ARTIST IN FOCUS: Robert Kramer

In the context of Courtisane Festival 2023 (Gent, 29 March – 2 April 2023). Curated by Stoffel Debuysere.

“For me, at the beginning of every film, there is always virtually nothing. You could carve this on my headstone. That is my conception of political cinema. Something can be done with even the most minuscule fragment of life; an ideal to be reconstruc­ted. This supposes constant movement, an entire existence being on the alert. Staying face to face with the world, head held high, without trembling, no matter what.”

He liked the word ‘trajet’. The connotation of the English ‘trajectory’ was way too mechanical for him – alluding too much to the trajectory of a bullet, for example. For Kramer, the French word, on the other hand, sounded very much in tune with a human scale of movement, with the coming and goings, dwellings and wanderings that define most of our lives’ paths. A word that’s more than apt for a filmmaker who was always on the move. Whether by choice or necessity, he was always the traveller who, seemingly, never fitted anywhere – always looking for ways of living differently, following his taste for adversity and complexity. How could his films, then, be anything but the expression of this restless search?

Growing up, he lived in two worlds. As a doctor’s son, he was set in a comfortable scene. And even then, he was already an outsider. Wherever he looked seemed foreign to him. A mysterious fiction that had to be deciphered at all costs. He could never shed the feeling that a war was raging. “Survival is at stake,” he said, “and our dreams are the first to go.” For a while though, dreams were flaring up like flames. To Robert Kramer, the experience of the 1960s remained the touchstone for his life and work, the moment when his ‘trajet’ really took off: first as a journalist in Latin-America and a community worker in Newark, later as a filmmaker and a member of the Newsreel Collective. Again and again, Kramer sought out the battlegrounds: in Venezuela, Vietnam, Angola, but also closer to home, in the heart of the radical movements challenging the American political structures, which he portrayed so well in Ice (1969). Time and again, he found himself committed to the search for adverse communities, of which he himself depicted the breakdown in Milestones (1975): an unsettling portrait of his ‘lost’ generation.

But filmmaking, for Kramer, remained. Filmmaking as yet another way of creating temporary communities to inhabit, the shelters and campsites that he so greatly needed. After moving to Europe in 1980, cinema would, more than ever, become his true habitat. Working from his base in Paris, he produced more than twenty films, varying in length, genre, medium and degree of achievement. Armed with his camera, Kramer not only kept on exploring the contours and edges of the world, but also of himself, as critical cartographer of a fast changing society, rebounding between private and public, interior and exterior, choice and necessity. The theme of ‘the return’ would become central to his work. The character of Doc, who first appeared in Ice played by Paul McIsaac, returns in both Doc’s Kingdom (1988) and Route One/USA (1989), which marked Kramer’s own return to the US after ten years of absence. Through this character, who is also his alter-ego, Kramer crafted diverging perspectives on his relation to what he left behind him, to that “what you are inevitably a part of and what you are forever outside.” He would also return to another ‘starting place’, the place that he first visited to make the Newsreel Collective’s People’s War (1969): Vietnam. In both Point de départ (1993) and Say Kom Sa (1998), he charts the country’s struggle through an uncertain and daunting past, present, and future. Yet another return would lead him to the city where his father was born, resulting in Berlin 10/90 (1990): an intimate dialogue with all the resonances that ‘Germany’ came to have, both in his family history and in global history.

Finally, the act of returning would also take the form of ‘feedback’, which was the original title of Notre nazi (1984). In this ‘behind the scenes’ film, Kramer ingeniously doubles up and problematizes the mise-en-scène of the film Wundkanal, with which its director, Thomas Harlan, attempted to exorcize a haunting past. But perhaps Kramer’s most personal form of feedback is Dear Doc (1990), a video letter addressed to his dear travel companion, in which he looks back on the creation of Doc’s Kingdom and Route One/USA. Returning, revisiting, going back – not home, but back: here’s the red thread running throughout this homage to a filmmaker whose ‘trajet’ is unlike any other.


Thanks to Keja Ho Kramer, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Céline Paini (Les Films D’Ici), Diana Vidrascu & Pip Chodorov (Re:Voir), Matthieu Grimault (Cinémathèque Française), Hugo Masson (Documentaire sur grand écran)


Route One/USA
Robert Kramer, UK, FR, IT, 1989, DCP, 255′, English spoken

In September 1987, Robert Kramer returned to the US after a decade of self-imposed exile, where he spent five months filming along Route One, which connects Canada to Key West in Florida. In 1936, it was the most travelled route in the world, meanwhile it runs alongside superhighways and through suburbs – a thin strip of tarmac that cuts through all the old dreams of a nation. Together with fellow traveller Doc (Paul McIsaac), Kramer enters a succession of private worlds that steadily reveal themselves to the camera: from a Native American reservation in Maine to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, from a Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter to a sermon at an evangelical church. The grittiness of Kramer’s earlier militant work has given way to a casual mise en scène, with a fluid camera moving amidst ever-changing characters. Rarely did a filmmaker so fearlessly tread the fault lines between documentary and fiction, between inside and outside, to the point where the film almost breaks in half.

“There is a structure that is almost the same for all the films: you arrive in the middle of something, and lots of elements are given to you. It’s fragmentary, chaotic, you get a lot of signs, a lot of little things to work with. As you go along, it starts to fall into place. I think it’s a very accurate reflection of how my mind works. In the beginning, films are like a vast area, a geography. They are populated with people. Places are extremely impor­tant. And I don’t know where I’m going.”


Doc’s Kingdom
Robert Kramer, FR, PT, 1988, 35mm, 90′, English spoken

Twenty years after Doc first appears in Kramer’s film Ice, as the leader of a mythical underground revolutionary organisation played by Paul McIsaac, his character returns here as a disillusioned former activist who practices medicine as a way to stay true to his beliefs. After a stint in Africa, he ended up in Lisbon, where he divides his time between the local hospital and his lonely cottage on the docks. “Go home,” says the local café owner (played by filmmaker João César Monteiro). But Doc no longer knows a home. His past catches up with him when his son (a young Vincent Gallo) visits him from the US. A prelude to Route One/USA that draws inspiration from one of the filmmaker’s favourite books, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, and reverts back to some of Kramer’s main themes: “the US, a home, a homeland, of which you are inevitably a part and of which you are forever outside.”

“I am very attached to the idea of geography. Most often, for me, places come before people. Starting with Doc’s Kingdom, what was an important formal idea was the idea of the trajet, a very beautiful word that doesn’t exist in English. It was this idea of filming bodies moving through spaces that interested me. I never liked travellings, very concretely: I couldn’t stand the idea of placing the rails. It seemed to me that it was an incredible pain to lay fifty meters of rails in order to accompany a character. The question was also: how to move in a space in a reasonable length of time, which does not become unbearable?”

Dear Doc
Robert Kramer, US, FR, 1990, video, 35′, English spoken

A video letter addressed to Kramer’s fellow traveller and accomplice, Paul McIsaac, aka Doc, the main character in Doc’s Kingdom and Route One/USA. This candid letter, written, filmed and composed after the editing of Route One/USA, expresses all the strength and density of a long-term friendship that would last.

“I’ve always been frightened of what you might call the Jonas Mekas syndrome, which means: ‘I totally embrace my subjec­tivity’. I had decided to go to the very end, I was going to say everything. Show everything, for once. And then, there’s every way to not even show what you thought you were going to show. I really wanted to reach another level. I wanted to do this by working twenty­four hours a day. You could also call it the Chris Marker syndrome. I was going to plunge into it com­pletely. I wasn’t going to answer the phone, go home, and I’d see what would happen. What did happen is
Dear Doc.”


Point de départ (Starting Place)
Robert Kramer, FR, 1993, 35mm to digital, 90′, French, English and Vietnamese spoken, English subtitles

More than 20 years after People’s War, which shaped his commitment against US war policy, Kramer returns to his starting point: Vietnam. “This was,” says Kramer, “what I knew, what I was interested in, what I was most invested in, where I had already made another film. I wondered how they could see things there: having paid such a price, being given the chance to participate in the New World Economy at gunpoint on the terms of the New World Order. It was either that, or disappear into oblivion, like Cuba.” Point de départ is an attempt to connect an immutable past with an irrefutable present. In Hanoi, despite economic transformations, the revolutions of the past half century live on in the memories of those who lived through them, people such as Kramer’s former guide from 1969, who has since translated Don Quixote, or a tightrope walker in the national circus who balances away the ghost of lost hope, or a man who took photos of B52s and another who lost his fingers shooting them down. But also activist Linda Evans, who was part of the crew that filmed People’s War and was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1985. “You can see my film as a mourning process for the ideas that put Linda in prison. My ideas are in prison.”

“Many of the ideas that some people died for have been forgotten. It is necessary to read through the pages of recent history. The ‘starting place’ is really after the film. It is now. I could have made this film in another place. The most important thing was not to talk particularly or exclusively about Vietnam, but was, above all, this idea of ‘starting place.’ Because that’s the way things are, we have to start out from a look at what we have experienced over the last thirty years.”

Say Kom Sa
Robert Kramer, FR, 1998, video, 19′, French spoken, English subtitles

In 1997, Kramer visited Vietnam for the third time and shot this film, concluding his ‘Vietnam Trilogy’. His DV camera observes the accelerated transformation of society into the free-market capitalist system and the things that are about to be forgotten and lost in the process. The intimate travel diary turns into a deep meditation on globalisation and the filmmaker’s point of view.

“In the apartment, there are gifts from old friends in Vietnam: reminders of a different history. But the time is now, 1998: The ‘market economy’, that’s our common fate. A construction­site on the edges of ‘West lake’ in Hanoi. This lake in the centre of Hanoi is being gradually walled in by huge modern hotels. The village ist disappearing. Everybody knows: It’s just a matter of money now. Who’s rich and who’s poor, who can and who can’t. That is how it is: ‘C’est comme ça …’ ”


Berlin 10/90
Robert Kramer, US, FR, 1990, video, 64′, English spoken

This film is part of the television series Live, curated by Philippe Grandrieux, conceived as a series of 14 episodes, each consisting of a single 60-minute long take, filmed on Hi8 video, without additional text, sound or post-production. Kramer’s contribution was shot in Berlin, his father’s birthplace, on 25 October 1990. Seated in the bathroom of his flat, he dialogues with images of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War, and confronts his own hauntings. “Berlin has a lot to do with that idea of returning, going back to my father and a certain idea of the family past,” he says.

“They called this TV series Live, and it was offered up with a lot of old­sounding words what came out of the period of ‘Cinéma Verité’ or ‘Direct Cinema.’ Throughout there was the assumption that a camera running continuously can somehow access ‘the real.’ I don’t think that I realize how much I was moving in another direction or for how long. I was, for better or worse, involved in a very complicated dialogue between myself then­and­there in Berlin, and the many dif­ferent connections that I have, inevitably, with Germany. You could say, a dialogue between myself and the reverberation that ‘Germany’ has become.”

Les yeux l’un de l’autre (I’ll Be Your Eyes, You’ll Be Mine)
Keja Ho Kramer & Stephen Dwoskin, US, FR, 2006, video, 47′, English spoken

A poetic ode that takes on the narrative framework of an afterthought: a detective, Keja Ho K., goes in search of a phantom, Robert Kramer. Together with Stephen Dwoskin, with whom Kramer exchanged video letters for years, Keja Ho creates an imaginary dialogue based on images from Kramer’s archive, fuelled by numerous memories and imbued with everything that would be close to his heart: the act of sharing, and the obligation to think for ourselves and to never betray our dreams.

“Working on I’ll Be Your Eyes, You’ll Be Mine was a way of being with you in the splendor of all the contradictions… it was also my relationship to the world, a reflection on how we work and take a point of view, try to be in the world in our own way. I met a wonderful friend of ours on this trip, Steve Dwoskin. I wanted to tell you how important this sharing with Steve was for me and how amazing it was to enter into the arrangement of ‘parts and pieces’ with him. Feeling this great connection in the work… the world of metaphor and symbolism, sculpting images, working with pixels as pigment, extensions of thought seeping into the computer canvas; amazing minds breaking through boundaries. How can I express how grateful I am to be on this walk, how sweet it has been (and always will be) to have known you and to have benefited so fully from your marvellous gift… Oh, Dad, you gave us so much freedom, and how hard that responsibility is… ”


Notre nazi
Robert Kramer, DE, FR, 1984, video, 114′, English spoken

This gripping portrait was shot during the filming of Thomas Harlan’s Wundkanal, in which Alfred Filbert, a former Gestapo officer, plays an ex-Nazi kidnapped by a terrorist organisation. Kramer observes how Harlan – whose father, Veit Harlan, directed the infamous anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Süß – gradually adopts the enemy’s methods in an attempt to come to terms with his past. Thus becoming, as it were, his own worst enemy. It is the story of two German generations, and also of an observant outsider, Kramer, who didn’t experience any of that history but said he felt connected to it in an abstract way through his Jewishness. He himself labelled the film “a really alive attempt to get inside an enigma.” With his camera, Kramer approaches and stalks Filbert as an unbreakable and opaque block of history that seethes at the centre of the dark film studio and of everyone’s attention. “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.”

“For me, the film is fundamentally about the question of judgment, about the complexity of a situation. On the one hand, we have Veit Harlan’s son, obsessed with his past and having such an understandable need to disassociate himself from that past and confront it within himself. It shakes up this strangely solid and integrated old man, who we know from the start is guilty of the worst we can imagine. And me, once again, an involved observer on camera. The film goes down some paths that lead nowhere. I’m not sure any of them lead anywhere. But they all revolve around the question of judgment: who has the right to judge? What are the right ways to judge?”

ARTIST IN FOCUS: Trinh T. Minh-ha

In the context of the Courtisane festival 2023 (29 March – 2 April). Curated by Stoffel Debuysere.

“Patriarchy and hegemony. Not really two, not one either. My history, my story, is the history of the First World/Third World, dominant/oppressed, man/woman relationship.. When speaking about the Master, I am necessarily speaking about both Him and the West. Patriarchy and hegemony. From orthodox to progressive patriarchy, from direct colonization to indirect, subtly pervasive hegemony, things have been much refined, but the road is still long and the fight still goes on.”

“I do not intend to speak about; just speak nearby.” With these words, spoken in her debut film, Reassemblage (1982), Trinh T. Minh-ha describes the attitude she adopts throughout her oeuvre. An attitude characterized by an aversion to institutional authority and expertise, and instead grounded in embodied experience and self-reflection. A way of positioning herself in relation to the world that expresses itself in all aspects of her films: verbally, musically, visually. For example, in Reassemblage, the first of two films she made in West Africa, she exposes the transformations that inevitably take place when attempting to put the impossible experience of ‘what’ comprises Senegalese culture into cinematic form. That same urge to break down patterns of expectation and challenge the interpretive claims of authoritarian forms is also found in her writing. Her influential book Woman, Native, Other (1989, in French version: Femme, indigène, autre, Paris: B42, 2022 ), for instance, is primarily a questioning of the contradictory imperatives faced by the ‘I’, as a ‘Third World woman’, in creating and critiquing the role of creator and intellectual across literature, anthropology and the arts.

Born in Hanoi, Trinh T. Minh-ha emigrated to the US during the Vietnam War, where she studied music composition, ethnomusicology and French literature. Since the early 1980s, she has been problematising the forms of reductionism and essentialism that influence our self-image and worldview. By her own admission, her films are partly motivated by her experiences in former colonised Vietnam – experiences that she clearly recognised, shared and re-lived in Africa. These life experiences account for her decision to make films that point to the process of the construction of meaning, and to herself as an active element in that process. Her films are grounded in the question: why not approach a country, a people, a culture by starting with what comes with an image or with a name, like ‘Senegal’, but also ‘Vietnam’, ‘China’, or ‘Japan’? What exactly stands for, characterises and speaks to a cultural and political event? How does the medium of cinema allow one to show, tell and receive rather than merely represent? In other words, Trinh considers a given name or a recorded image not as finalities but as points of departure. In Shoot for the Contents (1991) and her latest film, What About China? (2022), she does not search for the ‘true’ face of China but probes beneath and with the surface of the country’s image – an image, determined by the media and other forms of information, that’s taken for granted in our daily relationship to the country.

The space in which Trinh T. Minh-ha works and creates is where she confronts and leaves behind the world of beaten paths and traffic regulations. She seeks the in-between spaces where established boundaries can be rearranged and shifted, including those of the ‘I’. In each of her films, rather than as a source, the ‘I’ is deployed as an open site where other manifestations of the ‘I’ can take up residence and incongruous elements can converge. In Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989), she approaches Vietnamese culture in all its multiplicity without endorsing the legitimized subjectivity of the ‘insider’. Rather than constructing a single homogeneous perspective or an ‘unmediated’ personal account, she portrays culture through popular memory and oral traditions, primarily concerning Vietnamese women, while simultaneously addressing the politics of interviewing and the politics of translation. “Crisscrossing more than one occupied territory at a time,” she writes, “she remains perforce inappropriate/d – both inside and outside her own social positionings… A trajectory across variable praxes of difference, her (un)location is necessarily the shifting and contextual interval between arrested boundaries.”

In contrast to the endless discourse about a virtual boundlessness in a globalised world, Trinh T. Minh-ha unveils and punctures the separations and demarcations that define our place in and relationship to the world. “Reality is delicate,” she says in Reassemblage, and it is that constant, wavering probing of reality, filled with a passion called wonder, averse to claims of authenticity, authority or neutrality, that shows from her work the power to break out of our compartmentalised world.


In the context of this focus on the work of Trinh T. Minh-ha, we invited musician, author and curator David Toop to reflect on the sound work in her films. The resulting publication, titled Breath, rhythm, silence, resonance: listening beyond seeing in the films of Trinh T. Minh­ha, is the first publication in the Echoes of Dissent series, devoted to the politics of the soundtrack. This series is part of the research project of the same name within KASK & Conservatorium School of Arts Ghent.

Thanks to An van. Dienderen, Christophe Piette (CINEMATEK), Angelika Ramlow (Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst), Colleen O’Shea (Women Make Movies)

This program will be followed by a complete retro­spective dedicated to the films of Trinh T. Minh­ha at CINEMATEK in Brussels (


Reassemblage: From the Firelight to the Screen
Trinh T. Minh-ha, US, 1982, 16mm, 40′

Reassemblage is Trinh T. Minh-ha’s first 16mm film, made after a three-year stay (1977-80) in Senegal, where she taught music at the Institut National des Arts in Dakar. It was during this stay that she had become aware of the hegemony of anthropological discourse in any attempt, by both local outsiders and insiders, to identify and capture the observed culture. This film is a response to the urgency she felt to question the anthropological apparatus, its essentialising constructs and colonial ethos. This also implied a questioning of her own position as a “hybrid insider”, as someone who shares a certain experience of colonialism but at the same time is no less considered an outsider than any European. Above all, the film is a response to a desire to “not simply mean”; a desire not to approach Senegalese culture by wrapping it in reductive constructions of meaning. Trinh subverts the conventions of cinematic representation by playing with repetition, non-synchronous sound and unstable camerawork that disrupt temporal and spatial continuity and invite viewers/listeners to assume their own relationship to the world that appears on screen.

“My approach is one which avoids any sure­ness of signification. In most anthropological presentations, the establishing of connections between signs and the deciphering of cultural codes is flattened out by the voice of knowledge, the voice of factual truth. This is reflected, in films, in the omniscience of the cinematography and the editing as well as the commentary and/ or the “talking­head” strategy. The strategies of Reassemblage question the anthropological knowledge of the “other,” the way anthropol­ogists look at and present foreign cultures through media, here film… The critical work in Reassemblage […] is not simply aimed at the anthropologist, but also at the missionary, the Peace Corps volunteer, the tourist, and last but not least at myself as onlooker.”

Surname Viet Given Name Nam
Trinh T. Minh-ha, US, 1989, 16mm, 108′

“A Vietnamese woman making a film on Vietnamese women: What could sound more familiar and correct in today’s context of cultural diversity and liberal pluralism?” And yet, says Trinh T. Minh-ha, self-representation and representation is a responsibility one cannot afford to merely reject. In order to break away from that kind of authorized subjectivity, she chose for a number of itineraries that would allow her to show “the culture” without endorsing the insider’s authority. This was largely done by avoiding the so-called factual historical information that one easily gets in history books on Vietnam, and by working with the more slippery realms of oral tradition and popular memory: the songs, sayings, proverbs that expose women’s condition; the stories that people remember of the historical heroines of Vietnam; and the life stories of contemporary Vietnamese women. In parallel, Trinh T. Minh-ha also emphasises the politics of the interview by drawing on a series of interviews that had been conducted in Vietnam by another woman of the Vietnamese diaspora (Mai Thu Van), translated and published in French, re-translated into English by herself, and then re-enacted in the film. In this way, both the role of translation in film and the role of film as a form of translation are problematised.

“It’s not a return in a physical sense, but a return in the sense that I made my two previous films in Africa before making Surname Viet – a film in which I have finally been able to come to terms with Vietnam or with a national identity; a film focusing on Vietnamese women or on female identity and difference. That’s why it was extremely important for me not to approach it from a legitimized “insider’s” point of view, but rather from a number of spaces locating me somewhere between an insider and an outsider. Spaces manifested, for example, in the acknowledgment of the media­tor’s role; in the multiplicity of translation, of the “you” referred to by the interviewees, and of first­person narratives; and in the exposing of the politics of interviews involved.”

Shoot for the Contents
Trinh T. Minh-ha, US, 1991, 16mm, 102′

This film by Trinh T. Minh-ha, whose title partly refers to a Chinese guessing game, reflects on Mao’s famous statement: “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” It offers simultaneously an excursion into the maze of allegorical designations and narratives in China and a reflection on questions of power and change, politics and culture, as reflected by the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Contrary to conventional expectations of “authenticity”, Trinh T. Minh-ha offers to the viewer a wide range of what one can call “border people”, who are right at the edge of being an outsider and an insider to the culture. Testimonies of artists, philosophers and cultural workers are interwoven with female voices, Chinese popular songs and classical music, and sayings of Mao and Confucius. Video images emulate the gestures of calligraphy and contrast with film footage of rural China and stylized interviews. Like traditional Chinese opera, Trinh’s film unfolds through “bold omissions and minute depictions” to render “the real in the illusory and the illusory in the real.” Exploring color, rhythm and the changing relationship between ear and eye, this meditative documentary realizes on screen the shifts of interpretation in contemporary Chinese culture and politics.

“Every work I realized, has been realized to transform my own consciousness. If I went to Africa to dive into a culture that was mostly unknown to me then, I went to China mainly because I was curious as to how I could depart from what I knew of Her. The prejudices that the Vietnamese carry vis­-a-­vis the Chinese are certainly historical and political. The past domination of Vietnam by China and the antagonistic relationship nurtured between the two nations have been weighing so heavily on the Vietnamese psyche that very often Vietnamese identity would be defined in counteraction to everything thought to be Chinese. And yet it suffices to look a bit harder at the Vietnamese culture – at its music, to mention a most explicit example – to realize how much it has inherited from both China and India.”

What About China?
Trinh T. Minh-ha, US, CN, 2022, DCP, 135′

In her newest film, the sonically striking What About China?, Hi8 footage shot in rural China from 1993-1994 is reframed thirty years later: first against China’s contradicting representation, histories, and futures, and second through the process of conversion from video to digital, where the transformation of low-res images creates ghostly animations on a canvas of multi-generational change. Pulsing against the surface of this inquiry is a theory of harmonics that takes the Hakka Roundhouse – a circular multi-family dwelling connected by common areas in the center – as its nexus. Trinh finds in this architecture, in the materials she uses to compose her film, and in the footage converted from video to digital a network of passageways: between society and nature, self and other, landscape and innerscape. The viewer is invited to steep themselves in these harmonics, both material and metaphor, to find associative flights from the polyrhythmic interaction of ideas, instruments, songs, text, moving and still images. We journey through these haunted, infinite scales, guided by voiceover readings by Xiaolu Guo, Xiao Yue Shang, Yi Zhong, and Trinh herself. Each offers a different entryway into the film’s polyvocal network of thought. One asks: “What exactly is disappearing? And why?” (Kim-Anh Schreiber)

“The notion of “speaking nearby” put forth in
Reassemblage has been realized differently with each film of mine. It’s a challenge for me every time I put it into practice. How do you speak nearby? It is in What About China? where this practice of speaking in proximity, rather than merely speaking for and about, is most comprehensive. Being closely related to China – China is an ancestral culture of Vietnam, where I was born – does not qualify me to speak about Her. Of greater fascination is how the film is positioned in relation to China, or how the Self is extended through a relationship with the Other.”

A conversation with Trinh T. Minh-ha

How can we think and speak about the notion of “speaking nearby,” which is a fundamental guiding principle throughout Trinh T. Minh-ha’s work? How does it relate to gestures of respect, wonder, love? How does it translate into the art form called cinema, verbally, musically, visually? These questions are the starting point for an extended conversation with Trinh T. Minh-ha.

“To keep the relation of language to vision open, one would have to take the difference between them as the very line of departure for speech and writing, rather than as an unfor­tunate obstacle to be overcome. The interval, creatively maintained, allows words to set in motion dormant energies and to offer, with the impasse, a passage from one space (visual, musical, verbal, mental, physical) to another. To prevent the passage from closing itself off and to preserve the infinity of the task of speaking nearby, a number of conversations developed around specific books and films and are further assembled in an interrelational space of detour. Just as the form a film takes in the creating process can acutely materialize what it says in content, the way a film is talked about can, when circum­stances allow in the encounter between interviewer(s) and interviewee, be keenly tuned to the way it is made.”

In the context of the research project Echoes of Dissent (KASK & Conservatory School of Arts)

Terry Jennings, Piece for Cello and Saxophone

We’re proud to announce the release of Terry Jennings Piece for Cello and Saxophone, which was performed by Charles Curtis on March 26 at Courtisane Festival 2016. I first learned about the piece through Alan Licht’s famous Minimalist Music lists and then, after having worked with Charles Curtis on several occasions (for his renderings of Eliane Radigue’s music), was finally able to commission him to play it live at the festival. The piece, Recorded by Ludo Engels at the time, was finally released in July 2022 on Saltern records, run by Tashi Wada.

This is a text Charles wrote by way of introduction to the performance:

In La Monte Young’s re-imagining of Terry Jennings’ Piece for Cello and Saxophone, the most prominent change is the placing of the piece in a Just Intonation tuning. Even though Jennings conceived the piece in equal temperament, it’s notable that the chords are held in continuous sustained tones, that Jennings specifies these tones be held without vibrato, and that the melodic figures over the sustained cello tones repeat in very specific constellations. It is impossible for me to imagine this music being played – or heard – without a focus on the complex acoustical experience of sustained intervals, and thus the move to put these intervals into rational relationships seems near at hand.

At the same time the music reads, up to a point, as tonal, resolving and diverging and resolving again, moving gradually between E and A as formal centers, with various transit points in between as modulating fulcrums. I hear the chord progressions as chorale-like, but set forth in very slow motion. One is confronted then with a variable listening situation, in which one can dwell on the concrete, physical, purely acoustical richness of the Just Intonation structures; or one can switch over to a listening mode which addresses the chordal progressions, the quasi-functional relationships of the melody notes to the chords – suspensions, major/minor shifts, the like – and the accumulated associations with earlier music thus evoked. Some of the beauty of the piece may be in the polymorphous status of the listening experience.

Now that the piece exists in La Monte Young’s tuning, the style of performance has shifted to careful attention on the placement of the intervals. The melodic unfolding slows down naturally – and it is fair to guess that this would have pleased Jennings – as the performer constantly seeks to identify the combination tones, partials and slight beatings which act as orientation points. In Just Intonation, a note is not a simple mark or a neutral point in a scale, but rather an entryway into a severely defined virtual space. The location of the entryway can never be assumed, but must be sought, again and again, with each motion from frequency to frequency. This constantly-seeking and never-knowing lends the piece a special expressivity – even “musicality” – quite different from the assured, florid pattern-improvisation that Jennings himself might have employed.

Jennings provides extensive directions for the articulation of the melodic patterns, but his directions are ambiguous, at best. One of his directions states: “Since Directions 3 + 4 seem confusing why don’t you listen to the tape recording of the piece and may be change the directions accordingly.” Yet there is no known recording of the complete piece. In essence the directions lay out the melodic unfolding of a finite pitch set over changing sustained tones, explaining which groups to repeat and when to shift forward and no longer repeat earlier patterns. The piece moves forward by lingering upon a present pattern, with reference to earlier patterns or tones allowed under certain conditions, and new tones occurring as a signal to move on to the next set of patterns. Over time one has the sensation of a filling-in, a gradual completion of elements only hinted at in the beginning. The sense then would be that all elements remain, that as the piece moves forward none of the preceding music actually falls away, nothing is discarded, nothing is forgotten; the structure builds, and lingers.

Terry Jennings remains a shadowy figure, a fleeting presence in music history, leaving few material traces of his work; yet he was revered by those who knew him. His works too, especially the beautiful solo piano pieces such as Winter Trees and the Piano Piece published in La Monte Young’s An Anthology, are slight, bare, fragile moments in early Minimalism. Piece for Cello and Saxophone, by contrast, seems a more formally ambitious work. Even if they’re confusing, the lengthy directions may point to Jennings’ concern for a more legible and detailed music. In its present form, the piece is monumental, without, paradoxically, missing any of Jennings’ characteristic fragility and weightlessness. The tragedy and the promise of music is that it lives, and dies, again and again in the moment of its performance, fleeting and impermanent, but returning. This fact is rarely felt with greater poignancy than in Jennings’ music.

Masterclass with Lav Diaz

11 MAY, 2022 – 19:30

CINEMA RITCS collaborated with CINEMA GALERIES and KUNSTENFESTIVALDESARTS for a unique masterclass with internationally awarded film master Lav Diaz, and Antoine Thirion & Stoffel Debuysere as hosts.

This masterclass focused on the use of music, hymns and songs in the films of Lav Diaz, using fragments from From What Is Before (2014), Evolution of A Filipino Family (2004), Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), Melancholia (2008), A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (2016), Season of the Devil (2018) and Genus Pan (2020).


In the context of Courtisane Festival 2022 (Gent, 30 March – 3 April 2022). Curated by Stoffel Debuysere with Ricardo Matos Cabo.

Diz-se que na morte se vem sempre de longe
ao encontro de alguma coisa.
Reencarnamos no reconhecimento de uma voz,
e qualquer voz longínqua nos traz a certeza familiar
de não termos estado nunca sozinhos.
Porque nos reconhecemos nos bancos de jardim
onde nunca estivemos sentados.
Porque a lembrança que se extingue
é na memória que perdura.
Que mistério de memória é essa,
a da vida que, rasurando,
escreve de novo o que não deixa de sentir?

They say that in death one comes from afar
to encounter something.
We find reincarnation in the recognition of a voice,
and some far-off voice brings us that familiar certainty
that we have never been alone.
For we find familiarity on a park bench
where we have never been seated.
Because a recollection that fades
lives on in our memory.
What mystery of memory is this?
That of life, which rubs things out,
then rewrites what it continues to feel?

– Sérgio Godinho, original poem from Encontros

Encounters were at the heart of the life and work of Pierre-Marie Goulet (1950-2021). His filmmaking consisted of a process of searching and accumulating elements that then needed to be forgotten, to be reborn in ways that he himself could not have anticipated. What interested him the most were those small miracles that would emerge almost by chance. “I need to impregnate myself in an obsessive way with a universe that will then give me back the film,” he said. This process of finding and connecting unsuspected threads, geographical, cultural, or cinematographic, was nowhere as pronounced as in Encontros (2006), a film that revealed itself at the crosspoint of different paths and times based around the polyphonic songs from southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. The film grew out of the desire to extend the adventure of a previous film, Polifonias (1998), and to “circumscribe the presence of a sonorous, musical, poetic, human tribe, an analogical and surprising tribe whose territory does not correspond to any geographically known territory”, but it developed into a form entirely of its own, as a resonance chamber where a multiplicity of invocations resound.

Invocations such as that of young poet António Reis, not yet a filmmaker at the time, who became mesmerized by the songs of Peroguarda villagers and decided to visit the village in 1957, where he recorded poems recited by inhabitants, amongst whom the extraordinary Virgínia Maria Dias… Of Corsican ethnomusicologist Michel Giacometti who moved to Portugal two years later, where he would dedicate the rest of his life studying and recording popular oral traditions which were being lost or forgotten. It was Reis who sent Giacometti to Peroguarda where he would return periodically, and where, according to his wish, he was buried… Of poet Manuel Antonio Pina who, accompanied by other aspiring poets, chose to follow in the footsteps of António Reis in the mid 1960s… Of filmmaker Paulo Rocha, who shot his second film, Mudar de Vida (1966), in the village of Furadouro, setting the story among the fishermen who had fascinated him during his childhood. It was again Reis, having already worked alongside Rocha as assistant director of Manoel de Oliveira’s Acto da Primavera (1963), who wrote the film’s dialogues… From these intertwining invocations Pierre-Marie Goulet has crafted a tender meditation on the persistence of memory, sharing with us the echoes of a time that has passed, of a culture that is at risk of being erased. Not as a lament of what has been lost, but to make room for all that is alive.

Encontros acts as a guiding thread for this program, which brings together works by Pierre-Marie Goulet, Margarida Cordeiro and António Reis, Paulo Rocha, and Manoel de Oliveira; but also of Jean-Daniel Pollet, close friend and collaborator of Pierre-Marie Goulet, with whom he shared a profound love for the spaces, the rites, the memory and culture of the Mediterranean; as well as of Sumiko Haneda, who worked with Paulo Rocha on two of his films, and whose Ode to Mt. Hayachine (1982) provides another echo of traditions whose vital force continues to reverberate in the present.


In the presence of filmmaker and educator Teresa Garcia, who collaborated on the films of Pierre-Marie Goulet and with whom she developed Os Filhos de Lumière, a remarkable film education movement in Portugal.

Thanks to Teresa Garcia, Paulo Trancoso (Costa do Castelo), Martine Barbé (Image et Création), Sara Moreira (Cinemateca Portuguesa), Manuel-Casimiro de Oliveira, Sumiko Haneda, Tokue Sato (Kanatasha), Takeshi Yoshida (Japan Foundation), Christophe Piette (CINEMATEK), Matteo Boscarol, Rita Morais.


Pierre-Marie Goulet, PT, 2006, HD, 105′

Portuguese spoken, English subtitles

Mesmerized by the songs of Peroguarda villagers in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region, young Portuguese modern poet António Reis, Corsican researcher of Portuguese folk music Michel Giacometti, and film director Paulo Rocha visited the village one after another in the late 1950s. Encontros aims at circumscribing a tribe made of sounds, music, poetry and people; an analogical and outstanding tribe that doesn’t belong to any geographically known territory. The film intertwines different present and past gatherings between people and memories. Through that intertwining, one is made to wonder about what one is made of and how memory, the way others view us and the act of sharing enriches our lives.

“After finishing Polifonias, a film dedicated to Michel Giacometti, the desire was born not to lose everything that had been offered to me throughout the shooting and that I had not used in the final editing: songs, narratives, poems that were recorded and whose memory risked being lost if they were not integrated in a new project. There was also the desire to follow some of the paths that had been indicated to me during this time: that of the visit of António Reis, then still a poet, to the village of Peroguarda in Alentejo, the very same place in which Michel Giacometti wished to be buried, and others I wished to visit for my own reasons, such as, for example, to approach Paulo Rocha’s film Mudar de Vida, which fascinated me particularly by the interaction between the narrated story and the end of the fishing communities of Furadouro. Little by little it became clear what, beneath the surface, constituted in my mind one of the faces of Encontros: the echo of the past, of a time gone by, of a culture which had died out, but an echo one hears in the present and which resounds in its appeals. It thus became a question not of deploring what has disappeared, not of making a nostalgic return to the past, or bringing fragments of the past into the present, but of letting go of memory to make way for the living.” (Pierre-Marie Goulet)


Polifonias – Paci è Saluta, Michel Giacometti
Pierre-Marie Goulet, FR, PT, 1998, 35mm, 82′

Portuguese spoken, English subtitles
35mm print courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa

Michel Giacometti, “The Corsican who loved Portugal” was born in Ajaccio. In 1959, he arrived in Portugal and never left. For thirty years, he collected music, tales, stories and poetry, sayings and adages, recipes for popular medicine, giving back to men and women the pride of their culture. This Corsican reinvented himself an island in Portugal, saving the roots of others to discover his own. By saving the memory of a people, he pursued a quest, that of the sometimes-mythical roots that we all carry deep within ourselves. It is on this terrain that Polifonias crosses the traces of his journey, questions the living memory of the elders, and shows the ever-present vivacity of traditional music in Portugal and Corsica.

“I made the Giacometti film with Antoine Bonfanti, a sound engineer who had always worked with me since 1978. He was the great engineer of direct sound. Chris Marker, Godard, Marguerite Duras, André Delvaux, Resnais… Bonfanti, who was a Corsican, before arriving in Portugal heard about Giacometti, who was also a Corsican. They struck up a friendship and thanks to that we developed, the three of us, a project that was to be filmed. But Giacometti died before we could start the film. Five years later Antoine and I still wanted to make the film and we finally decided to make
Polifonias, which took up Giacometti’s desire to bring together the Corsican and Alentejan cultures. I added to the film a tribute to Michel Giacometti’s own path.” (Pierre-Marie Goulet)


Acto da Primavera (Rite of Spring)
Manoel de Oliveira, PT, 1963, 35mm, 94′

Portuguese spoken, English subtitles
Restored 35mm print courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa

While location shooting for another film, Oliveira stumbled upon the subject for Rite of Spring, the annual passion play enacted in a village in the same remote northern region of Portugal (Trás-os-Montes) that would inspire Antonio Reis’s most important work. Intrigued by the ritualistic and incantatory qualities of the vernacular production, Oliveira returned with Reis and set about directing the villagers in a re-enactment of the passion play, adding a rich performative layer to the film. A fascinating meta-ethnographic study of local tradition and history that folds in on itself, Rite of Spring climaxes unexpectedly in a furious Bruce Conner style apocalyptic montage that links Christ’s death to the violent lunacy of the Vietnam era. (Harvard Film Archive)

“There was stubbornness in his consciousness, that of a solitary man who, through his camera, reacted to what he saw by trying to perceive where the good was and where the evil was, what were the forces of things which he saw. You could clearly feel the hesitation. And in the midst of the struggle, of the hesitation, suddenly, a decision: this angle, that frame. And such a formal decision did not come from any model, it was like a visceral, instantaneous reaction, without a parachute, taking the risk… What struck me most was this intimate exercise in the rough and tumble of perceiving the world, the camera’s gaze, if you like, but how the perceived matter resists our will, which is good. The camera shakes because it cannot properly perceive what it is seeing. He has never been greater than in these moments, and never has he been more inimitable. This side of him is like an X-ray of emotion, of conscience, of doubt, and there are few equivalents in world cinema.” (Paulo Rocha)


Mudar de Vida (Change of Life)
Paulo Rocha, PT, 1966, DCP, 94′

Portuguese spoken, English subtitles
Restored version courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa

The second and arguably most important film by Paulo Rocha, one of the central figures of the Novo Cinema, Mudar de Vida is a direct response to Oliveira’s Rite of Spring and an important precursor to the radical documentary shaped fiction of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. Captivated by the remote Portuguese fishing village of Furadouro, Rocha chose not to make a traditional documentary but rather to engage the specificities of the people and place through fiction, crafting a melancholy story about a soldier’s return to a changing world. Inspired by his experience working with Oliveira on Rite of Spring, Rocha “cast” the local villagers as themselves, interspersed with experienced actors led by the great Isabel Ruth, who would go on to become an Oliveira regular. The poetry of the local vernacular is captured in the textured dialogue written by António Reis, who met Rocha through Oliveira. Despite the steadily building critical acclaim that followed the release of Mudar de Vida — and despite its controversial depiction of a disillusioned Angola War veteran — Rocha effectively ceased filmmaking until the 1980s. (Harvard Film Archive)

“António gave me a great lesson. He worked on the dialogues for six months, scratching and throwing them away. Every day thinner, always in a cold sweat, searching for the comma, the pause, the secret and expressive assonance. The dialogues, dragged out in irons, arrived at the filming at the last minute, and there was no time to reflect on them. It was only years later, when Mudar de Vida had its premiere in Tokyo, that I had the opportunity to study them. The work of translating them into Japanese was very slow, and only then could I discover the musical concision, the secret wealth of those phrases written with an infallible ear. How many dialogues in our language can compare to that?” (Paulo Rocha)


António Reis, Margarida Cordeiro, PT, 1976, DCP, 111′

Portuguese spoken, English subtitles
New digitized version courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa

For Jean Rouch, “this film reveals a new cinematographic language.” Reis and Cordeiro’s indisputable masterpiece exploded the meaning and possibilities of ethnographic cinema with its lyrical exploration of the still resonant myths and legends embodied in the people and landscapes of Portugal’s remote Trás-Os-Montes region. Evoking a kind of geologically Bergsonian time, with past and present layered upon one another, Trás-os-Montes interweaves evocative recreations of the ancient worlds and encounters with atavistic peasantry, following the pilgrim’s path traced by Reis and Cordeiro as they led their skeletal crew from village to village in search of the poetic essence of the Portuguese language and imagination. Painstakingly researched and shot over the course of one year, Reis and Cordeiro became intimate with every person included in their ambitious film, carefully selecting the different voices, faces, and gestures that would together provide an extraordinary composite, associative, and mythological response to the question of how to define a ‘national cinema’. (Harvard Film Archive)

“António Reis was a kind of visionary scientist. He looked at the world, at the stones, at nature, with the eyes of a sage and a poet. He found in them the magical side and the geological side… António and Margarida’s film was a masterpiece that brought them European fame. When the film premiered in Paris, Le Monde published a terrorist order signed by Joris Ivens and Jean Rouch, the two supreme masters of documentary cinema: ‘Allez voir, toutes affaires cessantes, Trás-os-Montes!’” (Paulo Rocha)


Hayachine no fu (Ode to Mt. Hayachine)
Sumiko Haneda, JP, 1982, 16mm, 186′

Japanese spoken, English subtitles
Print courtesy of Japan Foundation and Kanatasha

Shot in the foothills of Iwate Prefecture’s mystical Mt. Hayachine, the film records a year in the life of the area’s villages and villagers as they prepare for kagura performances, a dance-theater form with origins in religious rituals (now mainly performed for tourists). The film can be enjoyed and processed on many levels: a musicologist’s fascinating glimpse into kagura traditions and performances; an ethnographic portrait of rural life and village hierarchies; and most of all, a study of a key moment in Japanese society, when, even as Haneda filmed, rural lifestyles were exposed to modernity: paved roads, cars, and tv sets. Fittingly, the film’s true beauty comes not through its thesis, but in its attunement to the mountain’s own intricate rhythms. (Pacific Film Archive)

Sumiko Haneda is one of the most prominent documentary filmmakers from Japan and one of the few women working in non-fiction cinema there in the postwar period. Born in 1926, in Dalian, China (then Manchuria), in 1949 Haneda entered Iwanami Shoten, a publishing company producing educational and promotional films, where she would make films about the arts, education, and nature. In 1976 she directed her first independent film, Usuzumi no sakura (The Cherry Tree with Gray Blossoms, shown at the Courtisane festival 2021). She continued to direct over 80 short and long films and worked with Paulo Rocha on A Ilha dos Amores (1982).

“What is art for, what is fiction for, what position does the profilmic material occupy in a movie, what position does fiction occupy in art? What about the artist? What happens to the artists filmed? Rarely in the history of cinema have such essential questions been asked in such a direct, simple, generous, and intelligent way. I am a filmmaker, and until now I believed that I would be closer to the truth if I approached it through fiction, but now, after seeing Haneda’s
Ode to Mt. Hayachine, I realize that the idea is an arrogant one, we must take advantage of this opportunity, we must learn to see reality correctly to know the truth. Ode to Mt. Hayachine gave us the best example of this.” (Paulo Rocha)


Trois jours en Grèce (Three days in Greece)
Jean-Daniel Pollet, FR, 1991, DCP, 94′

Greek / French spoken, English subtitles
Restored version courtesy of La Traverse / English subtitles created by Courtisane

Jean-Daniel Pollet used to say that Greece was his “second home”. He encountered it in 1962, at the age of twenty-six, during the journey that preceded the making of Méditerranée (1963). On his return, he spent several months locked up in a cellar looking for the montage, which he found one Easter day. Never before had we seen such a thing: a series of images that return and are arranged in a fugue whose loops replay the circularity of the journey around the Middle Sea. Over the years, Pollet never stopped going back to Greece, filming some of his major films there. In 1991, Three days in Greece closed the series. The filming, three decades after the first trip, would be his last stay in the motherland. The last Greek film, it is also, in accordance with the deep law of Pollet’s cinema, a return to the origin, remake, reworking and relaunching of Méditerranée. Reinvention of its broken circularity, of its syncopated pace, the same vertigo danced above the abyss, but untied, unfolded, lightened or lifted by the grace of a new serenity… Pollet’s cinema, transported by the spirit of dance, reaches in Trois jours en Grèce the amplitude of a cosmogony. (Cyril Neyrat)

“In a classic film, Belmondo gets out of a car, enters a restaurant, goes to the phone. We follow him. It’s not editing, even if there are connections, several shots: we just follow him, from one shot to the next. The ellipsis — you cut a little bit of time and the viewer is supposed to understand what you cut — it’s still not really editing, you have to cut even more — you don’t know why you go from one shot to another. Then you get a certain logic, poetry… For me, this language comes naturally: there, long live the editing and the mechanism of dreams soaked in the unconscious!… long live the editing at night just before going to sleep. An enlightening montage, as with dreams, where there is no other logic than that of the unconscious. A logic which is that of happiness or that of suffering.” (Jean-Daniel Pollet)