The prevailing artistic medium of an age has always had a determining influence on history. This is clearly the case in the Modern European Age. It has been influenced by theater, from Shakespeare to Schiller, and then by the novel, until Tolstoy. We know that the twentieth century is filmic. —Andrei Ujica
Andrei Ujica's latest film, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, caps a twenty-year quest to forge a new kind of non-fiction cinema – part historical chronicle, part essayistic reflection – using archival footage from Romania and the Soviet Union to trace the collapse of state Communism in those countries. Autobiography joins two previous films, Videograms of a Revolution and Out of the Present, to make up a trilogy of fascinating and groundbreaking documentaries about these historic changes.
Born in Romania in 1951, Ujica began writing fiction as a young man before immigrating to West Germany in 1981 to study literary and media theory. Just after the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, he returned to Romania and edited a collection of essays entitled Television/Revolution: The Ultimatum of Images which caught the attention of German director Harun Farocki. The two collaborated on Videograms of a Revolution, a film about the events in Romania and the images it produced. Following this auspicious beginning, Ujica devoted himself fully to filmmaking.
Like Farocki, Ujica uses found footage to craft works that are as much poetic essays as documentaries, investigating the interpenetration of history, politics, and technology as well as the production and circulation of images. Viewed as a whole, his trilogy takes on the form of a series of expanding circles in which each film tells a specific story, the stories of individuals and discrete events giving way to the narratives of governments, of nations, of ideologies. Underpinning Ujica's films is his close attention to the conversion of 20th-century history into cinematic and televisual imagery, and the ways in which these images determine our narratives of the present and of history itself. – David Pendleton
This program is presented in conjunction with the Film Study Center and the Kokkalis Program on Southeastern and East-Central Europe, Harvard University. Special thanks: Jake Perlin; Elaine Papoulias, Ilyana Sawka—Kokkalis Program; Oana Radu—the Romanian Cultural Institute, New York.
Directed by Andrei Ujica
Germany 1999, digital video, color, 96 min.
Russian with English subtitles
In 1989, during Soviet cosmonaut's Sergei Krikalev record-breaking 18-month mission on the Mir space station, the Soviet Union collapsed. Krikalev's hometown was Leningrad when he left and St. Petersburg when he returned. His accomplishment is notable in and of itself, as Ujica amply illustrates in this documentary, yet by juxtaposing this feat with the monumental events unfolding on Earth, Out of the Present renders Krikalev's journey into a breathtaking elegy for the end of the Space Age and the end of an ideology. Mixing video from the space station with his own film material – including the first 35mm film ever exposed in space – Ujica likewise interweaves fact and fiction through references both obvious and subtle to Kubrick's 2001 (1968) and Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) launching the thrilling existential quandaries of those films into present-day reality.
Directed by Andrei Ujica, Appearing in Person
Romania/Germany 2010, digital video, b/w & color, 180 min.
Romanian with English subtitles
During his rule of Communist Romania from 1967 to 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu and his administration documented their reign on hundreds of hours of film. Drawing on footage from the Romanian National Film Archive and state television, Ujica transforms a historical chronicle into a spellbinding, sweeping epic by simply proceeding chronologically through the decades with little commentary or exposition; there are no titles, captions or voiceover. Ujica's primary authorial intervention consists of precise selection, ingenious editing and a cleverly subtle soundtrack construction. Although Ujica includes some unguarded moments, all the images are essentially staged; they originate from events public or private that Ceausescu ordered photographed. For most of this slyly astonishing film, Ceausescu seems to be as much in thrall to the image he created of himself as his subjects were presumed to be.
Directed by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica
Germany 1992, 16mm, color, 106 min.
German, Romanian, English with English subtitles
After fall of the Berlin Wall and Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Soviet bloc was showing signs of imminent collapse. The uprising in Romania that overthrew the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December of that year was extensively documented on video, whether shot by ordinary citizens or by professional journalists. Additionally, cameras in the studios of the state television network captured the enormous effort to report events as they unfolded, as well as the very physical struggle for control of the network itself. Ujica and Farocki edit this footage into a gripping account of the weeklong revolution while implicitly pointing to the ever-increasing importance of images and image-making in public life. Although the title refers to the overthrow of Ceausescu, the film marks another revolution: cinema's distanced gaze at history being supplanted by the live-ness of television.