Conversation with C.W. Winter & Anders Edström

Conversation between Stoffel Debuysere and C.W. Winter & Anders Edström, Courtisane festival 2021

Have you ever lived in a film? Ever had the feeling that cinema could, at least for a day, let you sway to the natural and human rhythms of a place unknown to you, get lost in its landscapes and sound fields, become familiar with its customs and traditions? If one recent film is worthy of such merit, it is undoubtedly The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (2020), the second film by C.W. Winter and Anders Edström, shot in a rural village of forty-seven inhabitants in the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. For eight hours, divided into five chapters, the film follows the daily groove and grind of the oldest family in the village, the Shiojiri-Shikatas, whose members have been farming the land for eleven generations in constant dialogue with their natural environment, and their circle of acquaintances. The protagonist is Tayoko, the grandmother of the family, who diligently discharges her mundane duties and faces change and loss throughout the shifting seasons. Anders Edström, a renowned Swedish photographer who has maintained close ties with the family for two decades, and C.W. Winter, a California-born CalArts alumnus attached to Oxford University, have distilled an unforgettable epic from this special place and the prosaic lives of its inhabitants, which, against all appearances, has been achieved through thoughtful construction and thorough staging.

The filmmakers previously applied a similar approach, which they themselves have described as a “topological reworking of the real into the fictional,” when making The Anchorage (2009), a portrait of Ulla Edström, Anders’ mother. The film is a reconstruction of three days in her life on a Swedish archipelago around Stockholm, during which isolation, serenity and routine are broken by the appearance of a mysterious hunter. Once more, plot is secondary to the sophisticated attention paid to the everyday exchanges between the human and the natural, the lived and the constructed. But whereas The Anchorage seeks rather a formal homogeneity, The Works and Days draws on a multitude of formal and sensory registers, with the dedication to sound timbre and composition particularly notable.

This preoccupation with sound is no accident: indeed, both creators share a love of the work of sound artists such as Alvin Lucier, Éliane Radigue or Akio Suzuki, which can be heard subtly in their most recent film. One of their heroes is guitar improviser-par-excellence Derek Bailey, of whom they made a portrait sketch in 2003, driven by a shared fascination with duration and “the idea of delivering with a restraint that emerges over extended time”– a description that also graces their own work. If Bailey’s spirit permeates the work of C.W. Winter and Anders Edström, it is almost certainly to be found in their non-idiomatic approach: a cinematic approach founded on discipline and dissensus, openness to contingency and investment over time. An approach that does not advocate for the overly determined and pre-ordained, but for cinema as a medium of shared experiences and lasting rewards.

Conversation with Kevin Jerome Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson and Stoffel Debuysere in conversation, 23 September 2020. In the context of the Kevin Jerome Everson program initiated by Courtisane, originally conceived for the Courtisane festival (curated by Stoffel Debuysere) and eventually presented at CINEMATEK, Brussels (1/10 – 26/11, 2020).

“My work must project and reveal the materials, procedure and process. I believe that this approach is not necessarily important to be noticeable to the viewer; it merely explains how I continue to approach the craft of art making. I firmly believe that the materials of the work must be noticeable. Procedure is the formal quality I am exploring with the work. The process is the execution of the formal quality. Once I have a grasp of procedure, the process becomes a discipline.”

Material, procedure and process: for the artist-filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson, these three words define the core of his artistic approach. It is with this approach, grounded in an early preference for minimalism and a background in sculpture and street photography, that he knows like no other how to evoke the poetics of the lives and experiences of working-class African-American communities. Rather than pursuing conventional realism, he elects to abstract everyday expressions into theatrical gestures and to choreograph prosaic situations as artificial compositions. Rather than seeking a classical narrative form, he tends, more and more, towards pure abstraction.

Living and teaching in Virginia but born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio, as the child of parents who came from Mississippi during the Great Migration, Everson makes films that are inextricably linked to the socio-economic conditions and histories of the Midwest and South of the United States. The place-specific conditions of work, migration, language and culture form the primary material from which he derives his subjects, whereby he pays a great deal of attention to the concrete gestures and customs that are brought about by those conditions. From Taylorian labour rituals to Spartan sports exercises, from the agility of rodeo riders to the dexterity of street magicians, Everson focuses pre-eminently on the performative qualities expressed by gestures, expressions and interactions that all too often go unnoticed and undervalued. The films not only suggest the unrelenting cycle of everyday life but also the beauty, dignity and skill that lie within it. “The people on screen are always smarter than the viewer,” he notes, “so the viewer has to catch up.”

Everson’s esteem for work and craftsmanship can also be seen in his own artistic practice and work ethic. In over twenty years, he has produced a continuously growing body of work of more than 170 short films and a dozen full-length films, which time and again stand out for their exceptional care for the specificities of place, movement, speech and form. A look at the life of black communities near Lake Erie is organized as a structural composition (Erie), a portrait of polling stations in Charlottesville, Virginia, can be experienced as a “flicker film” (Tonsler Park), a demonstration of consumer products manufactured in Mansfield, Ohio, takes on the allure of a Kerry James Marshall painting (Westinghouse). Constantly juggling between reality and artificiality, materiality and narrativity, Everson displays an ever-increasing skill in the art that was once aptly described by another craftsman as “sculpting in time”.

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.