Documentary Helps Memory

in 19th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Roberto Tirapelle

The 19th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival boasted a rich programme of documentaries, and the important event in Greece reflected how the short film still is a vital source of innovation for the art of cinema.

Considering the old and new dimensions of the documentary, trials and tribulations about the limits of the form, I will focus on two sections of the Festival that I got to enjoy.

The tribute to Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian, award-winning auteurs whose work has been exhibited in major art institutions around the world, has been wonderful and devastating. The Italian filmmaker and painter Ricci Lucchi, and Armenian architect Gianikian moved on from experimental short films in the 1970s to documentaries in the 1980s. Their work focuses on memory: a new concept of memory, based on the reconstruction of existing movies with attention to images of war or the colonial period, creating an alternative narrative. Through found footage, aesthetics make a withdrawal and recovery, and images are reassembled in a new critical context. This is an operation of memory, but it is also political.

For example, in Images of the Orient: Vandal Tourism (Images d;Orient: tourisme vandale; Italy-France, 2001) we have footage from 1928-29 showing a British aristocratic family in India during the struggle against colonization. There is an elaboration of the original reels in 9.5 mm (found at Pathé film production and from the Italian pioneer Luca Comerio) that passes through colour, slow motion, the still image, the pizzicato of music or a French song, deafening silence, which dramatically emerges in the tension between tourists’ satisfaction and the local people. While the British enjoy their tea in the garden of the Maharajah, the starving local population wanders the streets. The visual restlessness that comes from Ricci Lucchi images (he is also a video-artist) and from Gianikian pave the way for new rules for the documentary, where memory becomes an exotic corner of subversion.

An equal measuring of film and politics is the peculiar note of two other works of Ricci Lucchi and Gianikian seen in Thessaloniki: Balkan Inventory (Inventario Balcanico, Italy, 2000), produced by the Biennale di Venezia and Nocturne (Italy, 1997); both are articulated through a crucible of different subjects. Balkan Inventory is the elegy for a region destroyed by war and ecological disaster. In the Balkans between 1920 and 1940, German soldiers are photographed by the sea, parents with children, carnival masks, farmers and traders of carpets, churches, mosques and forts. It is a background of situations and locations of dignity, which are emphasized by Djivan Gasparyan’s music. Nocturne, perhaps, is more lyrical and depicts a gypsy feast in Sarajevo, a family sitting on a balcony in Belgrade, an erotic film in Zagreb. It has the flavour of everyday life, mixing violence and freedom.

In my opinion, TDF has had another interesting idea to share: the traveling project of Oberhausen on Tour. Oberhausen is evidently home to the Short Film Festival, one of the most important film events of its kind in the world, which has been the catalyst for new trends and developments of the short film. The TDF could be programmed to link films with a wide range of experiments that could connect with the audience of Thessaloniki.

A short film that impressed me particularly was Zagreb Confidential – Imaginary Futures by Darko Fritz (Croatia 2015), which describes 50 years of urban development in Zagreb. The construction of the short involves the viewer, both in the utopian aspect as in the political one, with the project. Also important was the retrospective by Salla Tykkä (Finland 2016) which, by proposing a series of cameras with other related images, lets us discover the difficulty of remembering and the importance of forgetting. It is always the memory that helps us, the photo shooting of the documentary that stays a young force for film and information.

One last story, Familiar Memories by Pol Merchan (Germany, 2016), a fulminating four-minute short, is a family home movie shot in Super 8. A father at the centre of the image depicts himself and his smug authority. A voiceover tells a story that is visible and invisible. An example to reframe memory and bring it forward.

Roberto Tirapelle is editor-in- chief of the monthly magazine Il Basso Adige and contributor to Mediartenews online newspaper. He established the directors’ series “Sequenze” and wrote Tracce di giallo. He also wrote two music books, Leonard Bernstein, una traccia per la memoria and Opera mon amour.

Edited by Birgit Beumers