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Varying Approaches — By Irina Trocan
Jane Campion comments on her career with her usual modesty.
In the Berlinale Talent Campus session dedicated to her career, Jane Campion shared the stage with screenwriter Gerard Lee, the co-writer of her debut feature, Sweetie (1989), and of her most recent project, Top Of The Lake (2013). Lee's contributions to the discussion were informative and invigorating, but the limelight still belonged to Campion. Her comments ranged from a candid narration of her early days in filmmaking to accounts of her collaboration with Michael Nyman to a highly empathetic description of her female characters.
Moderated by critic Peter Cowie, the session included an assortment of clips from Sweetie, An Angel At My Table (1990), The Piano (1993), Portrait Of A Lady (1996) and Top Of The Lake. The visibly varied directorial approach of each film should offer enough proof of Campion's eclecticism: for instance, there's a huge difference between the cartoonish bright colours in a scene depicting writer Janet Frame's childhood in Angel and the sombre atmosphere of a tense marital scene between Isabel and Gilbert Osmond in Portrait. The retrospective came short in creating a sense of unity in Campion's body of work, but that is admittedly hard to accomplish in her case.
A festival darling since the release of her first short films, with Sweetie being screened at Cannes, the New Zealand-born director has had more fortunate opportunities than her humble self-image would suggest. In front of an audience consisting mostly of young Campus filmmakers, Campion was reluctant to go into detail when discussing her creative techniques and the unpleasant bureaucratic formalities that aspiring filmmakers have to adjust to.
Campion's optimism makes her a refreshing departure from the cliché of the woman filmmaker who extols her biological vulnerability and declares herself underprivileged in relation to her male colleagues. Her directness makes it all the more frustrating that she doesn't get into the nuts and bolts of creative labour when she's addressing a group of young filmmakers.
Joshua Oppenheimer discusses with the Talent Press the impact generated by his astonishing documentary, The Act Of Killing.
In 1965, Indonesian death squads exterminated more than one million alleged communists in one of the worst genocides in history. This is the main theme of Joshua Oppenheimer's disturbing documentary The Act Of Killing, which has definitely shaken the Berlinale.
The film crosses the line between fiction and documentary by using stylish photography and, most shockingly, by having the actual perpetrators of the murders re-enact their crimes. Oppenheimer knows he is creating controversy and is polarising audiences. During the panel "Documentaries Beyond the Real" at the Campus, the American director was confronted by audience members who questioned the way he showed the mass murderers without condemning them. Oppenheimer managed to refute these accusations.
"The film is actually walking the tightrope between empathy and repulsion", he told us. "Of course I judge what the killers did. The whole film is a judgment of genocide and mass killing. But I don't judge them [the murderers] because I don't separate people between the good and the bad. That's what I call the 'Star Wars morality'."
Some political and military authorities in Indonesia — accused by human rights organisations for forming death squads — have threatened to launch criminal proceedings against the director and even to kill whoever screens the film in the country. This hasn't been effective, and the movie has had a wide circulation in small screenings in Indonesia.
"The film is causing a huge transformation in how Indonesians see themselves. And that's very beautiful, very powerful. I wish I could be there", confesses the filmmaker, who now lives in Denmark and considers it very dangerous to return to Indonesia. The acclaim the film has received, not only from critics, but also from such documentary giants as Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, marks Oppenheimer as an outstanding new voice within the genre.
Danis Tanovic captures an intimate episode among a Roma family in Bosnia.
Danis Tanovic's An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker (Epizoda u zivotu beraca zeljeza, Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a frank drama that transcends its swift production with an extraordinary sense of urgency. The true story concerns Bosnian Roma couple Nazif and Sanada as they struggle to get health care after Sanada suffers a life threatening miscarriage. Tanovic casts the real couple and their two small daughters to portray the tale, which looks at the hopelessness of marginalisation and poverty in the case of an emergency.
The film's production is a remarkable story in itself. In December 2011 director Tanovic read a newspaper article covering the story. Opting not to wait to secure a conventional budget Tanovic and his producer Amra Baksic Camo decided to assemble a tiny, yet highly proficient crew, along with the non-actors and locations. The crew doubled up on their responsibilities, with the surefooted Tanovic handling 2nd camera and continuity. By February 2012 the film had been shot and was in post-production.
Tanovic's work with Nazif and Sanada creates unusual, but compelling performances. Though Nazif and Sanada appear somewhat camera shy (often facing slightly away from the camera), they radiate an unequivocal amount of emotion. An asset to the realism (though probably a production challenge) is the presence of two young girls, who lend an inverse humour by energetically bouncing around their parents. Tanovic directs the film as if it is a family event; Nazif, Sanada and their daughters thrive on this.
Since the film was selected for the Berlinale, cinematographer Erol Zubcevic was reportedly frustrated with the budgetary need to shoot on Digital SLR cameras. However, the film has a distinct and raw aesthetic built out of the juxtaposition of the snow covered Bosnian countryside, an abundance of scrap and the otherworldly industrial chimneys that power the local area. The backdrop makes the unappealing job of collecting and selling scrap iron an epic task, as Nazif is dwarfed by his surroundings.
The film runs at 75 minutes and feels like it could be cut shorter, yet the vitality of the storytelling allows the experience to endure. In close proximity with the lifestyle of its characters, the film's modest style creates an authentic feeling of dignity. An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker finds a rare humanity and intimacy among an often misunderstood group of people.
Spirits from Leviathan are frozen in time on the walls of a crematorium.
What happens when film images don't move or gain another dimension, that of space for example? The answer to this question can be found in the surreal location of the former crematorium in Wedding which hosts the Berlinale Forum Expanded exhibition. The finest pieces in the exhibition are two multi–channel video installations by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, the filmmakers who made Leviathan (USA, 2012).
Canst Thou Draw Out Leviathan With A Hook? uses images from their renowned documentary on the fishing industry to experiment with the dimensions of time and space. By doing so, they manage to introduce new ways of perceiving film images; giving them dimensions they don't have on screen.
Spirits Still uses frames from Leviathan and projects them as frozen slides which are beautifully nestled in niches of the columbarium. Liberating the images from time, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel render them into individual units. The result is that we get to enjoy their rich texture, now completely abstracted, giving them a spirit of their own.
The accompanying piece, The Last Judgement, transforms the moving images by introducing the dimension of space. The installation consists of images of birds flying over the sea projected on the ceiling of an oval shaped room, where the visitor is invited to lay down on the floor. This combination of moving images, space and sound results in being able to step inside the sublime world at the intersection of sea and sky.
In a third installment of their work, the directors are also presenting He Maketh A Path To Shine After Him; One Would Think The Deep To Be Hoary at Kino Arsenal 2. In the 360-minute-long silent video, images from leviathan are slowed down to 1/50 of their original speed. Here, the film's temporality is further manipulated, allowing us to perceive what usually stays outside our field of vision. It is as if these new dimensions of moving images are letting us see the spirits of fish and birds that are captured within them.
"To what degree am I free to be a filmmaker and not an indigenous filmmaker?", asks Andrew Okpeaha MacLean in the session "Indigenous Cinema: Beyond Tribe and Nation".
The Berlinale this year has a special segment exclusively committed to indigenous cinema. Filmmakers from Alaska to New Zealand are represented. Beyond the features, documentaries and short films that form the crux of the niche section, the festival also organised a panel consisting of Catherine Fitzgerald, a New Zealand-based film producer, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, writer and director from Alaska, and Jason Ryle from Canada.
But what exactly is indigenous cinema culture? "It is about reflecting and chronicling ideas that stem from territories that have been traditionally colonised", explains Jason Ryle, the executive director of the Imagine Native Film and Media Arts Festival, the world's largest indigenous festival based in Toronto. "In Canada there wasn't a platform for indigenous films. Our festival tries to fill that void. But I'd say, over here, there is still hatred for indigenous people."
The situation has been more favourable for Andrew Okpeaha, who has moved from Alaska to New York. "Once you leave, you become an outsider at home. They may start treating you differently. But fortunately my community back in Alaska has been very accepting and I am privileged to have freedom in my work."
"We are all growing with this international family of cinephiles – uncovering, rediscovering and creating culture", says Ryle. MacLean adds, "Sometimes I ask myself; how can I keep my culture alive when it is a thousand miles away? To what degree am I free to be a filmmaker and not an indigenous filmmaker? I am constantly striving to find my individual voice within the boundaries that I have to live in."
But after the film is made, how does the home community react? "I deeply care what my community feels about my work because I have immense respect for them. But showing them your film can be extremely terrifying, and I get very nervous. Yet they are always receptive and that's so encouraging," says MacLean. As a parting note, Fitzgerald says, "It is very important for an indigenous filmmaker to find his own voice and make a difference. It is all about coming back to one's roots. Any exchange of dialogue is consciously uttered because it is something rooted within my ethnicity. Many people don't think about it but for an indigenous filmmaker, it is a cultural and, in fact, a political act."
By celebrating the everyday over the epic, Stepping On Flying Grass becomes an epic in its own right.
The Berlinale Generation film Stepping On Flying Grass (Cita-citaku setinggi tanah, Indonesia) revolves around Agus, a boy in Muntilan, Central Java. When his teacher asks the students to write an essay about their dream, Agus proudly says that he wants to dine in a Padang restaurant, renowned for serving a banquet-like dinner. His reason is simple: he is bored of eating the "tahu bacem" (deep-fried spiced bean curd) made daily by his mother. This prompts laughter from his classmates, jeering Agus for having little ambition; their dreams include becoming a soldier and a big-time actress. Our protagonist stands tall. He carves himself a bamboo piggy bank and seizes the opportunity to earn some cash as a courier. He wants to prove that his dream is worth pursuing.
Narratively, very little happens in Eugene Panji's debut feature. The conflict is way too thin to be stretched over an 80-minute film. The plot is also too contrived: help conveniently appears every time the protagonist runs into a problem. Yet the film's simplicity is its strong suit. Children's films don't always portray childhood from a child's perspective. In Indonesia, that's certainly the case. Most children's films in Indonesia mirror Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi) and The Dreamer (Sang Pemimpi), two of the nation's highest-grossing films. Both are coming-of-age dramas heavy with references to the country's politics and development. Both create a child's world from an adult perspective.
Stepping On Flying Grass takes a different route. Like its protagonist, the film is big in a small way. The filmmaker limits the parents to a very few appearances, as if the world had been taken over by kids. Their concerns are believably childlike: after collecting lots of coins from his part-time job, Agus is too excited to be separated from his piggy bank. He brings it to the bedroom, to the bathroom, everywhere.
Social context creeps into Stepping On Flying Grass. Muntilan is a small town with a severe lack of development, reflected by the rundown buildings shown in the film. There are also a few references to Agus's father, who struggles to raise his family. But Panji tones down these social elements in favour of creating an idyllic background for the story. The film is riddled with wide shots, framing the kids between the landscapes they continually pass on their way to school: rivers, rice paddies, lush green forests, and Mount Merapi. When the story aims to be so simple, who needs a heavy-handed treatment? By celebrating the everyday over the epic, Stepping On Flying Grass becomes an epic in its own right.
Three filmmakers from Southern Europe report on their experiences making art in a time of crisis.
On the heels of three successful premieres at the 63rd Berlinale, directors Salomé Lamas, Elina Psykou and Thanos Anastopoulos got together to discuss their work in the context of the crisis hitting Southern Europe, one that, while social and economic in nature, is also a crisis of identity.
Moderator Vincenzo Bugno opened the Berlinale Talent Campus discussion "Pride and Prejudice: Southern European Filmmakers Report" with a brilliant analogy: "A crisis is like emotional blackmail". Turmoil forces filmmakers into a context in which their work is bound to be interpreted as either involuntary response or active resistance. Portuguese filmmaker Salomé Lamas — shy, but brimming with insight — spoke eloquently of her film No Man's Land. By letting her subject tell his own life story, Lamas manages to blur "the borders between storytelling, remembering and history," challenging "the way history crystallises into a fixed totality".
Psykou followed, discussing some of the more humorous segments of her excellent debut, The Eternal Return Of Antonis Paraskevas. One moment in the film finds its eponymous protagonist — a famous anchorman who has just orchestrated his own kidnapping — nostalgically looking at footage from the inauguration of the Euro in Greece. The historical reference becomes a source of dark humour. As Psykou observed, Greece was "the first country to get the Euro and perhaps the first country to lose it."
Thanos Anastopoulos spoke last, loudest and longest. Regarding his character-driven, personal film The Daughter, he said that "a moral crisis always precedes an economic one". The talk closed with an insightful discussion on financing and distribution in times of strife. Anastopoulos called the cutting of funds for the arts a form of dictatorship, "silencing our ability to create art about what is in front of us". Under these circumstances, however, filmmaking becomes a form of resistance.