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Performing Documentary

News from Jun 01, 2011

Performing Documentary (June 2-5, 2011, Cinema Arsenal, Potsdamer Platz)

Arsenal - Institute for Film and Videoart e.V.

Potsdamer Straße 2

D-10785 Berlin



Over the last ten years, a new, experimental variation on the documentary has emerged in Austrian and German filmmaking: films that work with explicit reenactments, obviously contrived situations, alienation effects and performative sequences to quite literally stage the documentary material that they are based upon. The "Performing Documentary" series brings together these documentaries and places them in a discursive context for the first time.

Although these films still deal with such current social issues as women trafficking, economic crimes, the prison system and domestic violence, they extend the repertoire of documentary practice on a formal level. Regardless of whether they are staged using theatrical means, as a cinematic reading, in a studio setting or on location, having actors, speakers or the protagonists themselves deliver meticulously put-together documentary testimonials in a clearly choreographed manner calls into question the standard patterns of documentary representation. This approach demonstrates a clear distrust of both empathetic identification and the idea of alleged "documentary" evidence. The focus here is less on intimacy, authenticity and immediacy, but rather on analyzing the structures of society, replacing emotiveness with a less overtly dramatic approach and foregrounding reduction and abstraction in place of illustration. By daring to experiment, these performative political documentaries challenge both documentary strategies and the current state of society at the same time. "Performing Documentary" draws on films, texts and discussions in order to debate this specific documentary aesthetic.

Nearly all of the filmmakers will be attending the screenings at Arsenal to hold discussions about their work thanks to the support of the Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Austrian Cultural Forum in Berlin, without whose assistance the project could not have been realized in its current form this form. A publication containing original material by the filmmakers about this special type of documentary form has also been created to accompany the series and is available for free at the cinema box office. In addition, many of the films will be given an introduction, with a panel discussion entitled "Performing Documentary – On the Aesthetics of Performative Political Documentaries" also to be held. The panel discussion will be chaired by Birgit Kohler and includes Dominik Kamalzadeh (film critic, Vienna), Bert Rebhandl (film critic, Berlin) and Werner Ruzicka (Head of the Duisburger Filmwoche).


GANGSTER GIRLS (Tina Leisch, Österreich 2008, June 2, the screening will be attended by Tina Leisch). Artfully made-up faces, wigs, songs, acting and dance – a theater workshop in Schwarzau women’s prison. The film tells the dramatic life stories of the women serving time there, showing them reenacting their everyday lives and portraying themselves. They also describe how they got into prison and what experiences they have had behind bars in series of staged discussion scenes in the kitchen, the laundry and sewing room. Their faces remain masked in these scenes, much like they are in the rest of the film, making the women seems almost like artificial figures. As acting and confession and staged reflection and authentic experience run into one another, , a multilayered, contradictory picture of the institution of the prison and the society from which it has emerged is revealed.


KURZ DAVOR IST ES PASSIERT (It Happened Just Before, Anja Salomonowitz, Austria 2006, June 2, introduction by Birgit Kohler) Five people, five potential "crime scenes": a customs officer, a waiter working at a brothel, the woman from round the corner, a diplomat and a taxi driver, each of them in their daily surroundings, tell of frustrated hopes, false promises, exploitation and helplessness. Although is obvious that the situations are staged and that they themselves have actually not experienced the events described, the things they are talking about did actually happen: the texts they each deliver in a flat monotone were put together based on written records of meetings held with women affected by trafficking, who do not appear themselves. The alienation effect that emerges due to this interweaving of documentary material and explicit staging challenges narrative conventions, documentary strategies and the state of society in equal measure.


HAT WOLFF VON AMERONGEN KONKURSDELIKTE BEGANGEN? (Wolff Von Amerongen - Did He Commit Bankruptcy Offences?, Gerhard Friedl, Austria 2004, June 3, introduction by Volker Pantenburg) A story about the German economy: images of cities, landscapes, factory halls, airports can be seen. A voice-over can be heard, which talks laconically about the careers, machinations, afflictions and quirks of the great industrial dynasties and the illegal entanglements of financial capital in the 20th century. An artfully designed text which places far-reaching events and absurd details next to one another and plays on the grotesquely comic potential of the meticulously researched material. The images and text run parallel to one another without ever necessarily coinciding. The montage confuses rather than illustrates. A document of the non-representability of economic crime.


DAS PROBLEM IST MEINE FRAU (The Problem Is My Wife, Calle Overweg, Germany 2003, June 3, the screening will be attended by Calle Overweg) A widespread practice and a subject often repressed: domestic violence. Men who hit their wives and seek advice by going to therapy form the framework for this "fake documentary", whose experimental intentions are established in an explicit manner right from the start: from the very beginning: while the therapists are real therapists, the perpetrators are actors and the therapy sessions staged. The statements made by the men have been carefully thought up based on comprehensive research. Although the experimental set-up within the studio is obvious, with the filmmaker occasionally appearing onscreen, and despite the fact the media staging forms part of the narrative from the very beginning, the acting performances that emerge are highly immediate in their impact nonetheless. A type of artistically condensed reality, which reveals the mechanisms of genuine violence against women.


ORAL HISTORY (Volko Kamensky, Germany 2009, June 4, the screening will be attended by Volko Kamensky). Birdsong, a deciduous forest, a small collection of houses with not a person to be seen. It all feels like a fairy tale. Slow tracking shots. The sound of a telephone ringing. An ecstatic voiceover spoken by various female voices talks about a place at the edge of a forest, about home and community, about living close to nature and exclusion. I was born here, this is where I belong. Gentle doubts begin to arise about the relationship between the voiceover and the images. It will be seen that the allegedly autobiographical stories being related by the staff of a telephone hotline about "the village on the edge of the forest" are entirely made up. Made-up stories as a form of documentary material that refers to something real: the tangible reality of stereotypical collective ideas.


MICHAEL BERGER. EINE HYSTERIE (Michael Berger. A Hysteria, Thomas Fürhapter, Austria 2010, June 4, the screening will be attended by Thomas Fürhapter) The incredible biography of young Austrian investment banker Michael Berger, tracing how he went from a bank apprentice in Salzburg to a corrupt Wall Street millionaire, moving from the list of the most successful Austrians abroad to the America's Most Wanted list. As a voiceover relates Michael Berger's life story in the clinical style of a protocol, mixing acts and anecdotes at will, Berger never becomes anything more than a phantom, just as the discussions never go beyond speculation. Not a single image of him is shown, just the places that he affected. As the film follows the trail of the criminal, the objectivizing form employed means that it is the inscrutable nature of the criminal system that ultimately comes to the fore.


BESPRECHUNG (Meeting, Stefan Landorf, Germany 2009, June 4, the screening will be attended by Stefan Landorf) Meetings, conferences and talks are part of everyday life in the modern world of work, all of them employing their own linguistic codes and rules of conduct, which create an image of the actual state of the company. The film shows meetings in a wide range of different institutions, placing its focus on the architecture of meetings rooms and the language and gestures of the participants in particular. It leads us into a world of small talk, phrases and rituals and reveals meetings as a stage for (self-) portrayals of all kinds. This becomes most tangible in the performative sequences, in which individual sentences are repeated by the protagonists and then taken up and recited by actors as they move the stage sets around – verbal fragments to be employed at will, liberated of any particular meaning.


DER KICK (The Kick, Andres Veiel, Germany 2006, June 5, the screening will be attended by Andres Veiel) 16-year-old Marinus Schöberl was brutally attacked and killed by Marco and Marcel Schönfeld and their friend Sebastian Fink in Potzlow, a village in Brandenburg, in the summer of 2002. Following months of research in the village, a play entitled The Kick and a documentary of the same name were created, the latter becoming a dense cinematic protocol consisting of two actors playing 18 different roles that largely consist of monologues. The roles include parents and children, the perpetrators themselves and the victim's relatives, the mayor, the priest as well as officials and lawyers. The film represents an attempt to portray the inconceivable, to emphasize the non-representable nature of such a monstrous act by means of formal asceticism and to explore the structures that underlie the act in question. A polyphonic narrative, which simultaneously abstracts from the deed and calls it back into the present.


HAMBURGER LEKTIONEN (Hamburg Lectures, Romuald Karmakar, D 2006, June 5, introduction by Dominik Kamalzadeh) In a studio setting – neutral background, stool, side table and lighting – actor Manfred Zapatka reads a text in a sober and measured tone, only raising his voice slightly from time to time. He doesn’t make the words his own but simply allows them to pass his lips. The texts consist of two sermons given by Imam Mohammed Fazazi in a Hamburg mosque in January 2001. It is only the anti-illusionistic, highly understated set-up of the film and its specific apparatus of distance that enable attention to be focused on the texts themselves, allowing their internal logic, the rhetorical strategies of the Koran exegesis being employed and the structures of the totalitarian thought model they these are rooted in to be grasped.


An event organized in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Civil Education and the Austrian Cultural Forum in Berlin.