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30. Uluslararası Film Festivali 2-17 Nisan 2011 Close
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a good neighbour

a good neighbour

At the first press conference of the 15th Istanbul Biennial, held at İKSV’s black box theatre at the beginning of December last year, we chose to present forty questions. One person after another – all from different age groups and backgrounds – came on stage, asking questions such as “Is a good neighbour reading the same newspaper as you?” or “Is a good neighbour leaving you alone?” or “Is a good neighbour a stranger you don’t fear?” We can imagine an endless number of questions, but not one clear answer to the question of what constitutes a good neighbour. The thing is, neighbours are (mostly) human, and humans are very complex creatures. And, since everyone’s a neighbour, one would always have to pose the question back to oneself: am I a good neighbour? It’s an existential question in the end. Who am I, and how do I live my life? Who are my neighbours, and how do they live their lives? How can we learn from each other, and how can we co-exist?

The Istanbul Biennial is an international art exhibition that will take place from 16 September this year. Around sixty artists will be represented, and their photos, paintings, sculptures, videos, installations, and performances will be installed in neighbouring spaces spread over a handful of venues in, or in proximity to, Karaköy. Contemporary art can operate on many different levels, and encompass a wide range of affects. Art can utilize any material, take any form, fill any room, speak to all our senses and emotions, and challenge our cerebral capacities. Art is a “here and now” experience, where the moment of interpretation happens in the moment that the audience meets the artwork in a specific time and place. Art sometimes also shows us the life of real or fictional people, and spins a narrative around them; the upcoming biennial will present examples of that. Still, there is nothing like the medium of film when it comes to visual storytelling, and as we know, good storytelling often includes moral conundrums that are important to understanding who we are and the societies we live in. Film can move beyond physical and mental borders, and take us to places we have never been, or think we know, but in fact don’t, both around the world and within the human psyche.

We are extremely pleased to collaborate with this year’s edition of the Istanbul Film Festival on a film programme which relates to the art biennial’s title and theme this year: a good neighbour. As within the biennial, we have here chosen to focus, on the one hand, on distinct identities and how they have chosen to live and reflect on their lives, and, on the other hand, on how people interact with each other within a home, a smaller community, a neighbourhood or a village. It has been a great challenge to search for recent films that deal with relevant subject matter, and to think back to films that have inspired us in the past. We came up with a rather long list that would have taken up far too much of the film festival’s programme if it were to be screened from A–Z. With an appreciation of the festival’s curatorial direction, we have in the end selected ten feature films and five shorts. We have listed the rest, which are no less interesting in our opinion, as “recommended viewing”. In all of these films, we find very different dynamics between the main protagonists and their homes and neighbourhoods – without judgment regarding whether one or the other can be seen as a good neighbour.

In the documentary What Now? Remind Me, we meet the Portuguese filmmaker Joaquim Pinto who, together with his boyfriend, has chosen to live in a rural area while taking part in a medical trial for treating HIV. We follow their daily life in this small, traditional community while getting glimpses of the aging director’s former hedonistic, cosmopolitan and professional life.

In another Portuguese film, the almost three-hour-long In Vanda’s Room, Pedro Costa brings us up close to Vanda, a non-actor, who lives in a slum-like area of Lisbon which is about to be torn down. Like many people around her, including several immigrants from Cape Verde, Vanda takes drugs in order to handle her dire living conditions. Costa approaches his subject with great respect, and in spite of the inaction and poverty displayed, we sense a will to live, an abundance of untold stories, of human worth and dignity.

In Jonathan Perel’s Toponimia, we do not see many people; rather, the camera lingers on abandoned streets and run-down buildings of a re-settlement project spanning four villages built in the 1970s to control parts of the indigenous population in the Tucuman province of Argentina. In addition to the stories of the inhabitants on voiceover, the architecture very much speaks for itself.

As the title of Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Neighbouring Sounds indicates, sound plays an important role in its narrative. In the wake of the arrival of a security company to the apartment complex, we get to know people from different social classes who live in the complex and their awareness of their neighbours, partly through aural disturbances.

Michael Haneke’s deeply disturbing The White Ribbon has a storyline that involves several characters from different generations of a small, rural German village shortly before the outbreak of World War I. More than the dramatic events in the film, the uncanny atmosphere is in large part brought forth by all that is unsaid between the inhabitants in the village, bearing witness to a time full of insecurity, poverty and nationalist sentiment.

Equally unsettling is Lars von Trier’s Dogville, titled after the fictional depression-era American village where the charming Grace arrives and infatuates local residents, until things turn sour and she becomes the scapegoat. The film is not only fascinating for its twisted moral story, but also for its unusual set and interaction with it: the streets and outlines of houses are drawn with chalk onto a black stage floor, and actions like opening or closing doors are mimed by the actors.

With The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf blends documentary and fiction in order to tell the story of two young daughters locked up behind bars in the home of their unemployed father and blind mother. At some point, the neighbours report the abuse, a social worker gets involved, and the girls get a taste of freedom. Makhmalbaf herself has mentioned the allegory between life on the street and the world at large: in Iran, where the action takes place, boys are allowed to play and interact freely in the neighbourhood, while girls are not.

Saodat Ismailova’s film Chilla – 40 Days of Silence, also focuses on the plight of women in the face of a traditional, religiously observant society. The storyline unfolds around Bibicha, a young woman who suddenly refuses to speak, and conceals herself from villagers in the house of her grandmother. The grandmother suspects she is trying to hide an illicit pregnancy. Through its all-female cast, we sense a strong feeling of longing, bonding, solidarity and isolation in an often non-verbal narrative, the latter underlined by long takes of the spectacular but remote Uzbek mountain landscape.

In his film Ta’ang, Wang Bing follows groups of the displaced Ta’ang people of Myanmar, as they cross the border into neighbouring China, fleeing the effects of a long-lasting civil war. We witness how these people, sometimes thrown together by fate, cope with their new nomadic life together; through storytelling and sometimes through the way they present themselves physically, we get a glimpse of their individual stories and personalities.

Oswaldo Díaz Medina’s debut feature film Youkali also has a cast of mainly non-professional actors, which adds to the documentary-like sense of closeness to its main protagonists. Kenny, a young Sri Lankan man, moves to Berlin to work as a musician and rents a room there in the house of an elderly woman named Rola. Outside circumstances bring these two people together as they ultimately bridge the gap between cultural and generational differences.

In addition to these ten feature films, we have selected five short films. In very different ways, both the classic, fantastical stop-motion film Neighbours from 1952, and the recent, personal real-life-experience documentary 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo, talk about beginnings of war, both populated by men only.

Pornified Homes also portrays a male-only reality, based on clichéd perceptions of foreign bodily representation and local real estate, whereas the two lone female protagonists in the claymation short Moms On Fire defy expectations of pregnant women’s behaviour. Another animated film, The Rule of Three of Identity, explores how individuals, artists and civil society each perceive themselves in light of bigger questions of social responsibility.

We hope you will enjoy this selection of films, which is meant to open the horizon towards the exhibition that is to come, and we hope you will also join us for the 15th Istanbul Biennial from 16 September to 12 November, 2017.

Elmgreen & Dragset
Berlin, February 2017

Films