Figures of Dissent: Želimir Žilnik

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27 November 2014 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. A KASK lecture in collaboration with Courtisane.

In the presence of Želimir Žilnik. In conversation with Stoffel Debuysere

Black Film (YU, 1971, 16mm, video, b&w, 14′)
Seven Hungarian Ballads (YU, 1978, 16mm, video, colour, 30′)
Inventory (Inventur – Metzstrasse 11) (YU, 1975, 16mm, video, colour, 9′)
Tito Among the Serbs for the Second Time (YU, 1994, video, colour, 43′)

“I do not hide my camera. I do not hide the fact from people I am shooting that I am making a film. On the contrary. I help them to recognise their own situation and to express their position to it as efficiently as they can. The hidden camera is a scam. It is all right to use in films on timid animals, but it has no place in films with people. “

Among the many anecdotes for which Želimir Žilnik is well known, there is one involving a discussion he had, sometime in the beginning of the 1970’s, with Ivo Vejvoda, then one of the leading Yugoslav diplomats and communist intellectuals. Vejvoda told Žilnik that it was unfortunate that his films focused so much on the “lumpenproleteriat”, which he called “a regressive force without class consciousness”. This remark was typical for the criticism accusing Žilnik of painting a “black” picture of the Yugoslav society which was ostensibly flourishing in the wake of the political and economic reforms of the 1960’s, an accusation to which he bluntly responded by making a film which he literally titled Black Film (1971). Žilnik picked up six homeless people from the street and brought them into his home, not only to share the warmth of his middleclass apartment, but also to actively participate in making a film about their situation. Black Film stands as the quintessential example of Žilnik’s work, which tends to focus on the lives of vagabonds, swindlers, tinkers, beggars and bohemians, those who were in the Marxist tradition dismissively referred to as the ‘lumpenproletariat’, generally depicted as an inert mass of marginal and reactionary vulgars, an unredeemed and unregenerate underclass which didn’t play any structural role in the construction of socialism. This blackness then, which was so characteristic of the “black wave” cinema of the time, can be associated with the indication of this uneasy contradiction between those who were considered as true proletarians and their degenerate close cousins, all of which were allegedly unable to grasp the political reality of their own situation. It can also be related to the unveiling of the notorious gap between the utopian promise of knowledge and salvation on one hand and the reality of poverty and inequality on the other. But the blackness can just as well be implicated on cinema itself, this art form which used to claim to have the power to change social reality, but in the end has to agree that it can offer nothing but a surface of percepts and affects for us to engage with. “They left us our freedom”, Žilnik wrote in a text accompanying a screening of the film, “we were liberated, but ineffective”. In spite of this self-reflexive critique, Žilnik stubbornly persevered in making films, even up to this day. The political landscape might have changed, but not the filmmaker’s attitude, which remains loyal to the uncovering of the difficult legacy of socialism and the predicaments of those who were once called lumpen, who are today said to be included but hardly belonging.

On 26 November, Želimir Žilnik will also present some of his work at Cinema Nova, Brussels.

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

DISSENT ! Loredana Bianconi

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16 October 2014 19:00, Cinematek Brussels, in collaboration with Le P’tit Ciné. Loredana Bianconi in conversation with Stoffel Debuysere, preceded by a screening of Devenir (2004, video, color, French spoken, English subs, 80’)

“Je vais surtout vers les sujets muets – ou réduits au silence – de l’histoire. J’essaye d’écouter sans juger et de comprendre. Je me rends ouverte et disponible à la parole de l’autre pour alerter la mémoire, provoquer des réactions, des réflexions. C’est ma démarche militante.”

So many horizons have been closed down, so many dreams are being denied. In this era of consensus, with its effacing of public space and political inventiveness, the end of class struggle might be loudly trumpeted, but the gravediggers are still here, in the grip of austerity and redundancy, in the anonymity and invisibility of suburban sweatshops and overcrowded slums. They are, it is said, those left behind by progression and expansion, those who have been unable to pick the fruits of growth that have been offered by the dominant order, those who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in its crisis and find themselves having to pay for its cure. And the only remedy available, it is said, is an extension of what is on offer, that which has come to feel so natural that we are unable to imagine something different. The realpoliitk of the everyday no longer holds a place for erratic digressions or foolish utopias, which are anyway always, so history has ostensibly taught us, bound to collapse into cruel nightmares. By all appearances, “change” now means “adapt”, just like “revolt” means “consume”. Closed horizons, tilted dreams: this is the emotional landscape that is evoked in Devenir, a landscape alive with memories of hope and belonging that are put to the test of time, and capacities of resolve and commitment that are put to the test of experience. Just like in Do You Remember Revolution (1997, at show 18/10), a portrait of four former members of the Italian Red Brigades, Loredana Bianconi tries to re-engage with questions of rebellion and solidarity, in search of intensities and sensibilities that might still resonate today. How to go beyond the melancholic musings of lost futures and the nihilistic tendencies of our present? In Devenir, the account of a 45 year old woman looking for work tunes in to the state of predicament that is our own, the story of one opens out over the story of many, the intimate gives on to the political. What is proposed is not a sociological treatise nor a political pamphlet, but a sensible world that is reminiscent of all the struggles of everyday living, those countless “small epics” that bloom in the shade of great historical events, but at the same time can never be fully separated from them. And what is incited is not a sentiment of defeat, but rather a call for courage for all those who, like Bertold Brecht’s ‘Pirate Jenny’ whose words close the film, might not know where they are heading, but at least know they can’t stay in place.

In this Dissent! session we will discuss the work of Loredana Bianconi and more particularly the search to negotiate the tension between images that speak and words that make them speak, which is the subject of the film series ‘Donner de la voix (off)’ (16.10 – 30.11), an initiative of Le P’tit Ciné. Loredana Bianconi’s Do You Remember Revolution will be shown at Rideau de Bruxelles on 18 October, in connection with the premiere of the performance piece L’Embrasement.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

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About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

Figures of Dissent: Yoshishige Yoshida

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9 October 2014 20:30, KASKcinema, Gent. In collaboration with Courtisane.

Yoshishige Yoshida
Eros + Massacre

JP, 1969, 35mm, b/w, Japanese spoken, French subtitles, 167’

“In Japan politics has not yet become scientific: it is still too impregnated by humanism. For this reason, it is quite easy for a Japanese to deal with sex within politics, or vice versa: what matters to us is the dynamic aspect of this relationship. That is, it is important for us that one should be able to grasp politics in its raw state, rather than as a science.”

In 1970 an article in Cahiers du Cinéma stated: “If we take Eros + Massacre to be an unequivocally political film, it is because it is not satisfied with the pure and simple delivery of a ‘political message’.” According to these critics, who tried in their own way to come to terms with the upheavals of that time, it was hardly enough for a film to take a position and transmit a political discourse to make it in itself “political”. What was at stake was the politics of form: how to make a film, in its materiality, part of the struggle, so that the viewer is compelled to engage with it? The semiotico-marxist theories that prompted this view on Eros + Massacre may since long have lost their juice, but the film surely hasn’t. On the contrary, in light of the painstaking sterility that seems to have tainted the contemporary landscape of mainstream cinema, its energy and audacity is bound to break some heads. Over the course of its three hours (the long version is even 200′), Yoshida’s film shatters all the barriers between past and present, fact and fiction, theory and practice, coalescing these different dimensions into a radical inquiry of the political and sexual neuroses of late 1960’s Japan. The title of the film gives away an important critical source of inspiration for the film: it alludes to Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, an attempted synthesis of Marx and Freud which has exerted a great impact on anti-authoritarian movements. Yoshida reflects on the fractured mindset of his generation by looking into the past, more specifically the era of the Russian revolution, a time when the political situation in Japan was still largely un-settled, long before the collapse of the post-war leftist movements. The film intertwines the historical account of Sakae Osugi, an anarchist and Free Love-espouser, with the fictional tale of a handful of young students who themselves also try to reconcile love, erotism and emancipation as insurrectionary forces. The juxtaposition of tragic past and urgent present suggests how political revolt might be driven by a deeper, enigmatic pattern forged by the radical imagination and desire shared by different generations of young revolutionaries.

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

Interview with Yoshishige Yoshida

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By Pascal Bonitzer and Michel Delahaye

Originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma nr. 224, October 1970. Translated by Felix Gonzalez.
‘Eros + Massacre’ will be screened on 9 October 2014 in KASKcinema, Gent, as part of the ‘Figures of Dissent’ series.

YOSHISHIGE YOSHIDA: After leaving university in 1955, I started immediately at Shochiku as an assistant director. At this time I wasn’t particularly set on making films, but as a literature student, I wasn’t happy with the stuffy academic milieu, and for this reason I left and turned to cinema. When I entered Shochiku, Oshima had already been there a year. For another five years, Oshima, myself, and the rest of the younger generation at the studio wrote scripts, and at the same time – outside the studio, of course – contributed to a journal, “Film Criticism,” of which Oshima was editor-in-chief. At this time Japanese cinema, above all that of the major studios, was a predominantly industrial, commercial cinema, against which we fought violently. By 1960 Japanese cinema was in crisis, mainly due to television. And it was because of this crisis that Shochiku decided to give the younger directors a chance. The first was Oshima, I was next. It was like that, almost by accident, that I was able to make my first feature, which I titled Rokudenashi (Good-for-Nothing, Bons à rien).

When I reflect upon these last ten years, I tend to think in terms of three distinct periods. During the first, I made three features in a row, Rokudenashi, Chi wa kawaiteru (Blood is Dry, Le sang est sec), and Amai yoru no hate (Bitter End of a Sweet Night, Au bout de la nuit douce), all three circa 1960-61. And due to the fact that I had a certain degree of freedom, these three films shared a clearly political aspect. But from that moment, Shochiku began to consider us quite dangerous, and stopped allowing us to make our own projects. Oshima left Shochiku, and I spent a year there without being able to make a film.

Thinking back on it, if I had to define Japanese cinema prior to our generation – in other words, the cinema of Kurosawa and Kinoshita – I would say that these were films of postwar humanism. That is to say, in all of these films, man is obliged to approach another as his “fellow man,” and there was always an infinite faith in “mankind,” which was capable of anything. This was Japanese humanism – meaning that which was imported by the Americans. Meanwhile, around 1950 we had the Korean War, which forced the Japanese to realize that American democracy – or the Japanese democracy imported from America – wasn’t democracy at all. From that moment on, Japanese became aware of the need to think about everything in terms of man in such-and-such a situation. It is in this sense that, from 1955 on, Japanese in general – and we most of all – began to pursue a political stance that was antihumanist.

My “second period” began in the spring of 1962 with my fourth feature, Akitsu onsen (Akitsu Springs, L’Histoire d’Akitsu). This is a love story between a man and a woman taking place over seventeen years following the war. The success of this film allowed me to film Arashi o yobu juhachi-nin (Eighteen who cause a storm, Dix-huit jeunes à l’appel de l’orage), where I showed young workers exploited by society and unable to organize: I wanted to prove that humanism has nothing to do with the plight of the working class. Shochiku withdrew it after four days. In my next film, Nihon dasshutsu (Escape from Japan, Evasion du Japon), the last reel was supposed to show a young man going mad; Shochiku withdrew it from distribution in theaters. I knew at this moment that I could not in any way continue working for Shochiku.

Thus I left there in 1964. Thanks to a collaboration with a newspaper, I was able to make, independently of the five big studios, a film called Mizu de kakareta monogatari (A Story written with Water, L’Histoire écrit sur l’eau). In 1966 I started my own independent production company, Gendai Eiga Sha (Society of Contemporary Cinema). There I made Onna no mizuumi (Woman of the Lake [sic], Le Lac de la femme), Joen (The Affair, La Flamme ardente), Honô to onna (Flame and Women, La Flamme et la femme), Juhyo no yoromeki (Affair in the snow, La Nuit du verglas), and Saraba natsu no hikari (Farewell to the Summer Light, Adieu de la lumière d’été). Despite being independently made, all these films were nonetheless distributed by the five big studios. In comparison to the earlier periods, now I had more freedom in choosing the subject matter for my films. For this reason I was able to hone in on the theme of man’s concrete situation, and specifically, I wanted to interrogate his subconscious. Thus, sex. It was in this way that I made Eros plus Massacre, the first film for which I did not secure a distributor in advance – in fact, I still have not found one in Japan. In exchange, I had the most complete freedom.

CAHIERS: You spoke of the humanism of the post-war period and mentioned Kurosawa. We would love to have your opinion of someone else of the preceding generation, namely Mizoguchi.

YOSHIDA: First of all, Mizoguchi is a filmmaker who made films before the war, during the war, and after the war, whereas Kurosawa began during the war. In fact, Mizoguchi began working in cinema at the very start of the Showa era, that is to say, around 1925, in other words, before the period of Japanese militarism. For this reason, he had the liberty to create a “cinéma d’auteur.” There is a continuity in Mizoguchi’s cinema, which one could summarize with the formula “popular cinema.” But thanks to the very ambiguity of such a formulation, he was able to continue to film freely even after the war.

Kurosawa, on the other hand, made his first feature, Sanshiro Sugata, during the war, at the time when Japanese cinema was in the grip of the militarist state – something that, in my opinion, could have influenced even his postwar films. The great theme of Kurosawa’s films is stoicism, a theme to which he was led by militarism and one that he carried over into his postwar films, something we criticized in them during the fifties.

Let me clarify: during the war, the Japanese lived within a system shaped like a pyramid, in which everyone suffered the same fate. At the top of this pyramid was the Emperor, then the state, the family, and finally death – this was for all Japanese. In Kurosawa’s films there is always, as you well know, the conflict between good and evil, inherited from Dostoievsky, for whom he had a great admiration. And if he did nothing but repeat this theme in all his films, it was because in them existed only a space that was closed, and lacking the dimension of time – there was no future, nothing to look forward to. This was the limitation of postwar humanism.

CAHIERS: What sort of time exists in Eros plus Massacre?

YOSHIDA: One could say that in this film there are two times, chronologically speaking: ours and that of fifty years ago – Osugi’s time. In this sense one could say that it deals with the problem of time; but for me what’s important is the present. Reflecting on the present is also reflecting on the future: it is at the same time wanting to change the present and seizing a hold of that which will become the future. This is the subject of the film, and not Osugi as a historical character per se. The fundamental theme is: how to change the world, and what is it that needs to be changed? Reflecting on the present situation through the medium of an era already past, I came to believe that Osugi’s problems continue to be ours.

Osugi is very well known in Japan – one could say almost legendary: he is someone who spoke of free love. He was assassinated in 1923 by an official of the state, massacred by the power of the state. This is what all Japanese historians believe; but this historical estimation only enlightens the past, and not the future. In making this film, I wanted to transform the legend of Osugi by means of the imaginary. Sure enough, Osugi was oppressed by the power of the state in his political activities. But most of all, he spoke of free love, which has the power to destroy the monogamous structure, then the family, and finally the state. And it was this very escalation that the state could not allow. It was because of this crime of the imaginary (or “imaginary crime”) that the state massacred Osugi. Osugi was someone who envisioned a future.

CAHIERS: It seems that the imaginary gives the real time of the film: not either of the times that you spoke of, but a third time, namely, the dialogue between the past, the present, and the future.

YOSHIDA: Regarding this subject, I would like to remind you of the murder attempt in the second part of the film – the knife penetrating Osugi’s neck, filmed in a realistic manner: this is the plain and simple representation of the narrative. In filming this attempt a second time, my intention was to destroy this narrative, to deform the actual event, in order to enter into Osugi: I thought that maybe Osugi preferred to be killed –in contrast to what the first version of the attempt showed. It comes right after he starts to consider the destruction of the revolution he desired; it was after this destruction that he began to speak of free love, in other words, of an imaginary crime. In this version of the attempt, then, it should not come about because of jealousy, not due to a psychological element, but from a political cause. Thus I had Osugi say: “Revolution is only the renunciation of the self,” or “in love and terror, there is ecstasy.”

In having Osugi say this, I wanted the spectator to feel the absence of revolution in the present situation. For the third version of the attempt, I tried to show the contrary view, namely Noe, the attacker. In opposition to Kurosawa, it is always the renunciation of the self that is important for me: it is only this way that communication with Noe and Itsuko is possible, and only by means of it that one is able to think the future.

CAHIERS: How do you situate your film in relation to the hero, who is an anarchist, and in relation to anarchism in general?

YOSHIDA: Osugi’s era is that of the Russian revolution, and thus communism was not yet well established internationally. I’m not completely in agreement with the internationalist bent of communism. One of the characters in the film visited Russia in 1923, and the political situation in Japan was at that time unsettled: social revolution had not yet taken on any shape. It was because of the ambiguity of this period that I became so interested by Osugi’s anarchism.

The Japan of today, everyone knows its situation: there are conservatives and on the other side communists, with the socialists in between; this society is undergoing a period of stabilization, but this is being contested by anarchist students, the Zengakuren. It is for this reason that I chose to deal with Osugi’s era, one where society had not yet become stable.

CAHIERS: As for the problem of free love, what correspondence does the film establish between, on the one hand, the Osugi – Noe and Osugi – Itsuko relationships, and on the other, those of contemporary couples?

YOSHIDA: First of all, when it comes to the Osugi – Itsuko relationship, it was what one could consider the freest imaginable, given the social conditions. Osugi never thinks of the possession of wealth – only of its distribution; and in the film, he imposes on Itsuko his “three conditions”: live separately, and maintain economic independence and sexual liberty between them. This is a triple negation: of monogamy, of the economic system, and of the sexual structure as well. The result is the scene in the teahouse: Itsuko’s attempt. Nevertheless I have a lot of sympathy for the life of Osugi and Itsuko, for their “social wound.”

As for Osugi and Noe, it was in order to deal with their relationship that I introduced the imaginary. The principle is the same as for the third attempt: a perpetual effort to go beyond the other, in order to arrive at a true freedom; as in the third attempt, here is expressed that eternal movement, the intent to exceed each other.

As for contemporary couples, I have already shown free love as a form that exists in the present. In setting up a parallel with Osugi, I suggest that free love will certainly come to act against the social structure. Thus: from love to politics. It is obviously this which the title signifies: that if a way of thinking like Osugi’s exists within free love, massacre will follow. Free love is an eternal movement that seeks out total freedom. What I take to be the most important is Osugi’s dynamism, which is evident during the third attempt – in other words, the dynamic of the negation of the self, and thus one which is directed toward the future.

CAHIERS: I would like to ask a more specific question: the contemporary couple which does not succeed at lovemaking, should it place itself in very specific conditions, create a certain type of relationship, in order to get there? I can’t help but think of a situation very similar to that in Oshima’s Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, where it is blood that plays the role that fire has in your film.

YOSHIDA: I don’t know what Oshima would say, but as for me, I believe that these two elements have the following meaning: living in Japan, this is already absurd, and fire and blood are reflections of this absurdity, in as much as they are “abnormal” elements. In this absurd situation, one is obliged to change, and one must grasp this transformation; in grasping it, one will be able to understand the social situation itself. Let me explain by going back to the great “humanist” filmmakers: they always took man to be “authentic” regardless of his situation, of his predicament. We, on the contrary, believe that even if man is not “authentic,” it is necessary to reflect upon him, and in this way to arrive at his condition.

CAHIERS: It would seem as if young Japanese filmmakers all deal with the same theme: Eros and Politics. Do you think that this is a general trait of the new Japanese cinema?

YOSHIDA: I don’t believe that one can speak of a “school” or of a “group” of filmmakers; I don’t think that here you can find the link among the young Japanese directors. But maybe this is the way it appears from your perspective in France. In Japan politics has not yet become scientific: it is still too impregnated by humanism. For this reason, it is quite easy for a Japanese to deal with sex within politics, or vice versa: what matters to us is the dynamic aspect of this relationship. That is, it is important for us that one should be able to grasp politics in its raw state, rather than as a science. I think one can find similar tendencies in Brazilian cinema, or in Buñuel, where politics is no longer dealt with in a scientific fashion. [This contrast is elucidated further at the very end of the interview – Trans.]

There is another factor, which is the hold that the big five studios continue to exert over Japanese cinema. They are in transition, due to the aforementioned crisis; but the films they produce continue to be dominated by a “Japanese ethos.” Of course, as independent filmmakers we make films against this moral code; and for this, the most effective themes are sex and politics.

I’d like to add one very important thing: in regards to the very first wave of independent productions, right after the war, they tended to reflect the politics of the Communist Party – in other words, these were purely ideological films. Thus one had not yet dealt with politics in the sense in which we intend.

CAHIERS: And Mizoguchi’s films, don’t you think that they deal directly with politics?

YOSHIDA: Mizoguchi is considered as a “réaliste à la japonaise,” a realist who depicts things such as they are. This is of course a very vague definition, which I will try to make clear by means of an example: if one wants to speak of the past, one cannot help but interpret it from the point of view of the present. The directors of Mizoguchi’s and Kurosawa’s generation were always at risk of falling into the trap of humanism, a trap Mizoguchi knew well. For example, he deals often, in his films, with prostitutes. For us, we considered them to be “alienated” by society, but Mizoguchi preferred at the same time to talk of the pleasure that such a woman might experience, and in this he came to the very brink of the problem. The best of Mizoguchi’s works from this perspective is The Sisters of the Gion (the 1936 version) – this is an absolutely anti-humanist film.

CAHIERS: But for example, in The 47 Ronin, doesn’t Mizoguchi reject the specific political meaning that would have been attached to the story at this time [i.e. this film was made during the war – Trans.], in order to give it a completely different one?

YOSHIDA: It’s a long time since I saw this film, and I only have a vague memory of it. Nevertheless, I think that your point is well taken: Mizoguchi is a filmmaker who appears to have turned his back on political issues, whereas in reality he wanted to go beyond them. According to him, politics is only one of the elements that make up a particular period, and what he sought was to get to the very bottom of the situation. But our situation is more complex than that of his time; even if one wanted to take the same attitude, it wouldn’t be possible to get to the bottom of things. In his time there was a very clear distinction between oppressor and oppressed, between power and the people. Thus, Mizoguchi’s mode of realism was completely effective. He was perfect, but this wouldn’t be the case for our time.

CAHIERS: And Mizoguchi’s final films, such as New Tales of the Taira Clan – don’t you think that they are more expressly, more openly political?

YOSHIDA: When it comes to this film, as with many others by Mizoguchi, the reaction of Japanese and French viewers has been different: perhaps your judgment is better due to your greater cultural distance. Nevertheless, I find that – in contrast to Ugetsu and Street of Shame, which are quite beautiful – Mizoguchi’s two color films (The Empress Yang-Kwei-Fei and New Tales of the Taira Clan) are “costume-plays.” It seemed to me that in those films Mizoguchi lost his dynamism, his “transparent” realism. (He found his energy again, however, with Street of Shame.) Maybe the evolution of his films corresponded to the evolution of the situation in Japan.

I’d like to add something here, in order to draw sharper distinctions among the three best-known filmmakers of the older generation, Mizoguchi, Ozu, and Kurosawa. Specifically, in order to try to define their various successes as “realists.” Ozu, from the start, dealt in his films with the condition of the Japanese family, of the Japanese citizen. Right after the war, the family-system was in crisis. Japanese had a profound attachment to the family, and Ozu’s films, which depicted a vanishing family life, were very effective, they were profoundly realist. But once peace was established, he felt obliged to deal with young people who leave their families, and all of these young characters were very banal: this is how he lost his realism. I’ve already spoken of Kurosawa, of his stoicism. His realism could easily accommodate itself with the intentions of the Japanese establishment and power structure [du Pouvoir au Japon]; the stoic man is precisely what this power establishment was seeking. In this sense, his films are quite dangerous.

As for Mizoguchi, his starting point was always “pathos” – an abstract emotion – in order to arrive at the perfection of his realism. Mizoguchi’s realism is perhaps the one that might outlast the other two. It appears not to have any interest in the current social situation, and instead concerns itself stubbornly with individual passions. But behind this appearance, one might be able to detect a political critique of society.

CAHIERS: How many new independent production companies exist? And who makes films for them?

YOSHIDA: It’s quite difficult to answer. There are two main tendencies in independent Japanese cinema. There are some, such as Imamura, Oshima, and I, who came out of the big five studios. These are people who have lived the history of Japanese cinema, so to speak, and who only now have figured out what sorts of films are necessary – it is only now that we have begun making the films that we need to make. Then there are other independent filmmakers who have never had any type of relationship with the big five: they are making films based on their own cultural situation. I can’t characterize these filmmakers for you, since they have quite different backgrounds: they came out of documentary production, television, advertising, or militant cinema. Among them one could mention Teshigahara, who started in documentaries, as did Hani or Shinsuke Ogawa, who came out of the student movement.

One should also make note of those filmmakers involved in what one might call “eroduction.” While the big five studios have almost a complete monopoly in distribution, there are several theaters which program independent films such as those of Oshima, Imamura, or myself, and a few others which specialize in erotic films. One might perhaps find a similar situation in France. Among the filmmakers who produce such “erotic” films, some are quite interesting. They are conditioned by demand and other commercial considerations, to be sure, but a few are able to take advantage of these restrictions to make the sort of films that they want. It’s a little like homeopathy; sometimes the cure is worse than the affliction. Two I could mention are Koji Wakamatsu (whose Six Wives of Ch’ing you’ve seen here) and Masao Adachi.

CAHIERS: You’ve mentioned a few names we know more or less well, but you haven’t said anything of Masumura: where would you place him?

YOSHIDA: I was quite in accord with Masumura. When we began to work for the big five studios, that wasn’t the revolution; rather, during the two decades that followed the war, a revolution had taken place within those companies. Masumura was the most distinguished of our group, when around 1960 we formed what is now called the “Japanese new wave.” As you know, he studied in Rome and started out at Daiei, at first as assistant to Mizoguchi, among others, and later as director. Perhaps it was due to Mizoguchi’s influence that Masumura was able to transplant an abstract, European pathos to a Japanese context. The genre-type films he made for the big studios demonstrated his abstract and quite flexible touch. These films astonished us: it delighted me to see how he managed to find an angle, a way to shoot such things within the domain of the big studios. He was the first one to prove to us that the system wasn’t all-powerful, and that one could successfully go against it.

At the present time, Masumura’s position inside Daiei is quite isolated. It isn’t a healthy situation in which to make films; it is quite abnormal and perhaps this is why his films have taken on an extremely sadistic or masochistic aspect. A filmmaker close to Masumura is [Kô] Nakahira, director of Crazed Fruit. In the critical journal we edited with Oshima, we called them “modernists”: people who wanted to reform things. But as the reforms that they sought have not taken place, they have resorted to shooting very dull subjects, where all that remains is technique.

CAHIERS: Why do you love Brazilian films, and those of Buñuel?

YOSHIDA: I didn’t exactly use the word “love.” I only mentioned them in order to explain the difference between Japanese and “European” cinema. When Japanese experience something irrational or absurd, they tend to accept it, whereas the “European” method is to try to analyze it and ultimately arrive at an explanation. Japanese start out by accepting, by swallowing, whatever leads to a certain result, and they then try to get beyond it. (Les Japonais commencent à avaler, à accepter, ce qui donne un certain résultat, et ils essaient de dépasser ce résultat.)

Obviously I’ve put this in a very vague and impressionistic way, but I believe that the fundamental difference between Japan and the West is there. For example, when it comes to the relationship between sex and death, in Oshima’s films as well as mine, one often mentions the name of Georges Bataille, but this is only an approximation…

The Fire Next Time documentation

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The Fire Next Time
Afterlives of the militant image

3-4 April 2014. KASKcinema, KIOSK & Minard, Gent, Belgium

There was a time when cinema was believed to make a difference, to be able to act as a weapon in struggle, to operate as a realm of discord. The so-called ‘militant cinema’ was not only considered as a tool to bear witness but also to intervene in the various political upheavals and liberation movements that shook the world in the 1960s and ‘70s. What remains of this unassailable alliance between cinema and politics? After the flames had died down, all that seemed to be left was a wreckage of broken promises and shattered horizons. Today it feels like we have been living through a long period of disappointment and disorientation, while the sense of something lacking or failing is spreading steadily. An overwhelming melancholy seems to have taken hold of our lives, as if we can only experience our time as the ‘end times’, when the confidence in politics is as brittle as our trust in images. Perhaps that is why, for those who came after, there is a growing tendency to look back at an era when there was still something to fight for, and images were still something to fight with. Can a re-imagining of old utopian futures shed a new light on our perceived dead-end present, in view of unexpected horizons? Can an understanding of past dreams and illusions lead to reinvigorated notions of responsibility, commitment and resistance? Can a dialogue with the period in question help us to find the very principles and narratives capable of remedying its impasses? And how can this questioning help us to think about how cinema, unsure of its own politics, can be ‘political’ today? In light of a potential rebirth of politics, would it still be possible for the art of cinema to appeal to the art of the impossible?

In the framework of the research project ‘Figures of Dissent’ (KASK/HoGent) and the EU project ‘The Uses of Art’ (confederation L’Internationale), in conjunction with ‘L’œil se noie’, an exhibition of work by Eric Baudelaire and Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc (KIOSK, 05/04 – 15/06/2014) and the Courtisane Festival (02-06/2014). With the support of the research groups S:PAM & PEPPER (UGent), art centre Vooruit, BAM institute for visual, audiovisual and media art, Eye on Palestine, Embassies of France & Mexico.

Research Tumblr Page: fire-next-time.tumblr.com

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THURSDAY 3 APRIL
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Introduction
Stoffel Debuysere

I just wanted to say a few words about ‘The Fire Next Time’ and some of the challenges we would like to engage with in the coming days. It has become clear for all of us that in the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in notions and practices of miltancy, and more particular of what is called “militant cinema”, which generally indicates a pretty heterogeneous landscape of film making and thinking that accompanied the various struggles for emancipation and liberation in the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s. It is a tendency you can see in the programs of so many festivals and cinema venues nowadays, but also in the spaces of contemporary art, where many artists (or curators) attempt to reboot or revisit some of the issues and tensions, presences and absences that characterized this landscape.

There are many possible as to why this revalidation is happing right now. Perhaps, as people like Alain Badiou have suggested, in times of disquiet, riots and uprisings such as ours, these models of thought and action can serve as potential source of inspiration, as some kind of historical poems that can give us new courage. Perhaps they can allow us to react now that we are, as we are told over and over again, in the grip of despair, after the waning of so many dreams and desires that framed and animated the past politics of emancipation, including its anti-colonial and socialist forms. And then perhaps, now that it seems that there are no more determined horizons or programs to guide the current struggles, this looking back might help us to start trusting in the actions we might take in the here and now.

So on one hand there is the question of our current relationship to these paradigms of militancy, as echoes from a certain era, and the affiliated assumptions in regards to the relation between art and life, reality and appearance, theory and practice. There is the question of how to look at these film work from where we are now, but on the other hand it might be interesting to consider how these films look back at us too, how these films are not only historical objects from a faded past, but how they are still alive somehow, alive with sensation, affect, thought, and that they can perhaps, ultimately, make us feel alive in return.

So this program of interventions and screenings might provide an opportunity to think about the representation of politics, and also how some ideas and words that once demarcated the battlegrounds – such as revolution, proletariat, commitment – can be released from their sediment and given back their untimely charge, but it can also be a chance to rethink the politics of representation, the links between intention and outcome, between what is represented and the form that it has been given, and how this form could be appropriated by each and every one of us.

And then, it seems to me that as much as this broad landscape of militant cinema can be used as an exemplary terrain on which to think through aspects of the contemporary aporia of the crisis of politics, it can also be used as a stimulus to counter the melancholia that characterizes a lot of the critical thinking of the past decades – including the film critical thinking. These, for me, briefly, are some of the stakes and the challenges of these coming two days, and I hope that we will be able to, if not provide satisfactory answers, at least probe a few pertinent questions.

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Militant Cinema: from Third Worldism to Neoliberal Sensible Politics
Irmgard Emmelhainz

Jean-Luc Godard’s Ici et ailleurs (1969-1974) as well as Chris Marker’s Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977) crystallize the histories of militant engagement and political filmmaking in the 1960s, a time in which Marxism was a vehicle for cultural as well as actual revolution here and elsewhere. From both films, lessons about this era of militantism can be drawn. Moreover, they announce a turn in the 1970s and 1980s toward minority politics (tied to de-colonization struggles) and humanitarization –which implies an ethical, as opposed to political relationship to the elsewhere, as well as the utopia of globalization. Bearing this in mind, Irmgard Emmelhainz will discuss the changes in the meaning of ‘politicization’ and political work from the 1960s from what is known today as ‘Sensible Politics’: a form of politicization active at the level of encoding unstable political acts in medial forms. Taking up Jean-Luc Godard’s plea for texts and poetry (inspired by Aristotle’s and Hannah Arendt’s understanding of political action as speech), in his film Notre musique, she will argue that most of the current politicized images are compensatory devices to the ravages caused by neoliberal reforms implemented worldwide in the past two decades.

Irmgard Emmelhainz is an independent writer and researcher based in Mexico City. In 2012, she published a collection of essays about art, culture, cinema and geopolitics: Alotropías en la trinchera evanescente: estética y geopolítica en la era de la guerra total (BUAP). Her work about cinema, the Palestine Question, art, culture and neoliberalism has been translated to French, English, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Serbian. She is currently co-editing an issue dedicated to Mexico City of Scapegoat Journal, and teaching a course at the Esmeralda National School of Engraving and Painting in Mexico City.

Preceded by a screening of
Jean-Luc Godard & Anne-Marie Miéville,Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere) (FR, 1976)
Hito Steyerl, November (DE, 2004)
Guillermo Gomez-Pena, A Declaration of Poetic Disobediance (US, 2005)

THE FIRE NEXT TIME – Militant Cinema from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Landscape/Media – an Investigation into the Revolutionary Horizon, Reloaded
Sabu Kohso & Go Hirasawa

The development of ‘Landscape Cinema’ and ‘Landscape Theory’ took place during the short period between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Japan, while the ‘60s movements were declining and the militant line of guerrilla warfare was rising. It embodied a collective effort to grasp a new horizon of revolutionary struggle and the possible location of its agency in the form of film productions and critical discourses. Initiated by an enigmatic film, AKA: Serial Killer (1969), the cinema/theory sought to confront ‘landscape’ as the main terrain for the power operation, seen by the gaze of a migrant worker. Then Red Army/PFLP – Declaration of World War (1971) was produced, embodying the second stage of the development in which tactical uses of reportage were juxtaposed over the everyday landscape of Palestine guerrillas. Although the film was produced in collaboration with Japan Red Army, it involves multiple messages including critical reflections on a broad orientation of Japan’s radical left. Screening the latter film, Hirasawa and Kohso seek to decode the problematic complexity of the cinema/movement, that tackles the mechanism of capture by landscape/media and the resistance therein, in order to approach the apocalyptic feature of planetary crises today.

Sabu Kohso is a writer and translator. Living in New York since 1980, he has published several books in Japan and Korea about urban space, radical politics, and the philosophy of anarchism, and has translated books by theorists such as David Graeber, John Holloway, Kojin Karatani and Arata Isozaki. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, he co-edited the website jfissures.org, and has written several articles on the problematic of post-nuclear disaster society in English.

Go Hirasawa is a researcher at Meiji-Gakuin University working on underground and experimental films and avant-garde art movements in 1960s and ’70s Japan. His publications include Cultural Theories: 1968 (Japan, 2010), Koji Wakamatsu: Cinéaste de la Révolte (France, 2010), and Masao Adachi: Le bus de la révolution passera bientot près de chez toi ( France, 2012). He has organized several film programs on Japanese Underground Cinema.

Preceded by a screening of
Masao Adachi & Koji Wakamatsu, Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen (The Red Army / PFLP: Declaration of World War) (JP/ Palestine, 1971)

THE FIRE NEXT TIME — Landscape/Media – an Investigation into the Revolutionary Horizon, Reloaded Sabu Kohso & Go Hirasawa from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Destroy Yourselves as Our Bosses
Evan Calder Williams & Victoria Brooks

The connected talks of Evan Calder Williams and Victoria Brooks develop a feminist history of, and approach to, militant cinema from 1973 to 1983. In particular, they focus on critiques, both filmed and written, of how even allegedly radical movements reproduced a hierarchy of “legitimate” concerns that consistently framed the issues and modes of struggle posed by women as secondary to the cause at hand. This sidelining and its proprietary relation to politics has a history inextricable from labor movements themselves, but it becomes particularly visible with how practices of cinema directly engaged in social struggles negotiate what is literally foregrounded, drawn forth, or edited out. The first talk focuses on the Italian situation in the mid-’70s, considering “free newsreel” projects and experimental documentaries and reading their recurrent focus on the factory and piazza through the fierce critique articulated by Italian communist feminism in those same years. The second talk deals with films focused on women’s relation to factory and mining struggles in Ontario. These films, including those by Sophie Bissonnette, Joyce Wieland, and Sandra Lahire, developed a complex vision of histories and voices continually pushed to the side of movements fighting for access to basic necessities of survival.

Victoria Brooks is a curator and producer based in Troy, NY. Prior to joining EMPAC (Experimental Media & Performing Arts Centre) in 2013 as curator of time-based visual art, Brooks was a London-based independent curator, co-founding the itinerant curatorial platform The Island, co-curating Serpentine Galleryʼs artist-cinema program, and producing Canary Wharf Screen for Art on the Underground. Together with Evan Calder Williams, she is currently organizing Third Run, a new yearly film journal and colloquium series to be launched in fall 2014.

Evan Calder Williams is a writer, theorist, and artist. He has a doctoral degree from the Literature Department at University of California Santa Cruz, where he wrote a dissertation entitled The Fog of Class War: Cinema, Circulation, and Refusal in Italy’s Creeping’70s. He is the 2013-2014 Fellow at the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons, where is developing a theory of sabotage. He is the author of two books, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse and Roman Letters, has written for Film Quarterly, Mute, La Furia Umana, Viewpoint, and The New Inquiry, and writes the blog Socialism and/or Barbarism.

Preceded by a screening of
Sophie Bissonnette, Martin Duckworth, Joyce Rock, A Wives Tale (CA, 1980)

THE FIRE NEXT TIME — Destroy Yourselves as Our Bosses, Evan Calder Williams & Victoria Brooks from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Möglichkeitsraum (The Blast of the Possible)
Angela Melitopoulos & Bettina Knaup

The Blast of the Possible is a project containing the creation of a temporary performance and lecture platform, a space for exhibiting video and film archive materials belonging to the history of activist media since the 1960s. The design of the platform is based on the idea of an extended postproduction studio in that all functions of montage are spatially presented. This theatrical archive space recalls the archaic function of theatre being a switching panel for different modes of language flows that foster potentials of experimentation, learning and the relation and agency between language-modes. The imaginary developing from an index of the databases and from the materiality of the archival documents will be transformed and preformed through the live energy of performance and speech. ‘Language,’ as Walter Benjamin states, ‘is mediating the immediacy of all mental communication, and if one chooses to call this immediacy magic, then the primary problem of language is its magic.’ Angela Melitopoulos & Bettina Knaup propose to concatenate different languages modes and work on their boundaries with performances that mind the gap between memory and matter. The exhibition becomes a place in that we sense the time quality of mediated images, their historical context, their possible figures and pathologies, their spatial order and their construction and segmentation, their open or closed logic of montage. Through these interventions we can re-read documents and documentation, the construction of representation and identity, the imaginary of the past and the potentialities of becoming.

Angela Melitopoulos studied fine arts with Nam June Paik at the Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf. She has been working with electronic media since 1986 and has created experimental single-channel tapes, video installations, video-essays and documentaries, her work of art often based on research and collaboration with other knowledge spheres like sociology, politics and theory. She has recently been appointed professor in the Media School of the Royal Art Academy in Copenhagen.

Bettina Knaup is a cultural producer with a background in political science, theatre, film, TV studies and gender studies. She has been involved in developing or managing a range of interdisciplinary and transnational cultural projects operating at the interface of arts, politics and knowledge production, including the open space of the International Women’s University (Hanover) and the trans-disciplinary Performing Arts Laboratory, IN TRANSIT (Berlin).

THE FIRE NEXT TIME – Möglichkeitsraum (The Blast of the Possible), Angela Melitopoulos & Bettina Knaup from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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When we act or undergo, we must always be worthy of what happens to us
Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri

The militant cinema and image, taken in a more strict sense, have historically tended to push toward the real and toward the truth and toward the overcoming of capitalism, colonialism, and sometimes patriarchy among other things. They have worked to uncover, to lay bare, to expose, to clarify and at times to destroy existing regimes of order and/or truth. Occasionally, there have also been engaged comrades who have chosen the path of militancy as an arena to also investigate the truth claims of the image itself and its production. Of questioning the regimes of images themselves whether as spectacle or as contested fables or fictions. The utopic in the latter camp assumed cinema must be destroyed in the struggle. The more skeptical of this group, (in the philosophical sense not the everyday sense) returned to the cinema as a place of diagnosing the limits and failures of movements, as well as the images movements produced. This film is not about this history and the antinomies of these various modes of militancy in cinema, here reduced to a kind of caricature (quite common in historical accounts). It attempts instead to loiter around the shards and remnants of the processes, struggles and gestures that were produced in these varied forms of militancy in the hopes of discovering the latent forces and insights they may retain for contemporary struggles.

Ayreen Anastas & Rene Gabri work together. Ayreen writes in fragments, and makes films and videos. She is interested in philosophy, literature, the political and the everyday. Rene is interested in the complex mechanisms that constitute the world. He works within the folds of cultural practice, social thought and politics. Ayreen and Rene’s collaborative projects have evolved a great deal through their frequent contributions to the programme at 16Beaver, an artist community that functions as a social and collaborative space in downtown Manhattan, where the group hosts panel discussions, film series, reading groups and more. Ayreen and Rene’s Radioactive Discussion series was a physical counterpart to their fictional Homeland Security Cultural Bureau project. Other collaborations include: Camp Campaign, Artist talk, Radio Active, United We Stand, What Everybody Knows, Eden Resonating, 7X77, Case Sensitive America and more.

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FRIDAY 4 APRIL
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Memories of upheaval and tropical insurrection
Olivier Hadouchi, Stoffel Debuysere, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc

At this stalled and disillusioned juncture in postcolonial history, at a time when many anticolonial utopias have withered into a morass of exhaustion, corruption, and authoritarianism, how can we rethink the past in order to reimagine a more usable future ? If the longing for revolution, the craving for the overcoming of the colonial past and the reclaiming of national identity that shaped the ‘cinemas of liberation’ of the 1960’s is not one that we can inhabit today, then it may be part of our task to set it aside and begin an effort of reimagining other futures for us to dream of. But how can we go beyond the nostalgia for past horizons that still (or once again) seems to occupy our contemporary scope of imagination ? Can an answer be found in the work of the contemporary artists and filmmakers who are attempting to reinvent and redirect the legacies of militant culture and ‘Third cinema’ ? How to position ourselves today in view of this large corpus of historical film works in a context that is radically different but at the same time dauntingly close ? A selection of formally and politically bold films from Latin-America will serve as the starting point for a discussion on the relation between our ‘dead-end’ present, and, on one hand, the old utopian futures that inspired it and, on the other, an imagined idiom of future futures that might reanimate this present and perhaps even engender in it unexpected horizons of transformative possibility.

Olivier Hadouchi is a critic, curator and film historian, based in Paris. He obtained a PhD at the University Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris 3) on Cinema and Liberation struggles around Tricontinental’s constellation (1966-1975). He has written for various publications such as CinémAction, Third Text, Mondes du Cinéma, La Furia Umana and has curated film programs for Le BAL, Bétonsalon. le Cinématographe de Nantes and la HEAD (Genève).

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc is an artist, curator and researcher interested in exploring the history of the colonial encounter and its effects on memory and identity. Amongst others, he is very concerned to engage with film history and the decolonisation of African states in the 1960s. Abonnenc recently took part in the Paris Triennial in the Palais de Tokyo and in group exhibitions in the Fondation d‘entreprise Ricard (Paris) and the ICA – Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia, USA).

Preceded by a screening of
Santiago Álvarez, Now ! (CU, 1965)
Ugo Ulive, Basta (VE, 1969)
Santiago Álvarez, 79 Primaveras (CU, 1969)
Nicolás Guillén Landrián, Coffea Arábiga (CU, 1968)
Nicolás Guillén Landrián, Desde La Habana ¡1969! Recordar (CU, 1968)
Humberto Solás, Simparelé (CU, 1974)

THE FIRE NEXT TIME — Memories Of Upheaval, Olivier Hadouchi, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Stoffel Debuysere from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Splicing the Militant Cinema
Subversive Film (Mohanad Yaqubi & Reem Shilleh)

In 1968, a group of young filmmakers decided to establish a film unit affiliated with the Palestinian Revolution newly active in Amman, Jordan. The unit was called Palestine Film Unit (PFU) and was working with Al Fatah, one of the Palestinian Libation Organization (PLO) factions that adopted armed struggle as the only way to liberate Palestine. When the PFU was established, not only did it furnish the revolution with cinematic vocabularies, but it also addressed the decades old dilemma of invisibility of the Palestinian people and would offer apparatus for reclaiming visibility. At a later time the work of the unit became a major part of the Palestinian revolutionary cinema. This presentation tracks life and work of the PFU and its members as an example of a militant cinema practice in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, when filmmakers believed cinema could change the world.

Subversive Film is a cinema research and production initiative that aims to cast new light upon historic works related to Palestine and the region; to engender support for film preservation; and to investigate archival practices and effects. Other projects developed by Subversive Film to explore this cine-historic field include the digital reissuing of previously-overlooked films, the curating of rare film screening cycles, and the subtitling of rediscovered films. Subversive Film was formed in 2011 and is based in Ramallah and London.

THE FIRE NEXT TIME – Splicing The Militant Cinema from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Dissident Images
Raquel Schefer

In 1982, in the short film Changer d’Image – Lettre à la bien aimée (To Alter the Image), Jean-Luc Godard reflected upon the difficulty to produce an image of change likely to induce and formally represent change. Can an image of change give rise to change? Must an image of change be an altered image? A politics of aesthetics underlays these questions, as they point out to the poetics and politics of the film image, to the intrinsic articulation of its aesthetic and pragmatic dimensions. Representing current class struggle in Southern Europe, Daphné Hérétakis’ Ici rien (2011) and Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro’s Vida Extra (2013) reclaim a poetic political cinema, leading a formal creative synthesis between historical legacy and emergent audiovisual forms which undermines established categories. Daphné Hérétakis and Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro will be present to show their work, to discuss these aporias of image, aesthetics and politics, and to rethink the relationship between art and politics in the context of an open collective debate.

Raquel Schefer is a filmmaker and researcher. She is presently doing a PHD in Cinema Studies at the Université de la Sorbonne-Nouvelle (Paris 3). Politics of representation, remembrance and oblivion, the acts of telling and re-telling, and the non-coincidence between sensorial memory and audiovisual mnemonics are central issues in her work. Historical episodes are approached through personal and familiar narratives, in some cases embedded in the history of Portuguese decolonization.

THE FIRE NEXT TIME — Dissident Images, Raquel Schefer, Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro, Daphné Hérétakis from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.

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Crazy Nigger – Gay Guerilla
CONCERT Julius Eastman

“What I mean by niggers is that thing which is fundamental, that person or thing that attains to a basicness or a fundamentalness, and eschews that which is superficial, or, could we say, elegant… There are 99 names of Allah, and there are 52 niggers.”
– Julius Eastman, Jan 16 1980, Northwestern University

When Julius Eastman took the stage of the concert hall of the Northwestern University to explain the titles of the pieces that he and three other pianists were about to perform, he could not have known that this appearance would be the most lasting statement about his music. Having studied with the likes of George E. Lewis, Morton Feldman and Lukas Foss, all signs pointed towards a bright future for this composer. By 1980 Eastman was performing his music all over Europe and the States and he was an integral part of the thriving Downtown scene in New York, where he recorded with Arthur Russell and Meredith Monk. But for all this promise, his self-destructive behaviour inevitably caught up with him. When he passed away on May 28 1980 in a hospital in Buffalo, the news took more than seven months to reach New York. With the scarce recordings and scores of his music scattered all over the place, attempts to reconstruct Eastman’s output are doomed to remain incomplete. Only fairly recently a selection of his work has been made available, including the trilogy Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger & Gay Guerilla, which represents in so many ways the intense brilliance of this ‘forgotten minimalist’. These compositions for multiple pianos took the minimalist device of additive process to a whole new structural level, building up immense emotive power through the incessant repetition of rhythmic figures, a composing technique he called ‘organic music’. The titles of the pieces exemplify the rebellious attitude of Eastman, as someone who has always struggled with identity, yet never without casting a new life; someone who has steadfastly eschewed compromise, yet giving rise to a body of work that continues to startle and engage.

in collaboration with art centre Vooruit.

THE FIRE NEXT TIME – Julius Eastman from KASK & CONSERVATORIUM on Vimeo.