Les États généraux du film documentaire 2017 Memories of territories

Memories of territories

In Le Dépaysement, Jean-Christophe Bailly tells how one night in New York, in 1978 or 79, he was watching Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game on television: it wasn’t so much a discovery as a revelation, a feeling of “belonging and familiarity” that this “so French” film stirred within him. This was one of the starting points for a trip the writer took across the territory of France, particularly to those places that receive little attention in history books or tourist guides. This trip indeed was motivated by something other than a diligent enumeration of remarkable landscapes. It inaugurated a body of research devoted to territorial memory – what Bailly calls “a history of traces” – by trying to reproduce in writing the emotions, at once intimate and shared, specific to a particular site. But the biggest surprise is the way that this writing is marked by the impressions, in the cinematographic sense of the word, that these territories, once explored on foot, made on the traveller: in his memory he unreels the “rushes” of his meanderings and proceeds by “tracking” and “dissolves” to guide the reader in his footsteps. No doubt that if the writing summons up these cinematographic metaphors, it is because memory functions through impressions on the senses, images, colours, vibrations, pulsations. This territorial memory also determines the practice of travelling filmmakers, untiring hikers and incorrigible cineastes, whose work is expressed more in the mobile and personal journal of a filmed wandering or cine-journey than in the systematic exploration or marking out of a territory with its borders and identities. Their films map out spaces left on the periphery of major urban centres, chart the topography of the layers of history buried beneath a contemporary landscape, and invite the audience above all on journeys into the time of memory and the forgotten. Over two days of screenings and discussion, the “Memories of Territories” workshop will bring together several of these filmmakers to discuss the way they approach territories which may be near or distant, ordinary or extraordinary.
We will focus during the first day on marginalised urban or peri-urban spaces, left vacant or covered by new construction that tends to erase the scars of history. We will examine cross-sections of two European cities: Berlin and Rome – the first, an obsessive site of return where memory stumbles against the progressive erasure of ruins; the second, a field of experimentation for the drifting and adventurous wanderings of a group of artists and urbanologists named Stalker. In August 1945, Jean Rouch was in Berlin. He was twenty-eight. He wasn’t yet a filmmaker but a public works engineer and, as such, was sent to Germany as a lieutenant in the engineering corps with a mine clearance unit. Faced with the ruined city, he imagined a film project that he would only make twenty-three years later. Laurent Pellé, General Delegate of the International Jean Rouch Festival is working today with German actor and writer Hanns Zischler who accompanied Rouch to Berlin in 1988. They are preparing a book on the birth of Rouch as a filmmaker based on the foundational experience of this film and its deferred shooting. He will evoke the experience’s origins and place in the work of Rouch, who returned to Berlin thirty-three years after the end of the war to film a city that had never ceased burying its past. Retour à Berlin (“Return to Berlin”) is also the title of a very personal book by the art historian Jean-Michel Palmier, who ceaselessly counted the traces and remnants in order to fix in his mind the memory of this disfigured city with its collapsed buildings where, amid the dust and rubble, the furniture and newspapers of the day of the bombing were visible. This essay on the melancholy of ruins inspired filmmaker Arnaud Lambert to make a kind of cross-portrait between the city today and the deceased historian. If we enter the city by train, as long ago in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927), the form of this documentary essay is closer to that of a sonata than an urban symphony. It is a melancholy nocturne accompanying the writer’s obsessive return to the ruins progressively covered by urban construction.
The collective Stalker, founded in Rome in the middle of the nineties, gave itself the mission of provoking the emergence of “the deep unconscious of cities”, by roaming over spaces on the margins, the urban periphery, those “sites of repressed memory” as they call them. Stalker, borrowing its name from Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, is a nomadic entity and an “ ‘activator’ of space; its register of intervention is performance, its site of execution is territory, its mode of visibility is the image – cartographic, photographic or filmic”. [1] These are the words Gilles Tiberghien uses to describe the collective who invent new ways of apprehending urban territory, through its interstitial zones and side paths. Their approach can be linked to the situationist dérive but is nevertheless more experimental and more militant. And it is not by chance that their work has hooked up with that of a French filmmaker whose focus is the relationship between image movement and body movement. Aude Fourel films as she walks and walks as she films. Her encounter with Stalker first gave rise to collective walks on the outskirts of Rome, and later between Rome and Saint-Etienne. From these meanderings, Aude Fourel imprinted her Super 8 images, superimposing her shots of the town made unfamiliar over the voices of characters by Pasolini, Fellini and Duras in their Roman films. Attraversare Roma undoes chronology and dissolves landmarks into a drifting movement that explores the limits of the city and gives rise to a vertigo of wandering. These criss-crossings led the filmmaker to stories of clandestinity and exile related by former FLN militants between Algeria, Italy and France, stories that form the narrative thread of a film in progress, and that we will evoke to close the journey of this first day.
The second day will focus on what we could call with filmmaker Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd “lost territories”, places abandoned by peoples pushed into exile by the war or by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. From these tartar deserts and other nameless lands, we will undertake the exploration with two filmmakers who strive to capture the discreet vibration of these landscapes at the same rhythm as their filmed walks: Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd and Christian Barani, both of whose work always closely articulates memory with a cartography of the perceptions produced by a territory. The former travels through places that are like the off-screen segments of history: Western Sahara and its uprooted provide the framework of a trilogy – Drowned in Oblivion (2007), The Dormants (2009) et Lost Land (2011) – where a cinematographic gesture has been invented that goes beyond a geopolitical survey to set up a poetic form and a territory of cinema. With For the Lost (2014) and the psycho-climatic storms of the Lozère highlands, this form took an even more experimental turn, before The Eternals (2017) shows us this melancholy wandering at work amid the landscapes of Nagorno-Karabakh. The camera on foot is the basic tool for the exploration of the limits of history, and those of the world. With Christian Barani, a filmmaker who comes from video art, it is the performative act which forms the film, that act which gives “body” to the image. The in-camera edited shooting of urban meanderings or the syncopated cutting following the fragments of the Real which catch the eye of the filmmaker lay out the sensations and experience particular to these sessions of filmed walking. From the townships of Windhoek, Namibia, to the urban phantasmagoria of Astana, a dystopian city in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, the cine-journeys of Christian Barani, in the heterogeneity of their montages, probe the fragmentation of memories and their non-congruence with historical narratives. Starting with the first productions by the filmmaker, we will evoke with him the genesis of these film-forms and their elaboration all along a body of work built among an extremely diverse set of geographical and political contexts. In spite of this diversity of place, the films have never ceased weaving shared forms (the Kazakhstan trilogy) or serial forms (urban dérives), forms which seek to perform the memory of territories through repetition and variation.
To pursue the reflections initiated during the two days of the workshop “Memories of Territories”, participants are invited to join us in the workshop “Territories of Memory”.

Alice Leroy

1. Gilles A. Tiberghien, “La vraie légende de Stalker”, Vacarme 28, summer 2004, p. 94-99.

Workshop led by Alice Leroy.
In the presence of Christian Barani, Aude Fourel, Arnaud Lambert, Laurent Pellé and Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd.