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About the 2006 edition
A point of view about the world is a point of view about cinema. If one expects any film to incorporate a point of view about the world, today one should also note the importance of stressing almost the inverse: in the midst of the present audiovisual saturation, the productive use of the means of the cinema claims for an even stronger engagement, exigency and clarity concerning the place of cinema in the modern world. As much as a point of view about the world, the production boom claims for a point of view about cinema as a consequent part of our vision of the world.
The 2006 seminar includes some examples of this, films and film makers that define the landscape, and, consequently, may guide us along a journey through some key trends of contemporary cinema. Starting with films where each shot reveals a strong construction method, we will then rather concentrate on the recent methodologies of direct cinema.
Regarding the latter, we will propose a confrontation between different filming strategies, including an analytic approach of various parameters: treatment of space, treatment of time, handling of the camera, sound, editing.
The 2006 edition shall run according to a new structure of debates, in three distinct levels: dialogues on specific films; thematic presentation on formal strategies; collective debate.
Transcription of the debates
Eighth debate, after the film by Keja Ho Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin
18th JUNE, SUNDAY
Film shown before the debate:
I’ll be Your Eyes, You’ll be Mine, Keja Ho Kramer, Stephen Dwoskin
Nuno Lisboa (NL)
Ricardo Matos Cabo (RMC)
Keja Ho Kramer (KHK)
NUNO LISBOA: We are going to talk to Keja Ho Kramer, and to help us do that we have with us Ricardo Matos Cabo, who is a researcher and a programmer in the field of experimental cinema, and he is responsible for the cycle dedicated to Michael Snow, in Lisbon, and also for the cycle Cinema and Politics, at the Serralves Foundation, in Oporto.
RICARDO MATOS CABO: It’s important to situate this film within what the forms of subjectivity, the forms of experience and autobiography in cinema. For me, autobiography is not, nor could it be, a cinema genre. It is – to borrow a term from literary theory – a space, which has as a reference the idea of an enunciation, a combining the subjective expression of a particular self and its formal expression, in the case of cinema, by means of images and sounds. Autobiography in the cinema (and, particularly, in experimental cinema) takes many different forms: dedication, elegy, filmed diary, autobiographical-fiction (where I would include this film), confession, letter, etc.
It is also very important to talk about the other filmmaker, which is not present here, Stephen Dwoskin, since this is a collaborative film. He is a crucial filmmaker who has been pursuing, since the sixties, a very coherent and obsessive work on gaze and cinema, and on how we can think of an image as a form of empathic transmission. He has used his own life as the subject of his films, notably his close relations, sexuality and disabilities – he has a birth disease, which diminishes him. It is best if you explain this.
KEJA HO KRAMER He had polio, he’s in a wheelchair and that’s really affecting the way that he sees the world. I would like to add that he started as a painter before making films, and he’s a fine arts student of Alber’s. There’s a whole plastic dimension in the way he works with video. In the beginning, he was shooting with film, because he had the strength to hold the camera but, little by little, as his strength has been diminishing, he’s been using video.
RMC: Stephen Dwoskin had an immense influence in the avant-garde, and he published an historical book about it, Film is. The title is a kind of ontological joke, and￼he shows the immensity of approaches we can have to film and the idea of film. It’s also important to say that this film was sometimes screened with another of Dwoskin’s films, All Death, which is an eulogy, a praise for his father. One thing that interests me in this autobiographical experience is how affections and feelings, understood as abstract formulations, appear here as intensities, and how they become emotions and experiences through the choice of very specific structures, images, themes and so on. The film is like a portrait of Robert, edited as a ghost story or a detective story. Everything is presented to us as a trace, fleeing from one image to the next. It’s one way to find my way through this immense collage of elements which we see in the film.
KHK: When we started talking about making this piece, we created a character. By structuring the whole film along the lines of a detective story, actually using means of fiction, we had a non-conclusive way of entering the work. I knew what I was going to shoot, and why I was going to shoot it, but I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. Using fiction in that sense created a structure that modulated the whole process of the film, even after the shooting and in the editing phase.
RMC: You told me there was a play in the film between what could be seen as a closed structure (which came before) and a kind of open work with the images. You made a plan – can you explain a little bit how that worked?
KHK: Making an overall pattern to follow made it possible to create an abstract film that was structured, where everything eventually makes sense. The film is created like a memory, trying to associate your personal feelings to memory; what metaphors are and how that works in images.
RMC: There are several ways of understanding the film and how all those images relate to each other. I decided to use the experience I had had watching it to help me find a way through the riddle the film establishes. As I was trying to make sense out of it, two things occurred to me (which are very present in the autobiographical film). One would be distance. It is very clearly present in your film in a geographical way. What you referred to before is a way of mapping memory. We see there’s a journey in the film covering different places, which relates to a personal history, or a specific journey being made while you were doing the film. Everything concerning that journey has to do with identity, like changing your name. The other dimension is proximity – how to film something which is really close to you, and therefore affects you. I see that in the way you film bodies and objects, in the archive footage, in all the images you use (of your mother, for instance, like the spider).
KHK: The whole film is based on the idea of feeling. I’m trying to sense what feelings are and how you relate to them. And also how one image calls for others, either by structuring them or by allowing a dialogue between them and the subconscious. That’s something we’ve been talking about these couple of days about all these films – a point of view, where to situate oneself, how to frame and experience and share it. One of the reasons I’m most interested in making films is to be able to understand how you actually build a feeling, what is memory for each individual and how to transmit and share it.
RMC: I was also thinking about the text that Stephen Dwoskin wrote recently for the fiftieth number of Trafic, where he talks about his film experience throughout the years. He mentions how his images give as much as they demand from the spectator. He says that all the images he makes are mirror images. Another thing is distance – he says he travels far to find his subjects, which are so close to us. Maybe you could tell us something about the work of the spectator in this film, because there are lots of traps, which make it a very fun exercise, watching your film and trying to find out all the paths, the connections within the editing...
KHK: It’s a challenging question. I’d rather make that question to you. What is your experience as spectator watching the film?
RMC: The discussion of Stephen Dwoskin’s work, notably in a very famous text written in the seventies by Paul Willemin, is all about how his films aren’t and couldn’t be voyeuristic, because they demand a kind of empathic recognition with the subjects who are being filmed. This film also plays with that. Obviously, as in every film, a part of it belongs to the spectator. You told me how this editing was like making a map...
KHK: There’s a very conscious effort to have all the clues inside the film but, despite its generosity, if you are not willing to take the first step as a spectator, it may pass you by. It’s a game, and you can make it complex or simplify it. It’s a very general idea, but I think this film is made to play. I hope that’s the experience that you have, because the intent is that all the information is inside. Although it’s not there in a way to force you to accept it.
RMC: I also see it as a play. I like to follow the clues in this detective story and it works perfectly. The film seems to work by accumulation. Maybe you could explain how you worked with all this amount of material, and how you and Stephen collaborated.
KHK: There was no crew. I shot everything alone with two cameras, and each step of the process was very personal and quiet. We edited it in Stephen’s editing room in his house. There wasn’t that much footage, actually. There was no specific place of the planet – it was just one globe. That was partly the way Robert was living his life, and I wanted to apply that to the editing. There was no geography, although you may recognize some things – we moved in and out of two continents and some cities. There were maybe ten years of images – I shot his death mask in 99, when he died. Basically I was trying to figure out how the puzzle communicates and to establish a dialogue. It was all about working afterwards with all the material, processing it, putting it into the machine and then waiting for us to communicate. To work with Stephen was a historical choice, because of the respect that I had for his work and the necessity to be in a three-way dialogue.
NL: Did you go back and shoot while you were editing?
KHK: We were shooting all the way up to the end, which is the real fun with video – having the tools accessible and being able to, when you’re missing something, make it happen and piece it together. It was really important, because we wanted to be generous, we wanted you to be able to understand. It was important to have the clues available, so that you could figure out what was happening and follow a story.
RMC: In the end, did any of the materials that you had prevail? The voice, for instance: the idea of it making your way around many of the images.
KHK: No. We were working with the audio cassettes in the same way as with the images. They had the same importance, and the basic idea was more like a collage: collect all the material, have everything available inside the machine (including the sound) and then cut it up and paste it together, and actually get into a rhythm of subconscious association. One image would call another, which in turn would call another, and so on – all of this inside a structure. That was predefined so that we could be completely free.
NL: Were you re-elaborating that structure while doing the film?
KHK: No, the structure came from an understanding of how the material was shot and from being able to process it, taking the time to really look at it. Each film is different. You look at things in a different way, according to the subject matter or the theme that you are working on. This film was shot in a particular way, dealing with the idea of memory. Memories are ephemeral, sometimes incredibly potent, sometimes incredibly vague, sometimes just slight clues...
NL: You had a pretty well-defined structure, you knew exactly when you would end. Did you ask yourself anything while doing the film?
KHK: No. We had time as a factor – a deadline. We wrote a proposition before I shot the film, so I knew what I wanted.
RMC: I think Nuno was referring to the conclusiveness of the film, because (in spite of having that time) you wanted it to be as open as possible.
KHK: Time doesn’t infringe on freedom. There was a deadline. That was going to define something, but in-between the opening and the closing parenthesis we weren’t at all worried.
RMC: What’s interesting is to look at that structure, and see how everything grows in it (even what Keja is calling the subconscious dimension of the image). To play within that structure... I’m interested in knowing how it works. I’ve seen the film several times, so I make a lot of connections between the images that are probably hidden to people who have just seen it. I’m always learning new things, and I like to play that game.
KHK: I have a question. This past couple of days, we have seen several ways of making documentary films and different types of films. Yet, for you, as filmmakers, there seems to be a very different kind of film that brings us together. We’re looking at the world face to face. How are your feelings towards that? How do you go about thinking about everything that we’ve been talking about in this past couple of days and the different experiences of all the different directors that have been showing their work?
RMC: That’s very important, but it’s another discussion. Thank you.
KHK: Thank you very much for inviting us.