time, Grandrieux lets speak a few shots from his earlier films, from where suddenly crops up the phrase, Genet-like, given in the title: a paradoxical program that hesitates to connect one shore to the other”. (Jean-Pierre Rehm) This is the first part of the film series “Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre résolution”, dedicated to filmmakers who in the course of the 20th century devoted their lives and work to resistance and emancipation.

Masao Adachi & Koji Wakamatsu
Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army / PFLP: Declaration of World War)

JP/ Palestine, 1971, 16mm, color, stereo, Japanese and Arabic spoken with English subtitles, 69’

“In 1971, Adachi and Wakamatsu were invited to Cannes Film Festival. On the way back they went to Beirut, and while they were there shot Sekigun PFLP – Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War) a film that showed the ‘everyday life’ of Arab guerillas, and transformed a ‘news documentary’ into a radical text for a world revolution. Rejecting the existing system of film exhibition and declaring the screening itself as a political act, the ‘Red Bus’ mobile projection unit was formed and they hit the road, showing the film in Palestine and Europe. This film can be seen as the key Japanese film of that era, as it completely epitomised the spirit of the radical filmmaking movement. It was also a personal turning point for one of its makers: Adachi left Japan in 1974, in order to join the Palestinian revolution as a Japanese Red Army soldier. “ (Go Hirasawa)

Texts concerning Masao Adachi and PFLP

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