When you’re curating a program for yourself at an event or conference you’re often doing so consciously and conscientiously: there are things you need to see or attend for work, or for something new you need to wrap your head around. Then there are those times when it seems like you have no agenda except for entertainment and pleasure, which doesn’t mean, however, that your curated program is serendipitious or magical. This is what this week’s Berlinale is for me. I found myself curating one part of my program with some expected resonances: three films involving female protagonists reconstructing or re-discovering the past, and in doing so visit the unstable ground between, and in the creation of, fiction and non-fiction:
1. Kate plays Christine. Robert Greene. 2016.
In 1974 in Sarasota, Florida, a 29 year old newscaster, Christine Chubbuck, shot herself, fatally, on live TV. In 2015, an actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, prepares to recreate that moment and the film follows her journey.
2. A Magical Substance Flows Into Me. Jumana Manna. 2016
In the 1930s, Robert Lachmann, a German, had a radio show featuring “Oriental” i.e Palestinian music. In 2014, Jumana Manna, a Palestinian artist, travels around Israel and Palestine playing recordings from the old shows and recording contemporary versions. What do these songs sound like now when performed by Moroccan, Kurdish, or Yemenite Jews, by Samaritans, members of the urban and rural Palestinian communities, Bedouins and Coptic Christians?
3. The Watermelon Woman. Cheryl Dunye. 1996
Cheryl is a young black woman working at a video store. She becomes curious about black women playing stereotypical ‘mammys’ in films from the 1930s and 1940s. She sets out to discover one who is known only as the Watermelon Woman, a black lesbian actress who had an affair with a white woman director….
I’m excited to see them all and will be writing about them here..
Poem #3 in my selection for Berlin liest, this one representing Tibet.
Verdict by Tenzin Dickyi
Ladies and gentlemen,
These trace fossils belong to
our dearly departed Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I say this with surety because his foot prints lead to his open coffin.
These Oviraptors, maligned raiders of Protoceratopsian nests,
are cleared on all counts of assault, battery and theft,
when their legal counsel proves beyond a shadow of a doubt
that they were guarding the nests,
not raiding them. The legal counsel,
in the style of Solomon or Sakyamuni and other wise men,
cracks open the disputed eggs in court.
Out come – not baby Protoceratops – but baby Oviraptors!
These Pterosaurs are not killing fish,
they are cleaning teeth and
learning to swim.
I paste my judgment along my palette.
How my paleontology works for me.
If I take these bones home
and make them a nice bone bed and
water them at regular intervals and take them out in the sun and
encourage them, love them perhaps, they will grow
flesh and thin skin which will thicken into scales
hard enough to leave scale impressions on cliffsides when
they squeeze their way through a narrow mountain pass.
But who wants dinosaurs in their homes?
There are only two ways of looking at the truth.
When the truth is buried, taken out and
boxed up and buried in rock and
no one attends its burial
but says, “how sad, how sad” and “what a world” and the truth is now a fossil,
a fossil of a point of view but a disreputable fossil,
which is to say, a fossil unable to withstand
its burial, the cerement slowly wearing
out of being and with it the fossil
until it is all gone,
then we must employ the third way of looking
at the truth which is to look at the sediment infill in the rock,
which keeps the shape of truth as nicely as
a bookmark keeps its place in a book.
The dinosaur takes the alternative to extinction.
He cuts a deal, keeps his clavicle, forsakes divine right, and agrees to electronic
The meteorite has a name and a makeshift home, a cradle rounded
like the smooth grave inner face of silvered spoons.
Perhaps it meant no harm.
From Big Bridge
Destitute by Manohari
I am a three – day refugee
successful in saving my life;
a poem wells within it.
Those who saw my house say
its nose is broken
that the flower plants I nurtured
have been eaten by cows
I own no sky
Even the air I breathe
belongs to someone else
Having lost ninety thousand stars
and the sky
How can I write poetry?
Having lost my butterfly
and the lizard that dwells
in a cranny of my bed
how can I write poetry, o moon!
Translated from Tamil by S. Pathmanaban, in an anthology of Tamil Sri Lankan poetry, found online.
I’m standing at the Eberswalderstrasse U-bahn intersection and looking up at the early evening light gliding over the cornices of buildings and spy two young women on a balcony looking down at us, smoking, laughing and drinking- someone is always drinking something in Berlin, it’s a city for a beverage-lovers – when I begin to think about why I never write about Berlin although I’m usually on the edge of that feeling of almost-writing about it because the city seems to inspire … interiority? solitude? expression? though you eventually find yourself thinking about the conditions for sustaining creative expression rather than just shooting from the hip on a Sunday afternoon and how the myth that has grown around how easy it is to live here equaling the sustainability of expression and its completion is like a small, aggressive tumour in the collective consciousness, and you ask if that means that this city is an inspiring place at all, or just a convenient one, which leads you to realise that every city you’ve lived in is actually only the Gestalt of everything you’ve read, and what your friends say, about it, how people talk about the weather, the food, the political and arts scene, how bad the transport and pollution are, and whether its safe or not and how easy it is to leave it on the weekends or for short breaks, which, as we know, are the things that make a city live-able and so I look up at the girls and wonder if they’re from here – but who is from here anyway – or if they’re part of the revolving door that this city is now: streams of young Americans – political, gap year, searching, IvyLeague; or the Euro-AirBnB set here for the weekend and relieved to be back in Uppsala or Barcelona or Bristol on Monday night with their envy of how impossibly cool Kreuzberg is but ultimately relieved to be back, to be back home.
Berlin, March 11, 2013
Today I’m sitting down to put down some thoughts and writing that have brewed for the past few months.
I was here in Berlin last December when news of the gang-rape of a young woman came in. I returned to Bangalore on the 22nd and for the next twelve days was glued to the internet. (I don’t have a television). I sat at my dining table reading, listening, talking and thinking about how I started my career 17 years before . I didn’t know at the time that this was the start of my career – I just thought it was an internship at ‘violence intervention centre’ called Sakshi.
I was lightheaded from the awareness that all kinds of everyday people were talking about rape, and with great enthusiasm, at dinner parties, in their living rooms: my parents, their friends, my friends’ parents. There was the horror of the brutality of the incident: speech trailed off after the mention of ‘iron rods’, everyone silently doing a mapping that was too awful to say aloud.
There was the routine head-shaking about North Indian male culture; I could feel myself cringing at the measuring of the general against the particular. There was always that aunty who said that’s why I sent my daughter to Bombay to study.
There was the spectacle of the protests unfolding on television screens, and the even more spectacular bumbling of the government. There was the bland, trite parsing of intricate social and cultural dynamics on TV news shows and everyone who watched these shows believed they had something more grave, incisive or apt say.
Personally, I didn’t know what to make of what was going on or how to engage with it. Was it real? Far away from the epicentre it was hard to tell. Was this just a mob gone mad? The mob appeared to me the most conservative of all; the ones who believed only capital punishment could equal the death of honour through rape. Frankly, I couldn’t believe that rape had galvanised so much of Delhi across gender and class lines. The noise of change rattling around waiting to amount to something.