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Global Visions - Documenta11: An Accented Cinema

This series reprises film and video works shown this past summer at Documenta11, the influential international arts exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Curated by Mark Nash, the films address themes of the concurrent exhibition as a whole—in particular, experiences of expatriation and diaspora. The films vary considerably in form, from open-ended vérité dialogues with social reality to the more closed and formally precise statements of artists like Isaac Julien and Chantal Akerman; from collective, politically focused documentaries to memory-driven multilingual narratives that delve into the past. Some directly address the issue of exile and displacement, such as Jonas Mekas’s As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty. Others look frankly at the question of political agency, like Jean-Marie Téno’s Chef! Despite the divergent experiences represented and the various modes of cultural production and reception deployed, all of these works in one way or another participate in an emerging genre of cinema, deriving inspiration from the work of oppositional Latin American Third Cinema filmmakers and moving the argument on toward the development of transnational filmmaking and spectatorship. 


October 2 (Wednesday) 7 pm

From the Other Side (De L’Autre Cote)

Directed by Chantal Akerman
France 2002, video, color, 99 min.
English and Spanish with English subtitles

One of Bergman’s most celebrated films, Wild Strawberries recounts the story of an elderly professor (played by Scandinavian-cinema veteran Victor Sjoström) who returns to his alma mater to receive an honorary doctorate. During the journey, haunting visions of his childhood and memories of a youthful love affair are rekindled by an encounter with a young hitchhiker. Andersson, who appeared in numerous Bergman films, plays the double role of the modern girl and the lost love from the fields of wild strawberries.

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October 2 (Wednesday) 9 pm

D’Est (From the East) 

Directed by Chantal Akerman
France/Belgium 1993, 16mm, color, 107 min.

D’Est is a moving documentary shot over a summer and a winter in Germany, Poland, and Russia on the eve of the unification of Western Europe. Envisioned as a "grand journey" across Eastern Europe, Akerman’s film was to include “everything that moves me: Faces, streets, cars going by and buses, train stations and plains, rivers and oceans, streams and brooks, trees and forests. Fields and factories and yet more faces. Food, interiors, doors, windows, meals being prepared. Women and men, young and old, people passing by or at rest, seated or standing, even lying down. Days and nights, wind and rain, snow and springtime." She was particularly interested in capturing the disintegration of the former Soviet bloc and became deeply engrossed in the pervasiveness of despair and immobility. While the arc of her journey is visible in the completed work, much of D’Est focuses on haunting images of a snowclad Moscow, frozen in history but poised for precipitous change.

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October 9 (Wednesday) 7 pm

A Trip to the Country (Vacance au Pays)

Directed by Jean-Marie Téno 
Cameroon 2000, video and 35mm, color, 75 min.
French with English subtitles

The work of filmmaker Jean-Marie Téno focuses on the postcolonial heritage of African societies, particularly that of his native Cameroon. Shifting between feature film and documentary formats, Téno’s cinema, as one reviewer put it, “constructs the African landscape as a place of loss and the African subject as divided between what is and what never was.” His most recent film, A Trip to the Country, exposes the false promises of postcolonial modernism. Two modernist concrete high-rise buildings in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé—symbolic links to the metropolitan culture of the West—are contrasted with the ever-increasing degradation of the quality of life in the city. For Téno, the dilemma is symbolized by the “men in overcoats”—sharp dressers who are unable even to ensure running water or a functioning transport system.


Screens with A Trip to the Country (see above)

Chef!

Directed by Jean-Marie Téno
Cameroon 1999, 16mm, color, 61 min.

Chef! is a documentary that addresses human rights in patriarchical Cameroon, where the experience of colonialism has been reinforced by corruption and archaic social practice. In the course of documenting in his ancestral village in Western Cameroon, Téno juxtaposes conflicting images: a traditional ceremony for a monument to King Kamga Joseph II, the filmmaker’s great granduncle, which soon turns into a celebration in honor of Cameroonian President Paul Biya’s one-man rule; a mob inciting violence against a 16-year-old boy who has stolen some chickens; a souvenir calendar that lists “the rules and regulations of the husband in his home.” Téno’s observations on domestic violence and male dominance suggest a deeply conflicted history marked both by colonial oppression and traditional kingship. 

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October 16 (Wednesday) 6 pm

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty

Directed by Jonas Mekas
US 2000, 16mm, color, 288 min.

Aiming to undermine both traditional Hollywood narrative cinema and the experimental films of classical modernism, Lithuanian-born filmmaker Jonas Mekas explores “subtle, almost invisible acts, experiences, and feelings” in this lyrical work, lasting nearly five hours and divided into seven chapters. Edited from diaristic footage of the artist’s life in New York between 1970 and 1999, it follows the circular, fragmented structure of the filmmaker’s own memory, which revolves around “brief moments of happiness and beauty” and refuses to analyze or deconstruct the past. Mekas asserts at one point that this is a “political film”—a kind of cultural discourse that has little to do with direct political activism. 

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Director Amar Kanwar in Person
October 23 (Wednesday) 7 pm

A Night of Prophecy

Directed by Amar Kanwar
India 2002, video, color, 73 min.

Indian nonfiction filmmaker Amar Kanwar’s latest film, A Night of Prophecy, is a simple work about poetry and songs, poets and singers. Traveling through the Indian states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, and finally Kashmir—complex territories of severe conflict where throats are cut, minds have been taught to absorb generations of violence, and where no reconciliation seems possible—the fever of change is felt. Kanwar posits that it is only through poetry and image that we can fully comprehend the history and severity of the conflict and witness the passage of time. As the different poetic narratives he presents begin to merge together, we are able to see a more universal language of symbols and meaning take shape. The point at which this merger in the mind occurs is the simple moment of prophecy. 

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October 30 (Wednesday) 7 pm

The Eye Above the Well (Het Oog Boven de Put)

Directed by Johan van der Keuken
The Netherlands 1988, 16mm, color, 94 min.

One of Dutch filmmaker Johan van der Keuken’s most beautiful cinematic poems, The Eye Above the Well assays India’s spiritual and economic situation, moving from the city to the countryside in Kerala as he focuses on the essence of the region’s culture. Captured without commentary by his gliding camera are a cacophony of distinctly non-western sights and sounds: bustling city streets, serene landscapes of the surrounding countryside, a family preparing for dinner, an elderly actor performing his mythological drama, a modest country moneylender traveling from village to village, young girls at their singing lessons. What emerges from these encounters is not only a highly evocative sense of lived experience but a poetic vision that gracefully embodies what Cahiers du cinéma has called “the aesthetic of diversity.” 

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