On 25 June 2022, we hosted a panel titled Creating Spaces for Film Education: Film as Tool for Empowerment, Awareness and (Un-)learning as part of the Cinema of Commoning Symposium. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
How can critical thinking be promoted through working with film in cinemas? How can networks that enable lively transnational exchange through film education be created? This panel will present different focal points and formats for film education, including discursive film mediation (analog and digital film formats, forms of presenting film history, film genres and aesthetics), affordability and consider a range of target groups. Among other things, funding criteria and questions around the power structures which dictate funding will be discussed: To what extent do funding logics deepen stereotyping and the instrumentalization of minorities – and how can this be avoided? How can the visibility of films created worldwide be established in programming, especially in terms of accessibility and lack of dubbing / subtitling?
Yuki Aditya, Luthfan Nur Rochman (Forum Lenteng, Jakarta)
Christine Kopf (DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt)
Malve Lippmann, Sarnt Utamachote (bi’bak / Sinema Transtopia, Berlin)
Moderation: Alejandro Bachmann (Kunsthochschule für Medien, Cologne)
Alejandro Bachmann (Kunsthochschule für Medien Cologne) All of you have been using different terms connected to the word film: film as a resource, film as a method, film as a tool. At the same time, if we look closely at a certain strain in film education the idea was to get away from this use of film as a medium for something else to instead concentrate on the film itself, film as an art form. Since you use film as a method rather than as an end product, could you describe what cinema means to you in the context of your work on film education? What is it that makes cinema so powerful in this context?
Yuki Aditya (Forum Lenteng): For us, at Forum Lenteng, film is one of the media that we use as a source of learning. To elaborate on that, I would need to also talk about the history of film in Indonesia. We can say that Indonesian cinema history started after independence in 1945 with Usmar Ismail’s Darah dan Doah (The Long March) in 1950. Most of the films made in the 1950s and the 1960s are talking about patriotism, about the formation of this new country and about class ideology in the society. During President Suharto’s regime (1966-1998), film was mostly made to serve propaganda purposes and heavy censorship was imposed on the filmmakers. During that time, there was barely any film produced outside of the context of big production companies, and it was impossible to get a public screening unless the government knew what exactly you were doing. Then, after the resignation of President Suharto and alongside the development of new tools of film production, suddenly people could make their own films; the tools have been in the hands of the people with the use of cameras and smartphones.
This is also the case for us. For example in our akumassa programme, we are involved in filmmaking, in video making, but we try to reduce the subjectivity of the filmmakers. Akumassa is an intensive one- or two-month residency programme. We collaborate with local collectives in certain regions in the country. We talk about the history and the demographics of the area, what stories are connected to the place there, who are the people living there. Then, we try to somehow map out the location and the social issues there by means of film.
We always say that the films we make are products of collective work. During all the production phases of shooting, editing and post-production, it feels like it is everyone’s film.
Luthfan Nur Rochman (Forum Lenteng): In milisifilem collective, which we founded in 2017, we approached film as an estuary of all artforms. For the first six months, the participants of the collective were not allowed to use a camera; they had to record the work by hand, charcoal and chinese ink instead. After they had completed their sketching work, they started using the camera, as then they already knew how to frame a shot. Then they started making work centred on local problems, local contexts and how people are acting in certain locations.
Sarnt Utamachote (bi’bak / Sinema Transtopia): In the case of bi’bak, I feel that the learning processes between the organiser and the workshop participants always goes both ways. Most of the participants we have at bi’bak come from other fields, so for them making films is their alternative way of living life. I am interested in the mental health effects such workshops have on their participants; how good it can make them feel to be able to speak about their life. We are also not trying to distribute these films into the market directly, so it is more something they make for themselves and for their friends. In my case, I learn so much from people who work outside of the film industry.
Malve Lippmann (bi’bak / Sinema Transtopia): Film is such a strong medium, it can affect you even physically. It can really shift your own perspectives. I personally see the cinema practice as we do it at bi’bak as mediation work. As we choose a film and put it at the centre, as we watch this film at a certain time, we share an experience for this particular period of time together. After the screening, we share our thoughts about the film. For us, these discussions are very important, since we are always trying to create an environment for dialogue and spontaneous exchange around a film.
Alejandro: I think that cinema is also about the presence of bodies in front of the film. Everyone is actively involved, not by speaking and not by acting, but as bodies sharing the same space by sitting together in front of the screen, which also creates some sort of community.
Christine Kopf (DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum): For me, the physical space of cinema is very important. I would say that our team is still very much influenced by the French idea of cinephilia and film education. But then if you think about the present of Germany as a migrant society and you start to reflect on what you do, you realise that you cannot stay in your own bubble. Otherwise film will not reach the people in kindergartens, at schools, and in other parts and neighbourhoods of the city.
It has beens a positive thing for us to be challenged to move into different parts of the city. And although it sometimes makes me feel like a billiard ball, bouncing between different places and priorities, it is so important that at the end of the day we are learning so much from the people participating in our workshops. We also share this need to do things together, not just from an institutional point of view, but also because we like organising things collaboratively, working in collective structures and building up networks.
Alejandro: Exactly! As you mentioned with the DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, you often move outside of the confines of the DFF space and go to other locations in the city. I think this is also related to the idea of ownership in the context of film education. Who has the right to educate, to decide what is worthy of being taught and in which spaces education takes place? Departing from these thoughts, I wanted to ask you all to what extent do you connect to this idea of giving up ownership, and what strategies do you use in order to enact this? It is always a challenge to create an atmosphere where institutions initiate a project with a community but at the same time they end up being in charge. This question goes for bi’bak and the DFF. What are the basic principles of giving up on this idea of a centralised institution or person who shapes everything, and instead create an atmosphere where the group shapes everything together?
Luthfan: In our practice through akumassa, we try to reduce the subjectivity and authority of Forum Lengteng. We try to form equal partnerships with local communities. In the case of milisifilem collective, we also aim for an equal and egalitarian learning practice, as every film is made by the collective as a whole and not only by one person.
Yuki: Indeed, the idea of akumassa is to produce our own archive at certain locations, and also to build a type of network all over Indonesia through the practice of recording the everyday lives of people. At the end, once each collective has done that, they can share the archive they produced, and then we share this footage with each other. The idea is that we have to capture as many possible stories as possible, made by and for everyday people.
Sarnt: Before we go too far and create a romanticised idea of “the collective,” we should acknowledge that there are limits when it comes to budget and finances. The German funding system often does not really allow collective work to happen. When you write an application they want to know who is the director, who is the curator, who is participant one, participant two, three, four, five etc. If you operate within a Western European context, you are ultimately working within a very individualised system. We might want five artists and four curators, but ultimately the budget often only allows one.
Malve: You can subvert this within certain limits by writing one thing and then doing things differently in practice. Then you can mirror this back to the funders during the evaluation process and explain why you made those changes along the way. I often aim for the experience to be a learning process for us, and for the funders, and sometimes they can be thankful for that. In the end however, it always comes down to who has the money and therefore the power. I think we need to be aware of these structures, and also to question them. Bi’bak is not an institution but we still receive some funding, and we always have to question how to distribute this power to our creators, curator and workshop facilitators. We could always be making this process of distribution more transparent. We aim to put together budgets alongside our curators when we develop an idea or run a project – that’s one way we try to put that transparency into practice.
Christine: I think if I said there is no ownership in our cinematheque, it would not be true and it would be very naive. But I can say that there is a strong longing for doing things differently and trying to use the very limited space we have in a different way. With funding, one thing I try to do is share information with people who are doing great projects. If I come up with projects, I often propose collective concepts, because I like to work this way, rather than having one curator or one educator.
As you say, sometimes you have to write things in a certain way when applying for a fund, but then at the end you change how the project takes shape in practice. You have to manoeuvre and make things happen within the small space you have. In cultural education in Germany, participation is such a buzzword, so much so that it makes me sick sometimes. The funding system often only allows for very short-term cooperation, but I think this idea of working together can only be done with dignity if you have long-term collaborations.
Sarnt: With the Cinema of Commoning film programme, we screened films in eight countries. The idea was that each cinema would select one film that represents them, which would then be shown around the world. We had a budget that allowed for the films to be screened for free, so they were screened free-of-charge in Jakarta, Dubai and Bangkok. We also had a small budget for subtitles, which provided us with an indirect way for the cinemas to distribute the film by themselves. In this way, they had some money to subtitle the film in their own language, and to do whatever they wanted to do with it.
Alejandro: Everything you said is quite compelling, because it reminds me of what education could actually be. The idea of shaping things together, for example, stands in opposition to how the rest of the world works around us. But then again, if you have to rely on the current funding system, you are faced with their way of perceiving things. At the end of the day, you still need to get funds from structures that work in traditional ways.
Although all your projects are quite different, as they emerge from different contexts and institutions, one element that connects all of them is this idea of decentralisation and networking. I have been asking myself as well, especially thinking in the context of the pandemic, how far the question of being physically present in such film education activities is something that matters to you. I can imagine that funding bodies who distribute resources and funds can say “but this can all be done online.” I would like to know how far you think that physical presence is important when working with socially-engaged film projects.
Malve: I believe that physical presence in a space and working together with people hands-on is the basis for a democratic understanding; certain things can be negotiated differently face to face! For us at Sinema Transtopia it is a conceptual decision not to stream any of our events. You have to come here physically to have this experience of exchange and to talk after a screening and if you are not here in person then you will miss the event.
Yuki: In terms of our cinema space, we are quite conventional in a sense that we still believe in screening films to people in a dark room. We could not do our festival ARKIPEL offline in 2020 due to the pandemic, but in 2021 we learned little by little how to make a hybrid event happen.
We also began to think about how we could make something happen within this collective context in the context of a pandemic. In 2020 we also did a project which is part of the ARKIPEL called ARKIPEL Academy. We usually have a five-day intensive programme where we go to the mountains, rent a house, and open submissions for filmmakers, curators, film critics, or anyone who is interested in film. We watch films together for twelve hours a day and then discuss them for hours. When covid came, we were confused as to how we might be able to still learn from each other. We did a co-production with nine local collectives all around Indonesia, where they were recording their daily situations during the pandemic. It was up to them to record whatever they wanted to record and to choose who their subject was. We ended up producing one film together with nine other collectives all around Indonesia. We had weekly discussions and online correspondence about the context of the recordings. After one or two months of discussing this every week, we managed to finish this film collectively.
Audience Question: I wanted to ask a question in relation to this notion of unlearning, which leads to the question: how do we unlearn? How can we create an educational context where unlearning becomes a collective practice?
Lufhfan: The term is debatable, of course, but the method that is specific to our context is that Indonesia’s education system is intertwined with Western colonial legacies. So in milisifilem we still learn about Western historical art and film, but we always contextualise it within our local history and global issues like Capitalism vs Communism, for example, and we try to relate it to our education, literature and art worlds. That kind of deconstruction is what we can strategise as writers, filmmakers and curators. The most important part of our unlearning method is the bodily experience, to be present in the middle of the society, in the middle of a location, and to learn from the people who are there, not just from theory and concept.
Sarnt: I just want to tell this story, very quickly. Basically, some people cannot speak English, and when they go to the cinema, their children have to whisper to her the translation of what is happening. People next to them usually find this annoying, but the idea of unlearning for me also means that we should not think of cinema as being this one type of place where we are all focusing on one thing. It should be a place for noises, as these noises can be a type of mediation for people who might not understand cinema or may interpret a film differently. I just love the idea of making noises and making cinema messy.
Christine: I can relate very much to the concept of manifesting cinema as a noisy place. For example, if the children from the kindergarten are coming, they talk all the time while seeing the film, that is their immediate reaction. They also own the space by running around the cinema. We, as mediators, need to unlearn and reflect, as this should also be allowed.
Malve: I find what Sarnt mentioned regarding subtitles really important. We need to prioritise having a budget for subtitling, because otherwise some perspectives cannot be accessed by a broader audience. The first time that Can Sungu introduced me to many of these Yesilcam movies which are produced in Germany I was really surprised. Now I would definitely consider them as a part of the German cultural heritage. I was not aware of the perspectives of thousands of people living in Germany for years around me and about the films they have been watching. They might be B-movies, but from them you can understand so much about why things are the way they are. We subtitled six of these movies from the early 1970s and 80s, and it was the first time that these films had been shown here in Germany to a non-Turkish speaking audience.
Yuki Aditya graduated from the University of Indonesia majoring in Fiscal Administration. He once worked as a Tax Auditor at a Public Accountant in Jakarta. Since 2013 he is the festival director of ARKIPEL International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival and acts as the producer of the films by Forum Lenteng.
Alejandro Bachmann is a film worker with a focus on mediation, writing, and curating. He is mentor of the Berlinale Talents Short Film Station. Since April 2021 he has been a Visiting Professor for Film History and Media Theory at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.
Christine Kopf studied film studies and cultural anthropology in Erlangen and Marburg. She developed concepts, exhibitions and film series for Filmhaus Nürnberg, ZKM Karlsruhe, Kulturamt Wiesbaden, HfG Offenbach and DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum Frankfurt. From 2013 to 2019, she was curator for the Bosch Foundation Film Award for international cooperation between young filmmakers from Germany and the Arab region. At the DFF, she has headed the department of film education since 2013 and has developed and/or accompanied numerous film education projects.
Malve Lippmann is an artist, curator and cultural manager. As a freelance set designer and artist, she has been internationally responsible for the design of numerous performances, opera and drama productions. Since 2010 Malve Lippmann has been working as a curator and cultural manager, leading artistic workshops and seminars and is active in various cultural and community projects. She is co-founder and artistic director of bi’bak and Sinema Transtopia in Berlin.
Luthfan Nur Rochman is a filmmaker, curator, and researcher. He is also an active member of Forum Lenteng and organiser of ARKIPEL International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival since 2018. Currently he is focusing his activity mostly in milisifilem; a group study of film production through the practice of visual experimentation initiated by Forum Lenteng. He is currently developing the Candikala platform at Forum Lenteng, which is trying to recontextualize Hindu-Buddhist heritage in Indonesia by the practice of art.
Sarnt Utamachote is a Southeast Asian nonbinary filmmaker and curator based in Berlin. They are a co-founder of un.thai.tled, an artist collective from the German-Thai diaspora, and curated many film events and exhibitions regarding postcolonial histories, Southeast Asian diaspora and activism. This includes the recent research-based exhibition Where is my karaoke? Still, we sing (2022) in Leipzig, and the annual Celestial Festival in Berlin. Their short films such as I Am Not Your Mother (2020) or Soy Sauce (2020) have been screened internationally. Currently they work as a programmer/selection committee for Xposed Queer Film Festival Berlin and Short Film Festival Hamburg.