Simply profound

New-age cinema

Simply profound

It’s a small world. As barriers merge, seasoned German filmmaker Harun Farocki ponders about universal themes, which take precedence in the creative mind, seeking to be addressed.

So, along with Antje Ehmann, Farocki, held workshops in conjunct with the Goethe Institut in Bangalore, after Tel Aviv, Egypt, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Boston. This exercise finds its resultant expressions in one and two minute videos, themed around labour.

Moderating the ‘Frames in a Single Shot’ movement across 15 cities in five continents, Farocki contends there’s a lot of diversity and many times similarity in the context of storytelling. “Considering living conditions and cultural models, this endeavour is about creating world images. The interesting aspect of this exercise is that one never knows the outcome,” says the master filmmaker.

The frames are diverse. In Vietnam. In Egypt. In India. “Although censorship is part of life, one can freely roam around with the camera in Vietnam. This is so unlike Egypt, where many participants were veiled women.

And they all wanted to talk about harassment by men. With the theme being labour, in India, the participating filmmakers observed many aspects of work, beyond the shop window,” observes Farocki.

Unique visionExplicit ideas. Inherent creativity. “There’s really no rule to arriving at a wonderful idea. People dream a poem and write it in the morning, like Kubla Khan by Coleridge. Many times, I have started a piece of work, and along the way realised there are so many unknown energies stored opposite to what I’m doing,” explains Farocki.

A grand idea lies in its simplicity. “Cinema started with films in a single shot. The starting point was minimalist,” says Farocki, adding, “There are many ways to look at a film in a single shot — objects and humans move within it — it’s a montage where you cut into the scene, zoom, frame and highlight the elements in narration.”

Taking us back to the history of cinema, Farocki points out, that over the years, the long shot speaks about the skills of the filmmaker. “You find such images in Robert Bresson’s works and Jean Luc Godard’s as well. I recall this wonderful shot of a protagonist, whose hesitation is captured in that singular frame, and thereafter, his decision to do something extraordinary manifests,” he explains.

Farocki admires Godard’s cinema for its simplicity and has even published a book on him over a decade ago and so emerged his film, Speaking about Godard or Von Godard Sprechen with Kaja Silverman in 1988-89. Since 1966, Farocki is widely known for conceptualising over 100 television productions, for children, documentaries, film essays and short films. 

Talking of film vis à vis television in Germany and the world over, the eye balls they are generating, where the two forms of media diverge and confluence, Farocki says: “The two are close to each other.

In Europe, there is hardly a professional production without TV being involved. Television is a huge apparatus and there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. Whatever you work on, film or television, it’s good to create attention so that the spirit of independence always manifests,” he explains.
 Keeping it simpleFarocki was drawn to films at the helm of a significant change in media during the 60s. “Where films were concerned, there was change taking place in France and Germany. As a result new jobs were created and TV channels went on to hire people like us in larger numbers,” he says.

So Farocki’s work went on to transcend classification, morphing into feature films, documentaries, essay type storytelling and the avant-garde. Farocki identifies best with being a documentary filmmaker. “But, television channels give pre-fabricated formats, standardising the narrative of the documentary genre, with deep voiced narrators and a pedantic approach,” observes Farocki.

 Fresh, new perspectives capture Farocki’s imagination, as do the stories in the one and two minute format films, which he is currently exploring across the globe. “Intellectually, delving between the descriptive and narrative medium, in the good old fashioned approach of storytelling by observing, allowing the frame to follow the story, takes you through an impactful visual journey,” he explains. 

Farocki’s relation to storytelling transcends celluloid, digital and direct realms — he has had numerous group and solo shows in museums and art galleries since 1996. Between 2006 and 2011, he has remained a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, giving context to his calling.

Years later, Farocki’s soul is well within the frame of storytelling in a single shot. “Cinema did begin in a single shot,” he says, adding, “But I don’t want to say it will end the same way. Just get back to the simplicity — the minimalist starting point.” All the way up to this conjunction, where universal themes are the driving spirit of Farocki’s creative pursuits.

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