How do we construct history? What is a historical moment? Can film (or video) be history? These are some of the questions raised by "Whose History?", a series of four screenings, one performance in collaboration with the American artist Sharon Hayes, a profile screening of work by the British artist Lis Rhodes and a panel discussion, curated by Ian White, at the 54th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
History is dependent on authority. It is written, but is received as incontrovertible fact. This is both its power and the reason why it must be questioned. "Whose History?" presents works from the late 1960s and 70s along with pieces by younger artists to ask these questions: what is a historical moment? what is a portrait? what is a history book? how do we, watching these works in the cinema, constitute history?
The programme was inspired by Lis Rhodes 1979 catalogue text for the "Film as Film" exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London of the same year. In it she contests the representation and participation of women in this particular exhibition, the show's emphasis on formalism and the underlying (ideological) structure and first asked the question "Whose History?". An integral part of the Oberhausen programme is a screening of two works from 1978 and 1988, and the premiere of a new work, Still by Lis Rhodes. A panel discussion on 5 May that explores the ways in which history might be made completes the programme.
Ian White is Adjunct Film Curator for Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, an independent curator, writer and artist.
Guests in Oberhausen
Ann Demeester, Kenneth Goldsmith, Malcolm Le Grice, Emma Hedditch, Lis Rhodes, Emily Roysdon, Mike Sperlinger, Emily Wardill.
Oberhausen examines the political film post 9/11 in a big thematic programme
No issue has been as hotly debated here as that of the political film: the East-West conflict, political activism, German film subsidies - Oberhausen is the place where all the relevant films have been shown and the scandals have erupted. Today political films are experiencing something of a revival, due to various states of emergency, the war in Iraq, increasing globalisation and new/old class conflicts. But while current feature-length films are often defined as political by their content and usually adhere in a formal sense to classic narrative and documentary models, artists and short-film makers have long been much freer with both form and content - their works are faster, edgier, more experimental and more controversial.
With "Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers", curated by Sherry Millner, Ernest Larsen (USA) and Madeleine Bernstorff (Germany), Oberhausen devotes ten film programmes, one performance and a panel discussion to asking whether the political (short) film has changed over the years and if so, how: is there a new generation of political filmmakers? What are their films like? Have the aesthetic strategies used in oppositional films evolved? "The world has changed since 9/11. The USA are the sole global superpower, occupation force in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, etc., globalisation is hitting us in the face every day, so our question was whether there is a new generation of political filmmakers responding to, challenged by, such conditions. What are those films like? Roughly half the films we've programmed have been made in the past few years. What we aimed for in making choices were films that defy ready classification, films that cross borders, de-stabilise conventional notions of fact and fiction with a programme designed to trouble our accepted notions of how we have come to see the world post-9/11", says curator Ernest Larsen.
"Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers" encompasses more than 60 films that collectively cover more than 100 years of film history, from Pathés one-reeler, La Gréve des bonnes of 1906 through to DeeDee Halleck's and Deep Dish's performance document, Church of Stop Shopping Confronts Gentrification of 2008. The programme is thematically structured in categories that include garbage, capital crimes, performance as political intervention, collective resistance, through to the Mexican Super-Ocheros and a movement that sprang up in response to the post-1968 violent suppression of political protest and censorship in Mexico - and naturally a chapter on films shown in Oberhausen - or not shown. Some of the guests putting in a personal appearance at Oberhausen during this programme include Alonzo Crawford, Galit Eilat, Kevin Everson, Birgit Hein, Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón, Martha Rosler, Rasha Salti, Hito Steyerl, Pawel Wojtasik, Zelimir Zilnik, representatives of the Chiapas Media Project and Meine Akademie.
The filmmakers and artists represented include: Chris Marker, Zelimir Zilnik and Gunvor Nelson, Joseph Beuys and Birgit Hein. There will be works by Buñuel's camera man Elie Lotar, Pere Portabella, Heynowski and Scheumann, Pedro Costa, Millner/Larsen, Vlado Kristl, Straub/Huillet, Joyce Wieland, Carole Roussopoulos and Delphine Seyrig, Allan Sekula, Rabih Mroué and many others.
'Dirty' Movies (2 May at 12.30 p.m.)
Seven films that use dirt as a metaphor for political and aesthetic realities, where trash in the literal sense as well as "human refuse" is ostracised and discarded. The approaches range from that of Pawel Wojtasik, who in Dark Sun Squeeze (2003) turns the spotlight onto the insides of a sewage plant, and Elie Lotar's Aubervilliers (1945), a portrait of the suburb where Paris located its toxic waste depot after the Second World War, through to Ausfegen (Sweep Out) (1972), Joseph Beuys's commentary on the attitude of the German Left towards guest (immigrant) workers.
Learning Processes With a Possibly Deadly Outcome (2 May at 5 p.m.)
This programme title stolen from Alexander Kluge - 'Lernprozesse mit tödlichem Ausgang' - highlights questions of political process. It is about the process of becoming politically aware as well as the one that leads to resistant action. It includes En rachachant by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, Zelimir Zilnik's legendary Crni Film (Black Film) of 1971, in which the filmmaker invites ten homeless people into his own home, through to the activism of political performance artist, Reverend Billy and his choir, who in the Church of Stop Shopping Confronts Gentrification by DeeDee Halleck and Deep Dish (2008) come to the rescue of an Italian shoemaker in New York in his battle with a rapacious landlord.
Capital Crimes (3 May at 2.30 p.m.)
Do we need to redefine criminality? Is the inner structure of the democratic state based on policing per se? Surveillance of urban areas, the functioning of police as armies, the proliferation of private armies - all these seem to suggest this. This is a programme that asks whether criminality needs redefining. It includes Jill Godmilow's remake of Harun Farocki's 'Nicht löschbares Feuer' (Inextinguishable Fire), What Farocki Taught of 1997, Martha Rosler's Prototype (2005) and Sherry Millner's Shoplifting: It's a Crime? of 1979, which turns the whole concept of shoplifting on its head on the Proudhonian principle that 'property is theft'.
Collective Resistance (3 May at 8 p.m.)
What is collective vision? Could it be that there is no difference between films made by individuals about collective struggles and films made by collectives? What relationship is there between the dynamics of representation (in art) and self-representation (in politics)? This programme includes films by and about groups, from Pere Portabella's El sopar (1974) about a group of political prisoners during the Franco regime and Chris Marker's 2084 filmed in the year 1984, in which Marker has robots discussing collective labour struggle, to The Land Belongs to Those Who Work It by the Chiapas Media Project (2005) in Mexico about the conflict between the Zapatistas, who farm unused land, and the state officials who covet the same land for ecotourist developments.
Mnemonic Devices (4 May at 12.30 p.m.)
Signs, icons and artefacts - museum exhibits, a book, cassette tapes, old photos - are the key to researching the gaps between what we think we know and what we ought to know about the influences of the past on the present. There are seven films that deal with images of the past in very different ways. Carole Roussopoulos and Delphine Seyrig's S.C.U.M. Manifesto of 1976 was the first time Valerie Solana's notorious manifesto was made public in France. Kevin Everson draws on archival footage in Emergency Needs (2007) to depict the dilemma of the first black mayor of a major US city in 1964 at the height of the civil rights movement, while Rabih Mroué in Face A Face B (2003) relates the story of his childhood during the civil war in Lebanon with the aid of the simplest devices - videos and old photos.
A bas les patrons! (4 May 10.30 p.m.)
Capturing the political moment when a people take to the streets, make a collective gesture and put their bodies on the line has evidently been the aim of many filmmakers throughout history. This programme is about protest strategies and how they are staged, the experience with masses and the spectacle of the victorious or defeated crowd. La Gráve des bonnes, a Pathé one-act film of 1906, is the oldest film being screened in the entire programme. The Berlin sculptor Julian Göthe has selected an Italian disco
track from the eighties for the silent film. One of the most interesting documents comes in the form of Ella Bergmann-Michel's unedited material in Die letzte Wahl (The Last Election) of 1932, which the filmmaker shot during the last free elections of 1932 on the streets of Frankfurt before she was arrested. Vlado Kristl's'Arme Leute (1963) is also included, and features the filmmaker's glimpse of the 'unsolved backside of the city'.
La era de la discrepancia (5 May 12.30 p.m.)
Guest curator: Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón
The Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 were the first to be held in a third world country and they were staged at a time when the student movement was actively demonstrating against the government in the streets of the capital city. On 2 October 1968 the military fired shots into a student demonstration on Tlatelolco Square - the beginning of an era of (cultural) oppression. The Super-Ocheros, or Super 8 Movement, played an important role in resisting the censorship and repression of that era, and a selection of these films produced in the period 1971 to 1991 will be screened, from Felipe Ehrenberg and Franéois Reichenbach's La Poubelle (1971) and La Segunda Primera Matriz by Alfredo Gurrola through to Rubén Ortiz Torres' video, How to Read a Macho Mouse of 1991.
Contested Ground (5 May 2.30 p.m.)
A programme about colonisation and its associated metaphors, along with its brood, including neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism, and the modes of resistance to these powers. Every film in this programme takes a personal stand on the highly controversial issue and finds it own metaphors to express that view. René Vautier's Le Glas in 1964 about three African revolutionaries who were hanged in Salisbury was filmed for the Zimbabwe African Party for Unity and banned in France. Chen Chieh-Jen chooses the device of re-enactment in The Route of 2006, staging a protest that was forbidden by the government in Taiwan, while Allan Sekula shows an excerpt from his Lottery of the Sea (2005) about the impact of globalisation on maritime life.
Excessive Behaviour: Performance as Political Intervention (6 May, 12.30 p.m.)
Demonstrations, protests, parades, strikes and political acts all have one thing in common: a great affinity with the theatre and performance. The films in this programme show a tactical repertoire of inversion, masking, excessive behaviour, erotic transgression and political pleasures, which gives activists and ordinary people alike the opportunity to assume unexpected power for a moment in time. Among them are Birgit Hein's legendary film portrait about Jack Smith (1974) in Cologne, Karpo Godina's On the Art of Loving, in which Godina persuades a substantial proportion of the Yugoslav army to sing an anti-war chorale, Isaac Julien's observation of the Notting Hill Carnival in Territories (1984) and Gunvor Nelson's und Dorothy Wiley's daily dirt classic, Schmeerguntz of 1966.
Banging Doors (6 May 5 p.m.)
Numerous strands of dispute run through the history of the Oberhausen festival, from conflicts between Eastern European delegations and dissidents to the documentary filmmakers versus experimental filmmakers controversy - not to mention the basic question of what actually constitutes a political film - ideology confronted sensitivity and plenty of doors were slammed. This programme includes works that screened in Oberhausen as well as works that were not shown here, which - perhaps for that very reason - shed more light on the political history of the short film festival. The Money Worries (1974) of Walter Heynowski and Dieter Scheumann, the most famous documentary filmmakers of the DDR, was an award winner in Oberhausen, unlike Wolfgang Höpfner's 'Zwei Protokolle (1978), a film that was primarily used as a tool for the political work of left-wing groups and features Karl-Heinz Roth recounting his experiences of solitary confinement during the RAF period. Of Cristina Perincioli's strike film Für Frauen 1. Kapitel (For Women, Chapter 1, 1971), Harun Farocki wrote in a film review: "The fun of experiencing a liberating sense of awareness is palpable" and Cristina Perincioli also set up a meeting place for female filmmakers at the festival.
PODIUM Discussion: "Border-Crossers and Trouble-Makers" (4 May, 10 a.m. - 12 noon)
The film programme is enhanced by a panel discussion under the same heading, with guest speakers: Galit Eilat, author and curator (Holon); Martha Rosler, artist (New York); Rasha Salti, author and curator (Beirut); Hito Steyerl, artist and author (Berlin); Zelimir Zilnik, filmmaker (Novi Sad). The discussion will be facilitated by curator, Sherry Millner.
PERFORMANCE: A Fairy Tale of the Instant Archive (4 May 8 p.m.)
What can be seen through the desire to share and participate virtually? What remains of the potentiality to connect, reanimate and evolve an alluring contemporaneity where new and old documents and videos by artists, activists or amateurs could interact in unpredictable ways, and more than likely in poor quality? An experimental set-up with online findings on the big screen.
Annett Busch is a film critic living in Munich. She learned de-coding, en-coding and v2v at the kein.org academy and edited an volume on 'Ousmane Sembéne: Interviews'. Four years ago she co-founded missingimage.com and recently co-buried the idea of what used to be called a 'Videostore.' However, as Serge Daney maintains, the challenge more than ever remains: "the love of cinema also means knowing what to do with images that are really missing."
Sherry Millner and Ernest Larsen are anarchistic artists who began working together in the mid 1970s, producing documentary films, videos and multimedia installations. Millner is a professor at the College of Staten Island, CUNY and Larsen is a novelist and media critic. Madeleine Bernstorff is a film curator and member of the selection panel of Oberhausen, as well as an author, a teacher and Super-8 filmmaker.
Contact: Kristina Henschel