The closing films of Orizzonti

The Annunciation

Siglo ng pagluluwal (Century of Birthing), the new film by Lav Diaz, the director who has received many awards (in Venezia as well) and is known as the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema, joins the programme of the Orizzonti section at the 68th Venice International Film Festival (August 31st to September 10th) directed by Marco Mueller and organized by la Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta.

To close the programme of Orizzonti, on Saturday September 10, two works have been chosen which  operate on the fusion of different forms of expression:

  • Marian Ilmestys (The Annunciation), a cinematic reworking of the elements of a video installation by the Finnish visual artist and director Eija-Liisa Ahtila (this year member of the Venezia 68 jury)
  • Monkey Sandwich,  a fictional backstage rendering of a theatre mise-en-scène which features dance, created by Belgian director, choreographer, performer and photographer Wim Vandekeybus.

Siglo ng pagluluwal (Century of Birthing), which will be presented in its world premiere on Sept. 10 in the Orizzonti Events section, is a grand meditation on the various roles of the artist, and tells two seemingly unrelated tales: one focusing on a filmmaker who has spent years working on his latest opus; the other about a Christian cult leader in a rural region.  

Siglo ng pagluluwal (Century of Birthing) marks the return of  Lav Diaz at Venice, after having been a member of the Orizzonti jury last year and having been awarded twice in Orizzonti, in 2008 with Melancholia (Gran Premio Orizzonti), and in 2007 with Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos, Special Mention).         

In this film Lav Diaz has Homer – the director who is the leading character – saying: “Through cinema, we can reenact our memories. Through cinema, we can even reinvent our memories. Through cinema, we will remember the past, the present and the future… now. Cinema will bring us to the past, the present and the future… now. We will remember the world because of cinema.“ And he added: “Cinema is being.“

Marian Ilmestys (The Annunciation) by Finnish visual-artist and director Eija-Liisa Ahtila is an installation of three projected images and films in which one of the central motifs of Christian iconography (The Annunciation) is constructed and re-enacted through moving imagery. It is based on the narrative in the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) and on paintings of the Annunciation in which artists have, in various periods, depicted their visions of the Gospel’s events. In this Annunciation the events are set in the present. The work consists of material produced during the preparations for shooting and  an actual reconstruction of the event of the Annunciation. The footage was shot mainly during the frosty winter season of 2010 in the snowy Aulanko nature reserve in southern Finland and on a set depicting an artist’s studio and the scene of the Annunciation. All the human actors except for two are non-professionals. Most of them are clients of the Helsinki Deaconess Institute’s women’s support services. The animal actors are a trained raven, two ordinary donkeys and a group of carrier pigeons from a bird farm. Although based on an existing script, the events, roles and dialogue were adapted during the filming process to the actors’ individual presence.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila says about her work: “For something to get started, one must merely begin and connect with a thing that doesn’t yet exist – as far as one knows, at least – and to write more into it. How does one know what things are, unless they’re already familiar? What does one know of them at that stage? How do such things exist? How to get next to them and engage in dialogue – about what and in whose language? One instinctively approaches such things through the familiar, the known – at times with such precision and force that one can see from a single angle only, in one direction, all things in a clear order – one thing in front, another just behind it, and so on – in perspective. Can something already familiar fulfill the criteria for a miracle? Can one be shaken with surprise by something one knows through and through? What does one see then? Perhaps one encounters a question, which one cannot understand. Or an image of something that begins to puzzle the mind. They are displayed somewhere, where they can be discovered, and then one waits to see who comes to look at them. And how they look at them.”

Choreographer Wim Vandekeybus frequently uses film and video in his stage performances, but a desire to tell stories has drawn him irresistibly towards cinema. The feature-length Monkey Sandwich is his first dialogue-driven project, a stepping-stone to the long-planned film Galloping Mind. Film plays a significant part in Monkey Sandwich. Yet it is utterly characteristic of Vandekeybus: the distinctive energy and visual power splatter off the silver screen. The whole landscape dances. On stage we see the young performer Damien Chapelle. In an ingenious interaction with the film, he flits around, swinging between loneliness and happiness, in the process creating a world of his own. Sometimes it’s manic-euphoric, sometimes vulnerable, helpless and questing, just like the characters projected over his head, with whom he vainly attempts to make contact. Monkey Sandwich is a tangle of stories. From the hilarious opening scenes to the lies of the theatre and the madness of leadership, such universal themes as solitude and loss rise to the surface. Vandekeybus weaves all this masterfully into a captivating trip and succeeds marvelously in his ambitious intention of fusing film and living performance art.

Wim Vandekeybus said about Monkey Sandwich: “It is a film about error, loss and guilt. It praises the art of story telling by weaving various legends into a single story about a catastrophe caused by a human mistake. People tell stories to explain other things. They use a kind of communication in which things are suggested: logical or not, funny and/or creepy, cruel or moralizing, genuine or invented. It’s a kind of post-industrial folklore to respond to universal fears and desires. Like the songs of a troubadour in the past, people tell stories to express what they want to say. Monkey Sandwich is the story of a man coping with the consequences of his actions, not always knowing how to express what he wants to say.”

Biographical Notes

Lav Diaz 

He was born in 1958 at Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and is known as the ideological father of the New Philippine Cinema. His monumental trilogy, Batang West Side (West Side Kid, 2002), Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2005) and Ikalawang aklat: ang alamat ng prinsesang bayawak (Heremias, 2006), is the archetype of an uncompromising and aesthetically economic and uniform cinema. The three films are considered modern masterpieces  of  Philippine cinema. Obstinate and independent, the author of a radically anti-Hollywood production, Lav Diaz studied film studies at the Mowelfund Film Institute (Philippines), following studies in economics (Universities of Manila, Davao and Notre Dame). Among his works are Serafin Geronimo: kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion (The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion, 1998), Burger Boys (1999), Hubad sa ilalim ng buwan (Naked Under the Moon, 1999), and Hesus rebolusyunaryo (Jesus Revolutionary, 2002). Lav Diaz, who now lives in Manila and New York, has always sought coherence in style and content in his work, making himself a spokesman for human struggles and of the Philippine population for redemption. He has won numerous international prizes, including those for best film at the Festivals of Brussels and Singapore and the Gawad Urian critics’ prize, with his debut film lasting over 5 hours, Batang West Side (West Side Kid, 2002). His next Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2005) also received the Gawad Urian critics’ prize, while Ikalawang aklat: ang alamat ng prinsesang bayawak (Heremias, 2006) won the special jury prize at the Freiburg festival. The last two of his films have both been screened and won prizes at the Venice Film Festical: Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos), 540 minutes of film on the apocalyptic consequences of the Reming typhoon that struck the Philippines on 30th November 2006, won the Orizzonti Special Mention, while the later Melancholia, another titanic work lasting 450 minutes in which Diaz questions the essence of happiness, arriving at the definition of life itself as a means of measuring the suffering of man, won the 2008 Orizzonti Prize.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila

Eija-Liisa Ahtila is a contemporary Finnish visual artist and filmmaker. She has been working in the diverse areas of audiovisual expression since the late eighties. She has studied film and multimedia both in London and Los Angeles and she is currently working mostly on film and video. Within her works she has explored experimental narrative storytelling techniques and e.g. the connection between short films and commercials, split-screen techniques and the possibilities of narration in multiscreen installations. Her films have been shown in international film festivals such as Rotterdam, Miami, Hong Kong, Helsinki and the Sundance Film Festival, and on several different TV-Channels in Europe and Australia. She explores and experiments with narrative storytelling in her films and cinematic installations. In her earlier works she has dealt with the unsettling human dramas at the centre of personal relationships, dealing e.g. with teenage sexuality, family relations, mental disintegration and death. Her later works, however, deal with more profound and basic artistic questions where she investigates the processes of perception and attribution of meaning, at times in the light of a larger cultural and existential thematic like colonialism, faith and post humanism. Her skillfully crafted narratives and touching portrayal of characters have captured the public’s interest and won critical acclaim worldwide. The films and installations attain an air of contemporary familiarity combined with intense oddness, giving Ahtila’s work its distinctive style. Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s films have won several international film awards. A retrospective of her time-based installation works has been shown in some of the most prominent contemporary art museums worldwide. Tate Modern in London dedicated a monographic exhibition to her work in 2002, and the MoMA presented in 2006 her video installation The Wind. In 2008, the Jeu de Paume cultural exhibition centre in Paris dedicated a retrospective to her work entitled Eija-Liisa Ahtila: A Retrospective. British Film Institute has published The Cinematic Works of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, exposing her work to a wider audience on home DVD. The Finnish artist has participated twice in the International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia. In 1999, her video-projection Lohdutusseremonia (Consolation Service) won an honorable mention. She returned to the Biennale in 2005, where she projected The Hour of Prayer, an exploration on four screens of the sense of loss and pain that followed the death of a dog. Her works include Plato’s Son (1990), a philosophical short road movie about a female alien who arrives to the earth, The Trial (1993), Me/We, Okay, Gray (1993), If 6 was 9 (1995/96), a split screen film about teenage girls and sex, Today (1996/1997), a three episode short film about the relations between fathers and daughters, Love is a Treasure (2002) and Where is Where (2009), a video-installation on multiple screens that addresses the theme of war and the trauma it provokes among civilians. Eija-Liisa Ahtila has won a series of important acknowledgments throughout her career, including the Young Artist of the Year Award in Finland (1990), the AVEK award for important achievements in the field of audio-visual culture (1997), the Edstrand Art Prize (1998) and the Vincent Van Gogh Bi-annual Award for Contemporary Art in Europe (2000). She also earned the Artes Mundi Prize in Cardiff (2006) and the Prince Eugen Medal for outstanding artistic achievement in Sweden (2008).

Wim Vandekeybus

Director, choreographer, actor and photographer Wim Vandekeybus was born in 1963 in Lier (Belgium). Brought up in a rural environment as a son of a veterinarian, Vandekeybus was often in contact with animals in their natural environment. These experiences had a great emotional impact on him. Animals, their movements, their instinctive reactions and their trust in their own physical power are often integrated into his performances. He began his studies in psychology in Leuven, but did not complete them, irritated, as he says himself, by the surplus of ‘objective science’. His interest in the complex relationship between body and spirit remained. A workshop with the Flemish theatre director and playwright Paul Peyskens brought him into contact with theatre. He followed some dance courses (classic, modern, tango) and took up film and photography. In 1985 he auditioned for Jan Fabre. Vandekeybus was taken and during two years he travelled the world with the The Power of Theatrical Madness, playing one of the two naked kings. While touring with Jan Fabre he met painter/photographer Octavio Iturbe in Madrid, who later became an important artistic collaborator. In 1986 he withdrew for several months in Madrid with a group of young, inexperienced dancers to work on his first production and founds his company Ultima Vez (Spanish for ‘last time’). In June 1987 What the Body Does Not Remember premièred at the Toneelschuur in Haarlem (the Netherlands). The dancing in What the Body… was powered by the music of Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch. With tempestuous energy and strength the performers made daring leaps, launched themselves into the air and smartly intercepted each other’s falls. Bricks were thrown above each other’s heads. Every gesture had to stick to an absolutely precise timing; the performers put their trust in and surrendered to their instincts. Although the première was received with scepticism, the performance was soon being presented on international stages. In 1988, Wim Vandekeybus received the Bessie Award in New York for this production, which was credited “a brutal confrontation of dance and music: the dangerous, combative landscape of What the Body Does Not Remember.” Since What the Body… Wim Vandekeybus has created nearly twenty performances with changing international casts and has made nearly as many film and video productions. From his very first performance music has been an important stimulus for his productions. He has commissioned works from, among others, Peter Vermeersch, Thierry De Mey, David Byrne, Marc Ribot, Charo Calvo, Eavesdropper and David Eugene Edwards. In 1989, after a residency at the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine d’Angers, he created Les porteuses de mauvaises nouvelles, for which he received his second Bessie Award. From 1993 until 1999 Wim Vandekeybus is artist in residence at the KVS (Royal Flemish Theatre) in Brussels. He created sixteen performances with Ultima Vez, among which Blush (2002) and Sonic Boom (2005). His work is a fusion of music, dance, theatre and film.