Les États généraux du film documentaire 2011 Getting Voices Heard

Getting Voices Heard

"Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore, I will speak for them..." (from Attorney General Gideon Hausner's opening remarks at the Eichmann Trial).

The program was born from a revelation and a wish: from the shock of facing Gianfranco Rosi's El Sicario, Room 164 (2010), one of the most disturbing films of recent years, and the realisation that through this work we are finally able to build something — call it a mind-scape, a space for discussion and reflection — that allows us to show Romuald Karmakar's The Himmler Project (2000), a milestone of modern cinema.
Gianfranco Rosi’s confessions of a Ciudad Juárez-hitman is a prime slice of investigative cine-journalism that turns into a piece of big screen Grand Guignol. There’s something theatrical to the film right from the beginning, the way the killer, his back to the camera, puts on a mask and turns towards his audience. He soon proves himself to be a master conteur with his tales about prostitution, drugs, extortion, kidnapping, finally torture and murder in three-digit dimensions. He re-enacts some of his crimes with deftness, and that closing coup de théâtre — he’s re-born in Christ and kneels on the ground, wailing. Since the film's first screening in Venice 2010, people again and again suggested that El Sicario, Room 164 might be a stylised re-staging of an actual meeting. Could just as well be that the killer is a born performer. Or that a constant double life makes every man an actor. What matters is: that his description of Mexico’s body politic as a cadaver alive with maggots is backed up hourly by the news (these days best called "post mortems").
In The Himmler Project, actor Manfred Zapatka reads Heinrich Himmler's First Posen Speech positioned in front of a neutral backdrop – and that’s it. The First Posen Speech was given on October 4, 1943 at a secret meeting with ninety-two SS Sturmbannführer. The theme was the future of Europe, how the wealth and labour of the subcontinent should be divided, managed and distributed. There were also a few remarks on the status of the Final Solution; the latter made the speech (in)famous: as one of the few documents in which the Nazis actually talk about their deeds, and how this guilt has to be shouldered and shared... The Himmler Project was shot from two or three angles with only slight variations in framing; the original setting is suggested through a lectern. The version of the First Posen Speech Manfred Zapatka reads differs from the one generally known, as Romuald Karmakar reconstructed the original delivery from a disc recording, which accounts for all these unfinished sentences and sometimes strange turns in the discourse — as Himmler worked from notes and didn't simply present a finished text. The Himmler Project is not a reading of Himmler's speech, it is a “re-concretization” (as Romuald Karmakar calls it) of the speech given, an idea reinforced in the film's very fabric. The original audience's reactions are suggested by subtitles.
Thus a certain framework for the program was set.

Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann's The Laughing Man (1966) is an en face-meeting with a mass murderer, Siegfried “Kongo” Müller, during the sixties one of the world's most notorious soldiers of fortune. The interview was conducted in a barren studio by Gerhard Scheumann, who is never seen, only heard – a voice familiar back then to probably everybody in the GDR, as Gerhard Scheumann was the creator/anchor of the country's most popular TV-news magazine. The Laughing Man made film and television history: for the first time, audiences could study a mass murderer, listen to his discourse.
Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann, many argued, didn't play fair with Siegfried Müller who never knew whom he was talking to; it seems more appropriate to say: Siegfried Müller was done in by his vanity, a will not so much to confess and come clear but brag. Something similar could be said about Thomas Harlan's masterpiece maudit, Wundkanal (1984), in which another mass murderer is seduced into talking about his deeds: Alfred Filbert, who as head of Einsatzgruppe B's Einsatzkommando 9, was responsible for several massacres in Lithuania and Belorussia during the first months of Germany's war with the USSR. Seduced by the name Harlan - Thomas, for him, was above all the son of Veit -, Alfred Filbert agreed to play a version of himself in Wundkanal, most probably without knowing so — there was no script. Thomas Harlan led Alfred Filbert through the scenes by whispering into his ear, making him talk about his crimes... Wundkanal is a film of many faces – one of them is the confession of a mass murdering Nazi.

The words of victims are just as difficult to hear as those of criminals. We felt the need to listen to this discourse, the voices of the victims and the vanquished... In Return to Khodorciur, Armenian Diary (1986), director Yervant Gianikian's father remembers the genocidal massacres committed by the Turks against the Armenians. Seventy years old, he returned for the first time to Armenia and during his long solitary walk, he wrote a diary. Ten years later, he read it before the camera. It is a long process before the massacre can be talked about, just as it takes time to arrive at the scenes of the crimes – the home village of the father and the family. This is an act of transmitting history. If Return to Khodorciur, Armenian Diary is a humble memoir, a solitary act of trying to find words for something one would wish to forget, of an attempt to give voice to one human being's pain, Reading the Book of Blockade (2009) comes off as a collective rite of remembrance, a monument to one collectives' singular suffering. For this spoken-word oratorio, Alexander Sokurov invited fellow St. Petersburgians into the city's radio station to recite stories from Daniil Granin and Ales’ Adamovič’s Blokadnaja kniga (1981), a - back then path-breaking ie. taboo-smashing - collection of reminiscences from the Siege of Leningrad – stories at once so gruesome and heroic, grotesque and human that they sometimes defy belief. Here, history is passed on to another generation – giving the citizenry's pain a new meaning, dimension. But, hark, here is Alexander Sokurov a propos Reading the Book of Blockade: “[The Siege was] a nightmarish, devilish strainer people were forced to pass through; having on this fatal journey undergone that which the living cannot endure, many nevertheless came out alive. This is a nightmare experience. I am not certain that it will never happen again. The Siege was one of the main fields of battle with Nazism as such. The Siege is also a painful question for the whole of Russian history: is victory worth the price in human life?“
A perplexing and disquieting mix of documentary and fiction comparable to that of Wundkanal can be found in Friedrich Ėrmler's The Verdict of History (1965): here, an actor and a real person, Vasili Shulgin, meet and talk about history. A rigged set-up, it would seem, as the USSR's official view of its past, present and future should prevail against the opinions of a well-known “reactionary”. Yet, Friedrich Ėrmler gave Vasili Shulgin so much space and presented him as such an eloquent reader, fine mind and vibrant personality that The Verdict of History became a major problem at the time. Its original version was never released, and even its re-working proved too controversial for wider distribution – the film was little seen. Vasili Shulgin, here, was not merely a fragment of a history overcome but a victim.

Inopportune interpretive dimensions probably played a role in the forgetting of Memories of the Eichmann Trial (1979): David Perlov asked people of two generations what they could remember from the Eichmann trial. The answers are at times quite staggering – especially when two men start to compare their own work as soldiers with that of Eichmann, an officer just like them...
Eichmann, actually, wasn't the point at the trial, but the system he represented, as at least one interviewee here observes. Therefore, Eichmann never vanished even if his body was cremated and his ashes blown away across no-man's water, the oceans wide – the person created from all these memories has more power than the one man who signed acts of mass murder. Which makes Dani Gal's Night and Fog (2011) such a curious object: based - ostensibly - upon the memories of Auschwitz-survivor, Mishteret Yisrael-investigator and witness to Eichmann's execution, cremation etc., Michael Goldman Gilad, Dani Gal reconstructs the event of June 1st 1962, its early morning hours in an eerily hyper-realist fashion. The title draws parallels with Alain Resnais' Nuit et brouillard (1956), and the voice over with recent history. How does this voice carry History over to us and project it into the future ? But whose voice is it ?

Olaf Möller

Tuesday, 23 at 10:15 am, Room 5.
Debate in the presence of Romuald Karmakar and Gianfranco Rosi.

Wednesday, 24 at 10:15 am, Room 5.
Closing debate after the screening of Reading the Book of Blockade.

Coordination : Olaf Möller

Guests : Romuald Karmakar, Gianfranco Rosi, Yervant Gianikian.