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Personal and political, a speech of four – One World Romania 2019

One World Romania Documentary and Human Rights International Film Festival begins tomorrow, March 15th, and welcomes us until March 24th with documentary films and a program meant for every film enthusiast. Below, Călin Boto recommends four films from this year's program that should not be missed.

The second wave feminist slogan “the personal is political” has made a career both in cultural and academic studies, and in the collective mind. Its stake, a symptomatic interpretation of personal momentum as a reflection of the broader social-political spectrum, was quickly adopted by several militant groups and schools, becoming almost a refrain on everyone’s lips, even in the contemporary left party speeches. By extrapolating the concept of personal-political pseudo-dichotomy and applying it in the audiovisual environment (a practice that in turn has a tradition), it becomes almost futile to prove that the camera by its indexing ability (Peter Wollen’s term via Charles Sanders Peirce ) to capture the immediate reality, provides one of the most fertile grounds for analysis in this regard. Four of the films that will be featured in this year’s One World Romania documentary film festival outline a playground for the personal-political concept in the audiovisual environment, reviving canonical speeches already present in the field (the political identity of any audiovisual representation), but also the latest discussion themes like YouTube.

The term home movie covers a fairly wide range of domestic recordings, without professional aspirations dictated by the profit-oriented film production. Recovering and recontextualizing such a material, already ephemeral from its title, has been a bet accepted by filmmakers from the Soviet avant-garde pioneering cinema. Home movies also contain a certain candor of the subjects in relation to the camera, a sense of freedom coming from the idea of a closed, intimate circuit that this type of shooting implies. In Silence is a Falling Body, director Agustina Comedi uses her father’s personal archives, Jaime, to build an alternate past to the official one known by her, following a secret she found out: her father had homosexual relations and was a vocal member of the politically involved LGBT + community in the 80’s Argentina. This post-mortem process (Jamie Comedi died twenty years ago) is facilitated by the considerable amount of material shot by the director’s father, but also by certain key people whom Comedi interviewed about her father’s past. The political stake is obvious, namely the outline of the context in which her father’s bisexuality had to be hidden by the family both before and after he got married. Jamie’s materials are reinterpreted. A trip to Europe has become, from a simple touristic escape, a trip where his group of friends explored the European queer pre-HIV hedonism. Others are audiovisual pieces, testimonies of events organized by the LGBT + local community. And, last but not least, there are recordings with the director, moments in which she anchors herself in her father’s story, balancing the invasive directorial practice with the familiar tone.

This balance is one of the elements that differentiates Agustina Comedi’s project from Ana Galizia’s Unconfessions. Galizia’s essay movie is a collection of photos with and taken by her uncle, Brazilian actor Luiz Roberto Galizia, whom she accidentally arrived at. Just like Augustina Comedi in Silence is a Falling Body, Galizia reconstructs the portrait of a man in her family who had homosexual relationships in an unfavorable context of sexual exploration. But while Comedi offers a close reading of her father’s life, Galizia does not rely on a step-by-step reconstruction of her uncle’s life. On the contrary, she does a distant documentary about an uncle whom she has never known and who could become the universal face of the HIV tragedy. Recordings from shows are mixed with family photographs, holiday photos, amateur films, sometimes accompanied by an off voice that reads from some of the letters her uncle has received from his lovers. Odd is the commentary that reads a study from a medical psychology institute in São Paulo, conducted when the director’s uncle was 16 years old, where, among other things, “sexual problems” are mentioned. The document, though devoid of any contextualization, makes it clear that his sexuality was out in the late 60’s, and more relevant, that it was a problem. The last minutes of the film discuss the death of Luiz Roberto Galizia, who was overcomed by AIDS. Following this comment from off comes a slideshow of intimate photos of Galizia and his partners – an audiovisual ode to sexuality. The two films presented so far are an interesting case because it deals with the subject of homosexuality in two countries in the 70’s and 80’s Latin America, during which national and continental cinema was profoundly marked by the legacy of the Third Cinema, focused on the representation of the working-class movement. A retrieval of the queer movements and LGBT + representations in Latin America during liberation, neo-colonialism and coups d’etat is, besides welcome, necessary in cinema.

In Putin’s Witnesses, director Vitaly Mansky refers back to December 31st, 1999 – the resignation of Boris Yeltsin as President, Vladimir Putin’s temporary appointment, and the few months when Putin has consolidated his mass of voters, keeping the position of president for the next two decades. The film comes from another documentary by Mansky in 2000 that marked a year of Putin administration. While making this first documentary, Mansky becomes close to Putin’s people, being present on the election day in the team’s office, on informal visits (tactics of the Iron Leader with a human face visiting old acquaintances), in Boris Yeltsin’s office, taking this way the pulse of a campaign that has achieved its purpose. In Putin’s Witnesses, Mansky becomes engaged in a subversive speech to the president, deconstructing the perverse tactics by which he manipulated an adrift nation. Particular attention is paid to the artificiality of Putin’s image on the small screen – the councilors who have worked on the image of the electoral campaign are seen as an extravagance, Russia being then at its only third free rally (the first two were won by Boris Yeltsin in 1991 and 1996). Television has a main role in Mansky’s show of events, starting with the live announcement of Yeltsin’s resignation, a moment that creates agitation in the director’s home, to the tendentious remarks from off (sometimes illustrated with video) that reveal the power of image counselors in Putin’s public performance. Moreover, it is underlined that Putin had little contact with the television, him questioning this kind of campaign. What Mansky seems to point out is that Putin’s image was too tightly controlled and built to expose himself to the wave of television, a wave he would get to control during the presidency.

Denis Parrot’s Out is a compilation of coming outs on YouTube. In most of them, the premise is that the protagonist has to make his or her coming out to someone close (parents, friends, grandparents, etc.). LGBT + young people from many parts of the world take their viewer in complicity and expose one of their most fragile and personal stages in life. Parrot creates bridges through his selection of material, showing that recording the coming out moment has become almost a cultural ritual – the one that goes through a double exposure to both close ones and viewers, becomes a passeur of the community, an exponent of the movement that aims to popularize and to take off the tabu mark of the stories within the community. And Parrot’s view is not unilaterally optimistic, but rather anthropological. The search for more young people from different countries and cultures is both an elliptical portrayal of the queer counterculture, and a portrait of the various societies where the counterculture manifests itself – progressive, conservative, secular, profoundly religious, etc. The episodes of unfortunate coming outs, with a hostile and aggressive response from other people, get the feel of a political context where the personal of LGBT + young people becomes maverick.

Reviving and deconstructing one of Jean-Luc-Godard’s iconic statements, namely that the best way to respond to a movie is by making another film, I propose an interpretation of the selection of the four feature films we discussed about as a fragmented speech, made not by myself, but by the programmers of One World Romania festival, a much more extensive and complex curatorial speech than I could cover in four exponential films, but which waits to be followed and deconstructed.


One World Romania is held this year between 15-24 March 2019. More details can be found on the OWR website and on the Facebook page.

An article by Călin Boto

Translation by Andreea Toader

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