EMOP Opening Days Photofilm series
Chris Marker La Jetée, F 1962, 28 min
Agnès Varda Salut les Cubains (Hello Cubans), F 1963, 30 min
Jutta Brückner Tue recht und scheue niemand – Das Leben der Gerda Siepenbrink (Do Right and Don’t Back Down – The Life of Gerda Siepenbrink), 1975, 65 min
Helke Misselwitz 35 Fotos – Bilder aus einem Familienalbum (35 Photos – Pictures from a Family Album), 1984/85, 7 min
Peter Nestler Väntan (Waiting), 1985, 6 min
Marc Thümmler Radfahrer (Cyclist), 2008, 27 min
Tina Bara Lange Weile (Boring Times), 2017, 60 min
Elfi Mikesch Wünsdorf, 2020, 32 min
Photofilm is a genre in its own right, based on photographs, on still images that are perceived as movement and come together to form a narrative that can be as fictional as it is documentary. The photographs come from archives, photo albums or, as in La Jetée (The Jetty), are specially staged. Snapshots examine the medium of film with regard to its essence, stillness and movement.
Filmmakers have consistently used photographs as the basis of their artistic work, creating a new context through commentary and montage. Jutta Brückner, for example, who adds photos of August Sander and Abisag Tüllmann, among others, to family pictures accompanied by her mother’s monologue, in Tue recht und scheue niemand (Do Right and Don’t Back Down), in order to arrive at a generalisation of social conditions. Agnès Varda refers entirely to the 1,500 photographs she took during a trip to Cuba and tells of the intertwining of politics and everyday life in the socialist island state.
Peter Nestler’s Väntan (Warten) is based on material Swedish television wanted to sell. In order to draw attention to this process, he has made a film about a mining accident in Silesia in the 1930s, in which he describes the harsh working conditions.
Three films in the series deal with the former GDR: Helke Misselwitz undermines the commission for an anniversary film in which she sets the official image of women against the right of individuality. The film could not be shown until a year later. Based on her own archive, photographer Tina Bara takes a journey through the 1980s in East Berlin, when many people withdrew into parallel lives to escape political pressure. In Radfahrer (Cyclist), Marc Thümmler examines the language and interpretations of the Stasi in relation to the photographs of Harald Hauswald.
Filmmaker and photographer Elfi Mikesch documents the legacies of the Soviet army at the Wünsdorf site, where prisoner-of-war camps had been set as early as World War I. What becomes visible is a place where the hierarchy of military rank is just as evident as the longing for culture, for which no effort was spared.
La Jetée, (The Jetty), is a French science fiction short film. The plot: In the aftermath of the Third World War, survivors in post-apocalyptic Paris live underground in the Galerien des Palais de Chaillot. Scientists experiment with research on time travel, in hopes that test persons could be the key to finding a way to save the present – by sending them either into the past or the future. Chris Marker mainly made essayistic documentaries. La Jetée is the first photo film to thoroughly examine time, alongside movement, as a constituent element of the medium of film. Moreover, essay filmmaker Marker created a dense reference system, which, among other things, refers to concentration camps and the experiments of the notorious camp physician Josef Mengele and can also be read in the cinematic context of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
France, 1962, 28 min, English version, directed by Chris Marker
Salut les Cubains (Hello Cubans)
Like many intellectuals of her time, filmmaker Agnès Varda sympathised with the Cuban Revolution. The small Caribbean island state had managed to free itself from American “casino capitalism” all on its own. Agnès Varda went to Cuba in 1963, three years after the revolution, to get an idea what the actual Cuba was. She returned with more than 1000 negatives for the editing table. In a playful montage, she makes photos dance to cha-cha-cha music, shows everyday street scenes as well as marches, looks at women with their awakened self-confidence, documents the sugar cane harvest and includes a public speech by Fidel Castro. Varda’s enthusiasm is palpable, but also a subtle irony. The commentary, which she delivers with actor Michel Piccoli, rhythmically accentuates the images.
1963, France, 30 min, French OmeU (French orig. with English subtitles), directed by Agnès Varda
Tue recht und scheue niemand – Das Leben der Gerda Siepenbrink
(Do Right and Don’t Back Down – The Life of Gerda Siepenbrink)
Gerda Siepenbrink’s life story is told over more than half a century, from 1915 to 1975. She lived through the First World War, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi and post-war periods, as well as through the West German “economic miracle”. Filmmaker Jutta Brückner composed the biography of her mother from private photographs, press clippings and quotations, which she has augmented with works by the documentarist August Sander and photographer Abisag Tüllmann. The trained seamstress talks frankly about the poor circumstances from which she came, where a dose of petit-bourgeois conditioning prevailed with its instructions about orderliness, cleanliness and “You can’t do that!”. Following many years spent at the side of her husband ‒ an accountant and SPD Party member ‒ Gerda finally succeeded in breaking away from those clutches. Brückner’s multifaceted collage goes beyond an individual fate to sketch a broad panorama of recent German history.
Germany, 1975, 65 min, directed by Jutta Brückner
35 Fotos – Bilder aus einem Familienalbum
(35 Photos – Pictures from a Family Album)
Using 35 photographs, Helke Misselwitz sketches out a “ordinary” life of a young woman in East Berlin. Her short film focuses on Karin R., born in 1949 ‒ the year the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded. The 35th anniversary of the GDR’s existence provided the occasion for this DEFA-KINOBOX piece. Including one picture for every year, the film revolves around origin, family and above all Karin’s marriage. When did she start questioning her role in it? According to the blunt and laconic assessments of those portrayed: “You adapt until there’s little left of yourself.” The narrative sharpens our view of what is concealed behind the images. This short film could first be shown a year later; most likely it was not ‘festive’ enough, and one of the arguments against screening it included: “It is not representative of the lives of women in the GDR.”
GDR, 1984‒85, 7 min, directed by Helke Misselwitz
Following the Second World War, a Swedish television station bought an extensive Berlin photo archive. It included photographs of a 1930 mining disaster in Silesia. When the station was discussing plans to sell the materials, documentary filmmaker Peter Nestler, who was living in Sweden at the time, decided to work with the archive to point out the value of the photographs. His short film compiles an oppressive view of catastrophic working conditions, but it also shows gestures of solidarity and consolation among the families. While Nestler dispassionately comments on the images, compositions by Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern provide the emotional atmosphere.
Sweden, 1985, 6 min, directed by Peter Nestler
The East German secret police (Stasi) began their surveillance of photographer Harald Hauswald in 1983. The code name of the operation was “cyclist”. The reason they spied on Hauswald was because of his endless expeditions through East Berlin, where he sought out and documented the flipside of the socialist façade. Among his subjects were shabby streets lined with dreary tenements, faces of passersby worn down by daily life and work, and parades viewed from the fringes, where they’re already dispersing. A master of street photography, he was a sensitive observer ‒ who was intensely observed. Numerous attempts to interpret the incriminating photos are found in his Stasi files, some quite bizarre in their commentary, some quite “discerning.” Director Marc Thümmler confronts these “image interpretations” with the photos. Ideology meets reality in a way not intended in the workers’ and farmers’ state.
Germany, 2008, 27 min, directed by Marc Thümmler
Lange Weile (Boring Times)
Film and photo artist Tina Bara has assembled a narrative about friendship and loss, brief encounters and reunion out of more than four hundred black-and-white photographs taken in the years 1983–89 during the late phase of the German Democratic Republic. In the voiceover she reflects on the process of remembering and on her artistic development. Starting from a portrait, she moves in closer and closer to the details. The bodies in her images are fragmented and wedged into one another. Her accompanying text relentlessly names the consequences: depression, suicide, emigration. Tina Bara grew up in Guben, a city divided by the Neisse River between East Germany and Poland. The rupture, the wound, and the scar became motifs that would continue to characterise her photographs. The film also tells of small escapes: illegal trips to the Baltic States or the laid-back rural areas in the Uckermark. Standstill and movement combine with enormous intensity, documenting both the beauty and the despair of those days.
Germany, 2017, 60 min, directed by Tina Bara
In Wünsdorf, near Zossen to the south of Berlin, hidden in the forest there is a former military town with an eventful history. During the First World War the site was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. The street sign Moscheestraße (Mosque Street) still bears witness to the first internees from the French colonies, for whom the first mosque in Germany was built. The National Socialists set up the headquarters of the Supreme Military Command in Wünsdorf to invent murderous weapon systems and plan the course of the Second World War.
Afterwards it became the location of a Red Army garrison, with up to 75,000 military personnel living in Wünsdorf, some with their families. Filmmaker and photographer Elfi Mikesch sifts through and documents the sediments these presences left behind. Among the legacies of the Soviet Army are slogans on the walls as well as hidden scribblings telling of young soldiers’ longing to return home. Present-day graffiti testifies that time marches on. What becomes visible is a place where the hierarchy of military rank is reflected in the architecture, but also evidence of a love of culture and of a vision of a glorious future, for which the Soviets spared no effort.
“There was daily military life, but also a reality that cannot be denied: Violence through monotony, deprivation and harshness. ‘Each year up to 4,000 Soviet soldiers died – through accidents, excessive violence and suicides’* The film conveys this remembrance through the music of Andrea Sodomka in its first and third segments. It is the endless loop and echo that manifest themselves in the buildings, objects, paved paths – even through the trees and plants – a meditation in violence.
‘There is the burden of 2.7 million tonnes of military legacy.’ In the third segment, it is heard vividly in the music of Harald Weiss: The Rest is Silence, and in the children’s calls and voices: ‘I asked you a question …’. Thomas Beckmann plays cello is a credo. An idea. That which remains.”
The photo film is a preliminary work for the documentary film project Wünsdorf findet Stadt. Germany, 2020, 32 min, realisation by Elfi Mikesch in collaboration with Lilly Grote
*Quoted material: Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, Stefan Wolle, Roter Stern über Deutschland. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, 2020
EMOP Opening Days