Of a people who are missing
OF A PEOPLE WHO ARE MISSING is a ciné-club to discuss the aesthetical and political significance of the films by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub for contemporary image production. From November 12 to December 21 OF A PEOPLE WHO ARE MISSING will open in Extra City Kunsthal Antwerp as a platform for both, the viewing and making of films. The exhibtion space is structured by five studios which will act as showrooms as well as independent production spaces. Each studio is used in a different configuration of archive material, film excerpts, actual footage and the critical discourse around it. Every Thursday to Saturday one studio will host invited guests and contributors for a series of screenings, lectures and debates.
The "Straubs", as Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub are oftenly referred as, are among the most controversial, most inspiring, uncompromised and yet widely unknown filmmakers of both the presence and the history of cinema. Their films span over five decades and cover a wide range of topics, references and materials from arts, literature, theatre, and music.
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet have worked together very closely over 40 years until Danièle Huillet's death in October 2006. From the early 1960ies till to date their radical modernist approach towards filmmaking allowed them to create almost 30, very diverse films of an outstanding political sharpness; they treated and transformed literature by Kafka, Pavese and Hölderlin, as well as the paintings of Cezanne, cantatas by Bach and operas by Schönberg while they kept developing a distinct visual language based on a deep respect and a faithful belief in the complicated autonomy of images.
Born in Lorraine, living in Germany, Italy and France and making films in French, German and Italian language, the filmmakers themselves represent an important thread of European film history. Due to their insistance on the highest possible technical quality, they brought together the best technicians, cinematographers and sound-editors, who made possible, for instance, the live recording of an orchestra while shooting a scene. While working with prestigious theatre actors as well as non-professional actors their accuracy in respect to almost every uttered syllable is legendary. This way they were able to match aesthetic vision and excellent technical quality, one of the main characteristics of their work.
This seems to imply that Straub-Huillets entire work and attitude could not be more contradictory to the digital mode of production. Instead, we understand the background as an extreme pole of analog filmmaking which -- besides the technical questions and challenges -- provokes a permanent rethinking of the potentialities and limitations of the digital itself. As the filmmakers constantly questioned the possible transformation from one medium to the other, such as literature, painting, music towards film, as a process of re-reading, re-inventing or readjusting of meaning.
If there is such a thing like a "Pédagogie straubienne" (as Serge Daney has hinted once) the project follows the question: What can we learn from their films today? Is it possible to translate the rigor, their painstaking and scrupulous precision that seems so much connected and conditioned by the means of analog film production into what is usually conceived as the age of digital image production?
OF A PEOPLE WHO ARE MISSING approaches the work of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub from a perspective of contemporary image production. Although exclusively tied to the analog mode of production the way the two filmmakers have worked could be considered as "open source" in the truest sense of the word. Rather than owning the images they have produced, their images try to own up to their sources or predecessors, and therefore they value their collaborators and potential audiences in the highest possible way.
The title OF A PEOPLE WHO ARE MISSING refers to the great tribut Gilles Deleuze paid to the Straubs in the last chapters of his cinema book "The time image". The quote of "a people who are missing" is taken from the only public lecture Paul Klee held in 1924 in the Kunstverein Jena: "Uns traegt kein Volk." The citation has been widely misused in order to embellish the splendid isolation of the artist, but in fact Klee has added: "Aber wir suchen ein Volk."
Such paradoxical logics seem to characterize a thin but radical line within modernity that has survived for instance in the films of Straub-Huillet. "A people" needs to be invoced rather than represented or addressed. "The people no longer exist, or not yet..." and the result is that the only possible affirmation, and the affirmation of possibility itself, would consist of saying that a people will have to be created each time anew.
Such an attitude is of course contrary to the widespread debates about inclusion, participation and interactivity, as much as the films of the Straubs mark quite the opposite of what is coined today as "immersive". There is no common ground and the use of the medium is producing distance rather than eliminating it by the virtue of the communication fetish. Quality is based first of all on the precise measurement of such distantiation.
OF A PEOPLE WHO ARE MISSING is an experiment in three parts: First, it sets out as an exhibition project; an exhibition that is based on the film images from the various stages of production, postproduction, and distribution, encoding, decoding and re-encoding; it will draw from material that is collected from the house of Straub-Huillet near Rome and currently being archived in the Cineteca di Bologna; and it will present reactions, responses, reverberations from other filmmakers, artists, theorists.
The exhibition is connected with a screening project: Rather than a retrospective the screening project researches the material conditions of how to show a film or a selection of films. Straub and Huillet have always insisted on screening their works in relationship to other films which they chose themselves. The project will compare the potentials of contemporary screening and classical film projection technologies and evaluate their site and context specific impact in cinema, exhibition hall, as well as on the private screen.
Both, the exhibition as well as the screening project should lead to a publication project: One of the main goals of the project is to find out about how to translate Straub-Huillets precise aesthetical, political and technical approach towards filmmaking from the analog to todays digital sphere...