Conversation with Eyal Sivan

Sivan

Conversation after a screening of Aus Liebe zum Volk (Eyal Sivan, Audrey Maurion, 2004) in the context of ‘1989: stories about Die Wende’, a program of screenings on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin wall 30 years ago, presented by CINEMATEK and Goethe-Institut Brussel.

Mr B has worked for twenty years as a public servant “in service of the people”. Out of love. An unconditional and absolute love for “his people”. A blind and destructive love. When the times change and the regime he adheres to is defeated, he becomes a social reject and life as he has always known it falls apart. Fired from his job, his “House”, Mr B. is left with nothing, no perspective, no future. He sits alone in this office which is no longer his. Once he walks out that door, he will never come back.

In February 1990, a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Ministry for State Security of the GDR is dismantled. This marks the end of the “Stasi”, the East German secret police. Major B. was a Stasi officer. Relieved of his duties, he delivers a detailed account of twenty years of his life and work within this institution.

Aus Liebe zum Volk is based on this extraordinary personal testimony, supported by never seen before archive footage. This is a film about surveillance and blindness, about faith and disillusion.

Conversation with Fronza Woods

Fronza

In the context of the program ‘Breaking Sacred Ground’, part of Courtisane Festival 2019 (3 – 7 APRIL 2019).

“I like films about real people. I am inspired by almost everything but especially by struggle. I am interested in people who take on a challenge, no matter how great or small, and come to terms with it. What inspires me are people who don’t sit on life’s rump but have the courage, energy, and audacity not only to grab it by the horns, but to steer it as well.”

Fronza Woods was born, raised and educated in Detroit. She began her professional life as a junior copywriter at a small Detroit advertising agency. In 1967, she moved to New York, where she continued to work in advertising. Then, at a time when television was opening up to people of colour, she went to work for ABC news, before learning to craft her own films at the Women’s Interart Center under the aegis of Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. Killing Time, an offbeat, wryly humorous look at the dilemma of a suicidal woman unable to find the right outfit to die in, examines the personal habits, socialization, and complexities of life that keep us going. When the film recently screened, Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker: “very simply, one of the best short films that I’ve ever seen,” comparing it favorably to Chantal Akerman’s first film Saute Ma Ville. In Fannie’s Film, a 65­-year­-old cleaning woman for a professional dancers’ exercise studio performs her job while telling us in voiceover about her life, hopes, goals, and feelings. The first in an unaccomplished series of portraits dedicated to “invisible women”, Fannie’s Film offers “a brutal, brilliant allegory for women and film” (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times). In addition to making her own films, Woods has worked as camerawoman on numerous independent films, was assistant sound engineer on John Sayles’ The Brother from Another Planet (1984) and a cast member in Yvonne Rainer’s The Man Who Envied Women (1985), and taught basic filmmaking at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she also created and curated an outreach film programme for the city’s black community. She now resides in the southwest of France.

(portrait (c) Michiel Devijver)

Courtisane 2019: Fronza Woods from Courtisane Festival on Vimeo.

Michel Khleifi : Fertile Memory / Mémoire Fertile

untitled

Publication compiled on the occasion of a retrospective film programme dedicated to Michel Khleifi, organized by CINEMATEK and Courtisane (Brussels, 26 September – 05 November 2019).

“What we see on the screen, or in any picture representing the solidity of Palestinians in the interior, is only that, a utopian image making possible a connection between Palestinian individuals and Palestinian land.”

It’s been almost four decades since Edward Said wrote this passage on Michel Khleifi’s first film, Sadh-dhakira al khisba (Fertile Memory, 1980), but it has lost none of its expressive force. For Said, the film managed, with astonishing precision and beauty, to call up the memory of his own mother and all those who have had their land seized by the Israeli state. In seeing the moment when one of the women portrayed sets foot on her own land that has been “repossessed” by Israelis, but that she stubbornly refuses to sell, Said was reminded of how separated he was from the experience of an interior that he could himself not inhabit. “At once inside and outside our world” was how he described the experience of exile, one that Michel Khleifi himself is not unfamiliar with. In September 1970, the month that would become infamous as “Black September”, Khleifi left the city of Nazareth in Galilee and found refuge in Brussels, where he devoted himself to the art of cinema. It was only a decade later that he returned to the place of his birth to shoot Fertile Memory, the first full-length film ever to be shot by a Palestinian filmmaker within the disputed West Bank “Green Line”.

Fertile Memory portrays the lives of two women bearing the weight of a double occupation: both the burden of Israeli domination and the restrictions of a patriarchal society. By showing the lived contra- dictions of life under occupation, Khleifi’s film marked an important shift in the history of Palestinian cinema, one that he would explore further in his subsequent work. In Urs al-Jalil (Wedding in Galilee, 1987), which was awarded the International Critics Prize at Cannes, the guests at a wedding are contorted between the modern military power of the Israeli occupant and the archaic patriarchal authority of the local government. In Nashidu alhajar (Canticle of the Stones, 1990), the love that is refound by a couple, since their forced separation during the war of 1967, is contrasted with the violence raging on the streets of Jerusalem during the first Intifada. In these and subsequent films, Khleifi, time and again, shifted the dividing lines between reality and fiction, between document and narration, in order to give form to the complexity of a world that is all too often reduced to commonplaces and newspeak.

The films by Michel Khleifi inevitably bear the traces of the turbulent times that Palestine-Israel has gone through in the past decades. Fertile Memory was finished just before the Lebanon war broke out; Wedding in Galilee was released shortly before the beginning of the First Intifada; Route 181 (2003), in which Khleifi and Eyal Sivan trace the demarcation line put forward by the UN in 1948, was made right after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, which led to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Today, violence is once again on the rise and a solution seems to be further away than ever. As the continuity of land increasingly disappears from the lives of Palestinians, and narratives claiming the inevitability and irreversibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gain ever more traction, could Michel Khleifi’s “utopian images” still have something to say?

Stoffel Debuysere

Michel Khleifi: Fertile Memory / Mémoire Fertile can be found on Issuu

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

grisebach

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.