What does “indie” mean? Technically, this word comes from a parlance associated with contemporary music. According to Webster Online its meaning as an adjective or noun is clear: something (a pop group for example) “not affiliated with a major recording company”.
Let’s posit a hypothesis then: if we stretch further the meaning of this word we could apply it to other cultural fields; similarly to the ideal continuity of meaning that the word “pop” gave to disciplines other than music, such as visual art (Andy Warhol) or contemporary philosophy (Gilles Deleuze). So today we may consider an indie vision of the contemporary world as a way to read intellectual ideas according to two guidelines at least: independence from the major cultural schemes and expressive autonomy. Obviously, this does not go against the idea of a community – a group of spectators or readers or whatever it is – that can appreciate what you offer, because this indie vision is only an invitation to try something different: how to find and meet different ideas or images of community.
This brief preamble is necessary to introduce the 7th edition of IndieLisboa, affectionately just known as “Indie” and arguably the most important film festival in Portugal, which took place in Lisbon from the 22nd of April to the 2nd of May in several downtown cinemas (Sâo Jorge, Londres, Cinema Classic Alvalade) and in that beautiful venue called Culturgest, the “heart” of the organisation. As with every year the program was varied and developed in multiple directions: the National Competition (short and long film), in which Marcio Laranjeira’s Fuera De Quadro and Pedro Caldas’ Guerra Civil were rewarded; the International Competition, where Go Get Some Rosemary by Josh and Bennie Safdie won (in this section there was also La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf] by Pietro Marcello and La pivellina by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel); the classic Indie retrospectives; seminars focused on industrial and cultural worlds in cinema; a children’s section, IndieJunior, and a space dedicated to music, “seen and heard” (IndieMusic).
An important part of this year’s program was the tribute to the Berlinale Forum: a selection of films that have screened in this section – indeed, the most “indie” section of the German festival’s program – over the last four decades, with films such as Baara (Souleymane Cissé, 1978), Lian lian feng chen (Dust In The Wind, Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1986), Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö (The Match Factory Girl, Aki Kaurismaki, 1989) and So Is This (Michael Snow, 1982): 13 works, chosen by 13 other filmmakers (such as Jean-Marie Téno, Sabu, Jasmila Žbanić and Sharon Lockhardt) who have also presented their works at the Forum.
Other memorable sections were: Observatorio, featuring festival mainstays such as My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (d. Werner Herzog), Amintiri din epoca de aur (Tales From The Golden Age, d. Hanno Höfer, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, Ioana Uricaru, Razvan Marculescu) and James Benning’s Ruhr, a masterpiece for its pure and radical sight inside an industrial complex in western Germany; Cinema Emergente, featuring films made by directors early on in their career, such as Independencia (d. Raya Martin) and La Reine des pommes (The Queen of Hearts, d. Valérie Donzelli); Director’s Cut, featuring films focused on the memory of cinema, such as Christelle Lheureux’s Un Sourire malicieux éclaire son visage (2009), the first work of cinema made by this French visual artist.
But this year the Festival’s directors (Rui Pereira, Nuno Sena, Miguel Valverde) bet, without any doubt, on their Independent Heroes section, showcasing the work of Dutch filmmaker, Heddy Honigmann, so let’s talk about these films, a selection of her recent productions. Honigmann is one of those authors who works with consistency in a continuous dialogue between bare life and artistic creation: through an invisible but always present eye, she looks for images that exist between realism and narrative/journalistic constructions, focusing her art on documentaries and fiction film. In Lisbon, we saw a selection from the different genres.
Maybe, among her early works, 2 Minutes Silence, Please (1998) is the most complex and interesting: a reflection on the relationship between men and their historical memory. In it she follows different kinds of people – varying in their gender, age and social position – during their preparations for the 4th of May, a national holiday in Holland, a day where people commemorate the dead of the Second World War. Each person has a story; each story is a different point of view on the event: in a simple yet clever way, the screenplay forms a mosaic created by these various narrations that lead us to the film’s climax, the end of the film, where all the social actors seen before are involved, because obviously it is the moment to commemorate: those two minutes of silence the rite needs to be acted and the film needs to be real.
Also screened at Indie is Honigmann’s most recent work, El Olvido (Oblivion, 2008), a personal journey inside Lima, her birthplace and the capital of Peru: a kind of double or shadow of western towns, a place full of conflicts, acknowledged only when natural disasters happen, but it is also full of brave people ready to struggle for their social rights and a better life.
Among her fiction works probably Mind Shadows (1988), set in New Scotland, Canada, and based on J. Bernlef’s bestseller book Hersenschimmen (about a dementia case), sums up best Honigmann’s skills as a narrator: here she is able to convey in a poetic and surreal way realistic and brutal themes such as loneliness, fear, modern madness: all through a character suffering from memory loss. One day, accidentally, everything changes in the life of Maarten Klein: at first he merely forgets a word, and day by day this forgetfulness grows, becoming a black hole developing in his head till it ruins his social life, as if it expressed the opposite effect of Proust and his madeleine, a common word that blocks memory instead of evoking it. So life for Maarten becomes impossible: he quarrels with his wife, his consciousness exists only in fragments and contradictions, he struggles against his memory loss and the destruction of his identity: all hurtling towards an open-ended final without any clear promises of salvation yet.
2 Minutes Silence, Please, El Olvido, Mind Shadows: three movies, three examples of a remarkable body of cinema – we should also investigate her other works – by a director capable of cinematically communicating so much meaning about our contemporary cultural memories: in history, in places, in our minds.
IndieLisboa International Independent Film Festival
22 April – 2 May 2010
Festival website: http://www.indielisboa.com/