Interview with Judith Raum on the video nearness to large rivers eats the eyes    
       
 

Judith Raum:
When did you begin working with video?


Elke Marhöfer:
In 1993.


J.R.:
Maybe you can briefly talk about the initial reasons for making this film.


E.M.:
The initial reasoning comes from the revolt in the french suburbs in 2005, a second reasoning stems from the African refugee boats off the coast of various European tourist islands. So in a way, it was the present resistance with the concentration of capital and a monopolized meaning of life, reproduction, or work.


J.R.:
So it was made with political and socio-critical motivations. How exactly do you see your role as an artist in relation to these terms?


E.M.:
...


J.R.:
At first sight, „nearness to large rivers eats the eyes“ seems to demand a lot of attention for details that are hardly recognizable and require a degree of patience that one is not used to attribute to a film. Is there any ideal spectator for your film that you can think of? How do you understand the relationship between film and spectator?


E.M.:
For me, the spectator is a kind of phantom in the production process. You would normally expect to find her exclusively on the side of the end result, inside the projection space and watching the film. But they are also present during the development of the film; inside the camera, where actually only I should be. This spectator is abstract and voicelessly controls and comments on all of my actions. Another spectator is situated in front of the camera, she is what I film. This spectator is already half concrete, weighing out which filmic transgressions she and I can bear. These two spectators are pushed to the side while I am editing the film. They might come back again through the window, just like Kafka’s excluded adjuncts, but they will never gain back the force they had in the initial shooting – there they are powerful to such a degree that they virtually substitute themselves for myself. Of course these two spectators are not real, but at the same time they are far from being transcendental.
By contrast, the spectator inside the projection room is almost tangible, but in relationship to the others it is relatively powerless. Interactive films that require a real feed-back don’t really exist and I will hardly ever remain present. And – right, there are specific reasons that make it necessary to expect patience from the one in the projection room.


J.R.:
A recurring scene in the film shows two boys spending their time in the shadow of a ramshackled concrete structure of something that once was a dam. There are minutes in these shots when hardly anything happens. You once said about the film that it is exactly this ‚dead time’ in these takes which enables true vision – in contrast to voyeurism. Can you describe this more clearly?


E.M.:
The two boys at the dam are fishing for improbable fish. They know that they are being filmed, however at times they manage to blank out my presence completely while playing. The long take marks the film itself as film without coming up with something like subjectivity. That way, the film stresses its relationship to the viewer. The spectator has to construct himself reflexively while watching. That is a displeasing, almost authoritarian moment of film, which you would usually want to reject as a viewer. But the question is, why do we remain seated anyway?
Maybe it is nothing else but this „dead time“ that causes us, the spectator, to experience ourselves inherent in the evolution of things. That we have to construct ourselves and our vision reflexively and independently. This is what we need „dead time“ for, just as the boys and their game are enclosed inside of that „dead time“.


J.R.:
So only by finding yourself being confronted with these uneventful moments you are given the opportunity to develop a consciousness of the immensly active role that you always already have as a spectator? An interpretational and associative work? Does Africa as the location of the film especially highlight this aspect? A few moments ago, you mentioned critically that the economically successful nations tend to purport certain meanings of life – such as the meaning of life or work.


E.M.:
Economically successful nations do not only ‚tend’ towards a production of meaning concerning life and work – they also actively suppress any other meaning. It seems to me that this is the only reason why there is such a thing as developmental cooperation. Trin T. Minh-ha asks in one of her films: „How did it happen that in only 30 years a whole continent develops a notion of itself as being underdeveloped?“ Or take a look at film funding: West African films that look for funding by the EU have to relate more or less to European notions of African life or to certain mutual forms of Afro-European relationships such as questions of identity or modernity. Questions like this are right now also being posed at documenta 12, but it is just another example of transforming dominating dominance into a more subtle form of dominance.
Then it is of course correct that the notion of the uneventful is not exactly what one would expect from a film that was shot in Africa. But that makes it on the other hand easier. To record uneventful moments in this location is in a way more difficult.


J.R.:
The film has numerous moments of eye contact – some of them very subtle, some of them obvious – or even direct communication between people in front of the camera and you yourself behind the camera. How do you understand this kind of relationship?


E.M.:
In the early days of cinema the gaze back into the camera used to be something very normal. It is natural to look back when somebody looks at you. Today, it functions much more like a disveiling of something concealed. Then a camera is something more technical, that way it is a means for suppression, hidden suppression too. I am holding the camera and because I don’t want to have that power, it is actually me who has lost. It is precisely this idea which I try to mirror and increase in the film by grasping the gazes and glances. It is like a game; I have seen YOU, YOU have seen ME. I already said that the ones whom I film codetermine what happens. There is a permutation between I and YOU.


J.R.:
In some of the scenes filmed in the streets of the village you edited a series of short takes into a very quick sequence. That creates short, somewhat independent episodes within the film that seem to follow their own logic. Then there are various actions, just like the handling of bowls full of water, that remain cryptic. It seems to me that this has an influence on the perception of recorded events that one would otherwise perceive as documentary material. How important is the enigmatic element in the film, and what is your relationship with the documentary film?


E.M.:
My relationship with documentary film is quite problematic because documentary film tends to stay outside of the things it talks about. The narrative voice commonly used in documentaries tells of the distance, while it is meant to carry the images forward. I understand obscurity and mysteriousness as strategies to undermine the usual organizing principles of documentary film. The scene at the dam loses its documentary character because it is simply too long and too still to ‚document’ anything essential. In the other episodes that you mentioned, which occur in between, it is the ephemerality and subjectivity of the images that contradict the documentary character of portraying actions and objects. Nevertheless, there is a reality to be depicted. What is at stake is the production and the transition of real to imaginary, as well as objective to subjective entities and then back again.


J.R.:
Which role does the double projection play that enables a migration of single shots between left and right side? And how do the passages into black image sequences function that follow certain scenes?


E.M.:
The black sequences are decisive here. The double projection merely shows the simultaneity of space and time, while the black sections indicate the negation of it. It relegates the viewer to the projection room.


J.R.:
Is it a refusal to admit illusion, not only by breaking narrative conventions, but also by way of formal aspects of projection?


E.M.:
On both levels. I think that double projections are especially good for that purpose. But it is clear that the spectator has gotten used to all different sorts of refusal and disintegration, which eventually turns them into aesthetic clichés.

J.R.:
Is there also a moment of beauty, a beauty of composition maybe, that plays a role in the shots or in the arrangement between the double projections?


E.M.:
There are actually enough rational reasons to act against beauty. It keeps corrupting the viewer and neglecting reality for apparently it only cares for form and not for content. There isn’t anything you win with beauty in an aesthetisized society. Aesthetic people in Western metropolises who permantently work on the refinement of their expression have forgotten that beauty has something to do with freedom – with political freedom as well. They ‚use’ beauty and the sophistication of their gestures, consciously or unconsciously, because this has always meant an augmentation of power. If you had a sensation of beauty when watching the film while I intended freedom, I would find that really positive.


J.R.:
What are your thoughts about dramaturgy in film? In a certain way you don’t build up any suspense during the 25 minutes of the film. However, it is exactly the last few minutes that contribute to the understanding of the previous scenes by revealing the water problem in Burkina Faso as well as the lack of customers for agricultural products.


E.M.:
The film works with a lack of dramaturgy. Instead, it tries to renegotiate something like filmic experience. Why and when should one for example disrupt an experience? Why and when do I switch the camera off again? With which criteria is an experience cut off or completely expelled during the process of editing – only to contstruct dramaturgy? I believe that the richness of an experience lies exactly in the absence of dramaturgy.
The spoken word appears en bloc at the end of the film. That makes it suddenly obvious that for 23 minutes one did without spoken information. The content of the words has already been entrusted to us in another way. We no longer deal with a communication of information, but with some kind of annunciation. It is important that „Emmanuel“ talks personally to you – it is a personalized, enunciative presence, a symbolic encounter between reality and the viewer. This encounter however, will not be fullfilled. It rather has a destructive effect, alomst like the black images. At least the presence of the person „Emmanuel“ destabilizes and questions the certainties that one gained during the previous 23 minutes. Maybe „Emmanuel“ only appears in order to announce that your familiar certainties and the encounter between you and reality cannot be actualized.


J.R.:
Are there certain filmmakers or a special school with which you relate to or deal with in „nearness to large rivers eats the eyes“? I am thinking of such different figures as Jean Rouch or Trin T.Minh-ha.


E.M.:
Yes, Jean Rouch and Trin T. Minh-ha and Solyman Cissé and Gaston Kaboré and Straub/Huillet, but the biggest influence is Robert Bresson.


J.R.:
How is Robert Bresson an influence?


E.M.:
Because of the potentiality he gives to every scene, because his films contain a huge amount of beauty in the sense of freedom. Because of the opening and the fragmenting of filmic space without any disregard of a thing such as reality. Because of his preoccupation with the marginal...


J.R.:
Has the film been shown in Burkina Faso or in any other African countries yet? How important is that for you?


E.M.:
So far only among friends here and there. So in a way, only with feed-back ; )


J.R.:
Will you continue with similar filmic approaches like this with future works?


E.M.:
Yes – I hope so.