Berlinale: Films Beget Films
February 24, 2010
Just returned from 2010 Berlinale where The Owls premiered, rocked German lesbian’s L-Word soaked version of dyke-America, and sold a bunch of territories, too (thanks to The Collaborative! Note to indie- film-world: if you make a feature for $20K you can re-coup costs pretty darn easily). I thought Hammer to Nail did a super job trying to explain the delightful, confounding, amazing experience which is this HUGE, cosmopolitan, diverse, intellectual, and extremely well-programed amalgam of films from star-studded to avant-garde, so I’ll do something else. Thanks to her as well for a fine wrap-up of our film and others!
So, I’ll take a different approach. I saw a lot of films when I was there, and noted a continuing pre-occupation, for some handled with verve and complexity, for others less so. I’d include The OWLS as a contributor to this category, Films Beget Films (thanks to Jay Leyda, 1964) by which I refer to films or videos (either fiction, documentary, or mixed) about past films or the act of filming or both. The most stunning addition to this veritable tradition was A Film Unfinished (Shtikat Haarchion), Yael Hersonski’s subtle, careful re-visit to a Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto, used throughout cinema’s Holocaust History to represent THE ghetto, failing to note the manipulated nature of this record of “daily life.” Hersonski literally shows the Nazi camera mans’ dirty hands, fleeting through images, as they direct and stage multiple takes of dressed-up “rich” residents of the ghetto (starving themselves) standing indifferently beside the poor and dying to prove, via documentary’s authenticating gaze, that the Jew’s were to blame for their own sorry condition. I would have liked to see the filmmaker expose her hand as well, even a little wave, acknowledging what all documentarians know to be our own propaganda project, but perhaps this is too much to ask of a film so dangerous to make and behold.
In any case, another Israeli filmmaker, Tomer Heymann made this his most visible subject while continuing the tense consideration (viewed in Berlin no less) of the relations past and present between Germans and Jews in I Shot My Love, a hand-held video diary of the filmmaker’s daily, mundane and rich interactions with both his Mother and German lover. Where Film Unfinished questioned the role of filmming in the making of historical knowledge about catastrophe and HISTORY, I Shot my Love accomplished, also with great care (nothing BIG happens, no mother dying, no traumatic break-up) the opposite, also subtly indicating that the two film projects about film, trauma, cross-cultural interaction, violence, love, and the every day are after much the same thing.
Of course, THE OWLS is more about the violence of lesbians in cinema (The Killing Sister George, The Fox) than it is in our daily life (none of us actually murder each other in my community), and how these messages of our own dark pathology can be re-used by us and for us to fuel our creativity, express our anger, and reflect upon cinema’s traps regarding truth. Other beautiful films in this vein included Daniel Schmid (about the Swiss filmmaker) and the Bengali, Just Another Love Story (Aarekti Premer Golpo), about actors and real people (and film directors) playing actors in a film about cross-dressing male actors in Indian theater with two narrative strands and a documentary one, too.
Given the ubiquity and success of this filmic project across the festival, it was as interesting to note the many films engaged in the same project that were not as moving for me. These were Making the Boys (In the Band), Blank City (about 70s New York No Wave Cinema), and Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling. In all three films about the making of films in NY in the seventies, the film holding the films was not nearly as formally complex or evocative as the images it considered. One might suggest that a transparent form is the best way to consider past work, but I’m not so sure. In every case these docs looked at people driven to make films that were as formally dangerous as were their personal and political struggles. The safe drabness of conventional documentary form does disservice to their radical visions.