Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The road to Ouagadougou

Earlier this week, we said a fond farewell to Australian film-maker and director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Richard Moore, who's hot on the festival circuit this month. Last week: Berlin; this week: Burkina Faso. To explain, the Pan-African Film and Television Festival, Fespaco, a biennial event that's been running since 1969, is held in Ouagadougou, the Burkina Faso capital.

As regular readers will know, Richard is also producing The Foundation, a documentary on the life and work of Johann Dieter Wassmann. Finance is still pending and we're not sure he'll find it in west Africa, but stranger things have happened. Our Washington, D.C. benefactor, Wassmann Foundation director Jeff Wassmann, sent us an email Sunday night after watching the Academy Awards, advising Richard to head a little further west. To his surprise, an old classmate at Northwestern, David T. Friendly, was up for an Oscar for Best Picture as producer of Little Miss Sunshine.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Joseph Beuys on MTV. Who knew?

While I'd like to think the surprising popularity of our MuseumZeitraum Channel on YouTube was a result of our in-house content, our web-tracking would suggest our favourites page has something to do with it as well. Here you’ll find archival footage of Man Ray, Jean-Michel Basquiat, William Eggleston and Hans Richter, among others, as we continue to add rare oddities such as the immortal Art Gallery sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and this most-amusing music video clip from Joseph Beuys, Sonne Statt Reagan.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jörg Herold at The Armory Show

If you’re in New York this weekend and lucky enough to be heading to the Armory Show, make certain you stop by Leipzig’s Galerie EIGEN + ART, where you’ll find the enigmatic paintings of Jörg Herold. While Neo Rauch is most often identified with the New Leipzig School, insiders will know Jörg has long been Leipzig’s answer to Joseph Beuys (although, to be accurate, he now paints in Berlin and Mecklenburg).

His current show at EIGEN + ART, "The Caucasian: Looking at the findings of Herr Blumenbach," has left the city entranced since it opened a month ago. While I’d love to show you an example of his work, Galerie Direktor Herr Gerd Harry Lybke is a little jumpy about copyright, so I’ll just give you a link and let you see for yourself. Make certain you click through to his exhibition catalogue down the bottom of the page, a slow-loading pdf with a nice overview of his work through the years. Much of the text is in English, and well-worth a quick read.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

iMuseum for an iNation

MuseumZeitraum Leipzig presents the 2-minute museum: iMuseum for an iNation. For more videos exploring the works of Johann Dieter Wassmann, please visit our newly-opened MuseumZeitraum channel on Youtube.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thank you!

A special thanks to the editors of the American art magazine Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge. Their peer-reviewed on-line journal Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures has given us top billing, describing our YouTube channel as, "(A) fascinating collection of early German modernist film from the MuseumZeitraum Leipzig."

"Tuya's Marriage" takes home the Golden Bear

I'm now back in Leipzig after a lively, but exhausting 10 days in Berlin. The word came down before I left last night that director Wang Quan'an has won this year's Golden Bear at the 57th annual Berlinale. His film "Tuya's Marriage" follows the troubles of a young shepherdess in fast-changing rural China.

The movie stars Yu Nan (pictured with Quan'an) as Tuya, a herdswoman on the steppe of Inner Mongolia trying to resist pressure to leave her pastures and move to the city as China's industry expands.

She and her handicapped husband, Bater, decide to get divorced after she falls ill, and Tuya seeks a respectable new husband who can look after Bater and her two children. An old classmate appears to fill that role, and he persuades Tuya and the children to move to town. (Yes, I just pinched that from the press release -- too tired to make up something original -- but it was a charming film.)

"A very beautiful dream has become reality for me here," director Wang told the press after receiving the Golden Bear statuette on Saturday. He said he believed the award "will bring good fortune to Chinese cinema."

Friday, February 16, 2007

And the winner is...

As the Berlinale draws to a close this weekend, all bets are off as to who might take home the coveted Golden Bear. The last films in Competition have proven to be several of the strongest, with plenty of surprises among them.

Korean director Park Chan-wook's off-the-wall romantic comedy I'm a Cyborg, But that's OK (Sai bo gu ji man gwen chan a) quickly emerged mid-festival as a quirky possibility. The film tells the story of the love affair between two inmates in a psychiatric hospital, one of whom thinks she's a robot (or cyborg).

Another late starter is Irina Palm, starring Marianne Faithful, a tragic comedy from Belgian director Sam Garbarski, about a middle-class London grandmother, Maggie (of course), who is forced take a job as a 'hostess' in the city's sex industry to help pay her sick grandson's medical bills.

Popular with audiences has been American actor-turned-director Robert De Niro's (above - sorry, the best I could do) The Good Shepherd, which tells a John Le Carre-style story about the early days of the US Central Intelligence Agency. Equally popular has been Vienna-born director Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Counterfeiters (Die Faelscher), which recounts the true story of a plot hatched by the Nazis to ruin the Allies economies by forcing Jewish prisoners to fake US and British bank notes.

Among the last films to open has been Desert Dream (Hyazgar) by Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lu, which is set in the hostile wasteland on the border between China and Mongolia. Another film set in Mongolia that may be the dark horse is the wonderful Tuya's Marriage (Tu ya de hun shi) by Chinese director Wang Quan'an.

At the end of the bill is legendary Czech director Jiri Menzel's I served the King of England, about a young man's rise through Czech society.

Every jury has a mind of it's own, so I wouldn't even hazard a guess with so many willful contenders in the running.

Who's MoMA watching?

While you’re watching Doug Aitken’s latest work Sleepwalker projected onto the side of the Museum of Modern Art, ever wonder who MoMA's watching? Apparently, it’s MuseumZeitraum Leipzig. New Media curator Klaus Biesenbach (formerly of KW/Berlin) has just given our new work, Vorwärts!, a coveted listing on the Museum of Modern Art’s YouTube channel. Have a look at the trailer to Sleepwalker, then scroll down and click on my name, which will take you to our MuseumZeitraum channel. Many thanks, Klaus, and sorry we couldn’t catch up here at the Berlinale.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

To market, to market…

As if 373 films isn’t a few too many to take in over 10 days at the Berlinale, pity the poor punters a few block away at Martin Gropius Bau, where this year’s European Film Market is being held concurrently. With the rights to 702 films on the block, the euros are flowing fast as distributors and financiers scoop up next year’s hits and flops.

I slipped into the 19th century museum, designed by and named for the uncle of Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, with Melbourne International Film Festival director Richard Moore. Moore, as regular readers will know, is currently producing The Foundation, a film focusing on the art and life of Johann Dieter Wassmann and the efforts of MuseumZeitraum Leipzig to repatriate his works from Washington.

This is truly the business end of film; fat-cats lurk in every corner negotiating with affable film-makers hoping to pay off their debts and find a screen to show their dreams on. Better you than me, Richard.

For what it’s worth, one unlit-cigar-chomping English exec told us the big buzz is as follows: a culture clash romantic comedy by Julie Delpy, the latest project from Park Chan-wook, a new top secret documentary by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) that The Weinstein Company scooped up and David Mackenzie's Competition entry Hallam Foe.

Controversy rocks Berlinale (so what’s new?)

Bille August’s film Goodbye Bafana, an early front-runner for the coveted Golden Bear (see below) has been rocked by controversy at this year's Berlinale, with accusations that James Gregory‘s autobiography on which the film was based were largely fabricated. Gregory’s story recounts a 20-year relationship between himself -- a former prison guard -- and his prisoner -- Nelson Mandela. The film has been warmly received by audiences here in Berlin.

Meanwhile in South Africa, Mandela's official biographer, Anthony Sampson, has accused Gregory of a gross distortion of the truth. According to Sampson, Gregory rarely spoke to Mandela in all those years and he’s claiming Gregory used information from a letter Mandela wrote to him to fabricate his friendship with the civil rights' leader.

With dark clouds rising, insiders say it’s doubtful the jury would risk their own reputation on August’s earnest effort.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Berlinale and the Golden Bear favourite

The jury (pictured above) is still out on who might win the coveted Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale, but the early audience favourite would have to be two-time Oscar-winner Bille August's latest film, Goodbye Bafana. The international co-production tells the true story of James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes), the white prison guard whose life was forever altered when he met the prisoner Nelson Mandela, whom he would become responsible for guarding for well over twenty years. Dennis Haysbert plays the ANC activist and later Nobel Peace Prize winner. This past Sunday marked 17 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

For a lengthy and appropriately gushing review, have a look at critic Erik Davis's piece, which opens, "Every once in a blue moon you stumble across a perfect movie -- one that gets it all right -- and flows slow (sic) smoothly from start to finish, you almost wish it could go on and on ... and on. This year, in Berlin, Goodbye Bafana is that film." (Does it sound like he's bidding for a spot on the poster? No matter. The film is that good.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Magnum in Motion

This year’s Berlinale has countless gems beyond the red carpet, from Generation, a section focusing on children’s film, to Culinary Cinema - Eat, Drink, See Movies. The star attraction for me, however has been Magnum in Motion, a selection of 33 films by and about the co-operative agency’s remarkable photojournalists. In attendance have been many of the greats, including René Burri (pictured), Raymond Depardon, Elliott Erwitt, Martine Franck, Jean Gaumy, Bruce Gilden, Philip Jones Griffiths, Thomas Hoepker, David Hurn, Susan Meiselas, Chris Steele-Perkins, Dennis Stock and Donovan Wylie.

And here’s the list of works on view over these two weeks. Read and weep:

Documentaries, short films and other formats:
A Peruvian Equation by Gilles Peress, USA, 1992
Beauty Knows No Pain by Elliott Erwitt, USA, 1971
Behind The Veil by Eve Arnold, UK, 1969
El Otro Lado/The Other Side by Alex Webb, USA, 1992
Getting Out by Eli Reed, USA, 1992
Jab Jab by Bruce Davidson, USA, 1992
La Boucane (The Smoking House) by Jean Gaumy, France, 1984
Le Retour (The Return) by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Lieutnant Richard Banks, USA, 1945
L’Espagne Vivra (Spain Will Live) by Henri Cartier-Bresson, France, 1938
Letting Go by Paul Fusco, USA, 1992
On The Rowanlea Trawler by Jean Gaumy, France, 1992
Pictures From A Revolution by Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzetti and Richard Rogers, USA, 1991
Sous-Marin (Submarine) by Jean Gaumy, France, 2006
The Russian Prison by Gueorgui Pinkhassov, USA, 1992
The Train by Donovan Wylie, UK, 2001
Think Of England by Martin Parr, UK, 1999
Tod Im Maisfeld (Death In A Cornfield) by Thomas Hoepker, Germany, 1998
Two Faces Of China by René Burri, USA, 1968
Waiting For Madonna by Peter Marlow, USA, 1992
What Has Happened To The American Indians? by Martine Franck, France, 1970
Where Have You Been, Jimmy Dean? by Dennis Stock, France/USA, 1991

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lagerfeld Confidential premiers at Berlinale

Last night I took in Rodolphe Marconi's Lagerfeld Confidential, which was a bit like sitting through 88 minutes of E! Like so many of the Berlinale events, however, the venue itself was worth the price of admission. The fabulous Kino International remains a show-piece of 'GDR modernism'; built in the early 1960s, it retains the great optimism and idealism of an era when East Berlin was the unofficial capitol of the Eastern Bloc. Strolling down Karl-Marx-Allee to the Kino today one can easily picture the throngs from across communist Europe coming to see what a bright future the collective state held for their own towns and villages.

Mindful of this past, it was a little hard to take seriously the story in front of me and the gravity with which it was told -- that of a Hamburg-born fashion designer growing up in a wealthy family in Lübeck, his dash to Paris at a young age to construct himself as a great French couturist, and his reluctance to ever look back long enough to come to terms with his own distinct 'Germanness'. As a portrait of a very private man this riches-to-ragtrade story is useful, but let's hope the advertorial documentary doesn't become the new black.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Berlinale - Tales from the front

Pictured: Johann Dieter Wassmann, Leipzig, 1894. Photograph by Sigismund Jacobi.

This morning I caught up with Melbourne International Film Festival director Richard Moore at KW's Café Bravo on Augustraße, Mitte. With 300 films to secure for his own festival, he's a busy man. If that wasn't enough, he continues to work as a documentary film-maker. One of his current projects is The Foundation (click through to view the trailer on YouTube), the tale of Johann Dieter Wassmann's remarkable life and work. While funding remains an issue (when isn't it), I was pleased to learn he's pushing ahead, with development support from Film Victoria in his native Australia. Many thanks to all those at Film Victoria and our many readers and supporters who continue to believe Johann Dieter Wassmann's contribution to early German modernism is a story the world should hear.

I'm heading in shortly to see Petr Nikolaev's film It Gonna Get Worse. Hope that's not an omen.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

La Vie En Rose

The city was blanketed in snow today as the 57th Berlin International Film Festival got underway. Opening the festival was Olivier Dahan's La Vie En Rose, the story of the famed French chanteuse Edith Piaf, starring Marion Cotillard (above, right). Multiple screenings were held during the day to a generally positive response, although at 140 minutes it appeared to be beyond the attention span of several American critics. The red carpet has now been stored away to dry out and we're off to a Turkish restaurant south of the city, appropriately it's on Wassmannstraße.

Landscape and Memory

As a native Berliner who doesn't always make it back for the Berlin Film Festival, I tend to forget there's often something bittersweet about seeing this city come alive -- as it has in recent days -- in the lead-up to the Berlinale, opening in a few hours time. Berlin is a city that demands of its visitors a memory of its past and a knowledge of the layers that lie beneath.

As the starlets exit their limousines on Marlene-Dietrich-Platz tonight to strut the red carpet, one wonders how many will know or care that the Wall once stood within sight; just beyond echoes still haunt the 'death strip' where so many of our fellow Berliners died attempting to escape to the West. And how many tonight in their designer gowns will consider that to the north of Potsdamer Platz just a few hundred meters lies the The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Once the films begin, however, the joy and pride of hosting this festival rapidly consumes our emotions. Arguably, no other artistic medium so successfully expresses this layering of history, as well as the urgency and essentialness of collective memory. With 373 films on the roster, festival director Dieter Kosslick awakens us with the world's memory for two weeks, recorded by many of the best practitioners from around the globe working today. For that we are proud and we can only say, willkommen.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Berlinale Eve

Just a quick note from the new Berlin Haupbahnhoft, where I've just arrived on the morning train. If you're packing to join us at the Berlin Film Festival, don't be misled by this brief ray of sunshine, snow is in the forecast all week, which is better than the sleet and rain I left an hour ago in Leipzig. No, I haven't seen William Dafoe, J Lo or Clint Eastwood yet here on the platform, but stay tuned, I'll be reporting all week from the Berlinale, which opens tomorrow night with Marion Cotillard in the premiere of French-born Olivier Dahan's new film about the life of singer Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Render to Caesar what is Caesar's

After a weekend in Paris catching up with friends, I’m struggling to sleep on the ICE back to Leipzig, so I thought I’d do a quick post. I had the privilege earlier this evening of attending a Museum International-sponsored symposium on “Memory and Universality” at UNESCO headquarters. The topic of discussion specifically concerned the universal mission of museums vs. the massive transfers of cultural property over the course of modernity. The ‘universal museums’ were represented by Henri Loyrette, President Director, Musée du Louvre, Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum and Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage Museum. Those standing up for source countries included Alain Godonou, Director, École du Patrimoine Africain, Benin and Juan Antonio Valdés, San Carlos University, Guatemala.

What I find frightening is how good these major museum directors are getting at talking-the-talk. I don’t know, maybe they’ve all been taking lessons from Michael Brand at the Getty Museum and Ron Lauder at the Neue, but whatever it is, these guys could still sell ice to an Eskimo while convincing him to hand over his igloo so they can ‘protect his cultural heritage.’ While it’s clear the pillaging of the past is well-and-truly over (and it’s a very recent past at that), their current position of appearing fully ‘open and transparent’ in their negotiations with source cultures, while not budging an inch when it comes to handing back all but the most blatantly stolen pieces, is a talent in itself.

In our own battle to repatriate the works of Johann Dieter Wassmann from Washington, D.C., we encounter this same rhetoric on a weekly basis. Whatever the newly-discovered cultural imperatives of these major institutions, as far as trustees are concerned, possession remains nine-tenths of the law.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sie Kommen

A viewer on our YouTube MuseumZeitraum Channel has raised the question of how Johann Dieter Wassmann’s works came to leave Germany for Washington, D.C. in 1910. The long answer can be found in my essay Sie Kommen on our website, but I’ll try to keep it blog-length here. After the death of Johann’s widow Anna in 1900 from pneumonia, his boxed constructions, photographs, writings and personal archives were stored in 56 crates on the Weimar estate of their daughter Ilsabein and her husband Edward Liszt. Arch-conservative Liszt viewed the works as inflammatory, but out of respect to Ilsabein saw to their proper care. Concerned with inquiries as to their whereabouts from Henry van de Velde, Liszt revealed his cache to Ilsabein’s second cousin, Frederick Wassmann, visiting from Washington, D.C. in 1910, arranging with Frederick for their surreptitious shipment to Washington. In the United States, Frederick could do little to promote the contents of his windfall with the growing spectre of war inciting strong anti-German sentiment. The crates remained in storage until 1930, when they are moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by Gladys and Karl Wassmann, Sr. (pictured left, Karl was Federick’s nephew). Karl, Sr. died in 1966. Gladys died in 1969. In Gladys’ will, a small amount of money was left to establish a foundation, “dedicated to overseeing the scholarship, conservation, publication, exhibition and promotion of the writings, personal archives and constructed works of Johann Dieter Wassmann.” MuseumZeitraum is currently negotiating with The Wassmann Foundation for the repatriation of the works to his native Leipzig.