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25th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege

Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was an influential American essayist, publicist, writer, director, human rights defender, and female emancipation activist. Her universal activities remain an impressive characteristic of this Renaissance woman of modern history. She became known in 1964 with her text Notes on 'Camp'. Her essays On Photography, Under the Sign of Saturn and Regarding the Pain of Others, and her novel The Volcano Lover were translated into Czech. Her interest in film is present in her entire work. Her complete film work will be featured in this year's section Susan Sontag: Filmmaking is a Privilege.

film database

Brother Carl
Two couples are going through a critical period. Karen and Peter have a six-year-old mute schizophrenic girl, Anna. Their relationship is cold and hostile. Léna and Martin have been divorced for five years. Léna is a well-known actress and Martin is an artistic director of a ballet company living on an island with his friend Carl. Léna and Karen go to visit them. Sontag got her second Nordic chance and decided to make the whole film in Swedish. She considered it a great test of her own imagination, comparing it to Carl Theodor Dreyer's last film or to the films of Jean-Marie Straub. But after the filming was finished, she admitted that the attempt had failed…   „So that women no longer suffer the condemnation preventing them from expressing their feelings. (...) Carnal love will not disappear because of this, nor will couples cease to form; only men and women will cease to judge each other as potential sexual partners from their very first moments spent together.”

Brother Carl

Susan Sontag
Sweden / 1971 / 97 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Duet for Cannibals
"What is a partner relationship? Is it a relationship between two people or can it also be a relationship between several couples? What is its formal and psychological basis? In Duet for Cannibals, two young people are psychologically devoured by an older married couple. They might be in a sadomasochistic relationship – cruel and at the same time compassionate." On the backdrop of life in political exile, a psychological story of a relationship between two couples unfolds. Young Tomas is hired by expatriate Dr. Bauer and gradually drawn into a murky game. The first draft of the script was written in Stockholm in August 1968 and in May 1969, the film was already screened at the Cannes festival. First, the dialogue and the visual style were created. The second draft of the script dated September 1968 already contained set descriptions. In October and November, a six-week shoot took place in Stockholm. The film was edited in February and March 1969. Despite omitting some scenes, Sontag managed to portray the emotional state of the characters as she had intended.

Duet for Cannibals

Susan Sontag
Sweden / 1969 / 105 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Cheese! or What Really Did Happen in Andy Warhol’s Studio

Cheese! or What Really Did Happen in Andy Warhol’s Studio

United Kingdom / 1965 / 10 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Promised Lands
I always argue with someone about the definition of documentary. I hate that when we talk about other than fictional films, the terms and definitions are quite restricting. The label “documentary” evokes that it is just a documentary. Yet, a film is much more. The only independent significantly documentary film of Susan Sontag is her portrait of Israel. During five weeks, she spent fifteen hours a day filming with a fixed idea of making a sincere film. She was fascinated by the fact that events (and thus scenes in her film) took place in front of the camera in real time and with no preparation. All of a sudden, her work of a director wasn’t based on written preparation, but she had to deal ex post with events that she wasn’t able to foresee. The outcome of her search for rhythm and structure is an idea – not to aim at capturing events, but aim at capturing their conditions and circumstances.   The Polish Institute in Prague is the partner of the 25th Ji.hlava IDFF.

Promised Lands

Susan Sontag
France, Poland / 1974 / 86 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Town Bloody Hall
On April 30, 1971, an open forum on women's equality and the women's liberation movement took place in New York. Four panellists, representing different currents of second-wave feminism, made their contributions drawing on their findings of biology, sociology, philosophy, and their own personal experiences, while being countered on stage by one man – a journalist and writer Norman Mailer, presenting a model example of condescending mansplaining. The panelists' sense of humor and their intellectual and argumentative superiority easily won the audience's affection in the debate on issues that remain relevant today.   A man from the audience: „I really don’t know what women are asking for. Now suppose I wanted to give it to them.“ Germaine Greer: „Listen, you may as well relax because whatever it is they’re asking for, honey, it’s not for you.“ Source of quote: Film Town Bloody Hall

Town Bloody Hall

Chris Hegedus, Donn Alan Pennebaker
United States / 1979 / 88 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Unguided Tour
Venice is a popular tourist spot which Italians from other parts of the country visit perceiving it like a foreign city. Foreigners arrive with an inner admiration, anxiety and impatience. They all share the same desire to be in Venice, to be able to say: “I visited Venice.” The director was inspired by her own text Io, Eccetera; and without doubt, this is her most intimate film. Or to be more precise, we should say that it is a very personal and subjective piece. Even though, we look at a couple staying in Venice, we aren’t sure whether it is a fictional film or documentary. Or is it just an essay? The category isn’t important. It is quite obvious that we look at a trip to Venice and Susan Sontag is our guide. The structure of the film resembles a dance show; its rhythm is a choreography of performances of individual actors, an inner voice and film shots of the antique city. Under the surface – similarly to e.g. M. Duras – we feel a wide range of very personal topics and possible prevalence of contemplations on inner exile.

Unguided Tour

Susan Sontag
Italy / 1993 / 71 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Waiting for Godot... in Sarajevo
Summer 1993. I was in Sarajevo. It was my second stay here during the war. To my surprise, Nicole appeared, accompanied by a cinematographer and sound engineer. She wanted to shoot a documentary about my theatre staging of Waiting for Godot. The film became an anti-war gesture and a tribute to the city’s residents. Although Sontag isn’t the film’s director, she is in a certain sense its protagonist. Nicole Stéphane, who was her partner at that time, set out to Sarajevo to capture the atmosphere of the theatre production of Beckett’s play. The documentary was created at a time when the lives of all those involved was in danger. The genius loci of the besieged city was portrayed in a unique way, as well as the situation of the people, who were simultaneously actors, residents, defenders, and victims. The camera provides a testimony of a different battle.

Waiting for Godot... in Sarajevo

Nicole Stéphane, Susan Sontag
France / 1993 / 26 min.
section: Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege
Ministerstvo kultury
Fond kinematografie
Město Jihlava
Kraj Vysočina
Česká televize
Český rozhlas
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