"Shoulder the Lion"

in 58th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Dennis Vetter

Ambivalence is a defining trace in every perception of a documented reality. In representations through images and their edited patterns we negotiate ideas of reality. Doubt and belief manifest themselves, mingling with factual interest. Disbelief is suspended; still our sense of “the reality”, of our reality, of other realities sharpens. It sharpens in contrasts, in perspectives, in shifts of the real, in style, alienation and formalism. And poetic imperatives that we would embrace in fiction appear as traitors or traps when encountered in a seemingly authentic context.

And eventually, what seems to manifest as a sense of truth lies beyond the literal, beyond the border of document and fiction: an authentic relation of a work of art to a reality, a creative treatment of a reality, evolved in a process, as a process, as initiative of its creators.

Shoulder the Lion by Patryk and Erinnisse Rebisz raises questions of initiative, of process, of style by articulating a stylistic interpretation of initiative and process. What purpose does a creation serve for its creator(s) and what sense of purpose does it raise? What causes an initiative of creation, what modifies the process of its unfolding? And under which circumstances does an expression evolve until it sparks a sense of authenticity, a sense of truth, a sense of the real? As a collage, several artists define this film’s plot and visuals through their ways of expression and their routines of creation. They share a loss of their primary access to their disciplines, a loss of their original artistic tools. Alice Wingwall is a blind photographer, Graham Sharpe is a musician and festival organizer who suffers from heavy tinnitus, Katie Dallam is a painter who almost died and lost a major part of her brain capacity. Their sight, their imagination and hearing are impaired are lost and we follow their paths of (re-)approaching the world through photography, painting and music beyond their sensory and synaptic limitations.

What had been a defining passion without any doubt for them has become an insecure and invisible detour, a threat, a warning, a utopia. Their ongoing urge to create fosters at the same time a recreation and negotiation of their former and present selves. Their practice explores memory and unexpected potential, loss and hope. Their freedom of voluntary artistic practice is irritated when they face moments of tragic insight: when they are threatened with the total loss of their expression their art reveals itself in great clarity as a philosophical necessity, an essential part of their lives. What was based on initiative becomes a challenge. What was based on inspiration becomes a purpose. Clear strategies get absorbed in an overwhelming sense of ambivalence.

The film in itself plays with the essentially ambivalent relations of these individuals to their craft by becoming quite ambivalent. All artists become performers of themselves, in very direct ways. They exemplify gestures, take poses, position themselves and are positioned in spaces. Their physical appearance is, right from the beginning, expanded through embodiments of their sensual realities. Sculptures and conceptual devices (film projections on a body, expressionist arrangements of light and structures…) let us visually relate to their particular ways of perceiving sensations. And gradually the sensual spaces and key images of the film mingle with the vibrations of their specific art, their images, their paintings and sculptures, their sounds. Accompanied by stories and personification these works and the particular methods involved in their creation unfold a very particular sense of completeness and coherence. Like there is this particular sense of an artist becoming a friend, the sense of a creative process mingling with a certain intimacy or familiarity, this feeling when a work loses its elaborate aura and becomes, slowly, timidly, demystified.

While this feeling slowly unfolds, the films stylistic imperatives keep working against it by creating a distance to any immediate impression, to every familiarity. Every shot is elaborating, provoking an aura and symbolic quality in every gesture. As if these stories would not suffice, as if actual familiarity and intimacy with these people was not possible, as if reality would not suffice. There are only rare moments of clarity without stylistic intervention. Like the images of a blind photographer, everything here seems almost overly prepared, composed with care and interest in things that cannot be seen. As if we could not just see and believe, as if authenticity could not transpire through the screen, the film expresses a desire to continuously link the visual to the conceptual – instead of embracing the act of looking itself as a concept of seeing. This constant presence of the conceptual raises a certain notion of mistrust. The presence of formalism feels so much like a promise of defined sense, a promise of a reliable notion of sensuality: “this is the visual empire of the blind, its phantom dimensions, its pace and emptiness, the density and limitation in darkness, its memory.”

We get to know something, but the more we know, then so the bigger becomes our potential to doubt, contextualize it and intellectualize it. Our conceptions of creativity and our beliefs in the human means of expression give us strength and a sense of hope towards an undefined future that will still have to prevail alongside old and new fears. And between these fears and our sense of hope it is ambivalence that keeps us moving, it is the vibration of ambivalence that creates movement. Our sense of ambivalence – an unrestingly inevitable source of our creativity – has no physical equivalent. Our ethereal sense of presence and expression is linked to a restless care for the intensity of being in this world and inseparable from its dynamics of power. And this is linked to every sense of truth, essentially: power.

Edited by Steven Yates