Heimat is a space in time – Thomas Heise (2019)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write something that would do justice to Thomas Heise’s Heimat is a space in time (2019). It speaks to me in so many ways, on so many levels and I do not know where to start and where to end. Even though Heimat is not a straightforward slow piece, the film belongs onto this blog and one can only explain this by saying: please watch the film and you’ll understand.

For over a year now, I have been working on the history of my family. I have uncovered so much, sometimes more than I had expected or even wanted. But regardless, the history of a family offers a form of wealth that cannot be replaced by any other wealth. It is a kind of wealth which allows you to grow, to mature and develop. To understand connections, behaviour, history. It is not about finding the famous skeleton in the closet which every family has. It is about making history come to life and therefore more palpable and personal than any historian or history book could do.

That said, what is Heimat? One could, of course say, it is a film. And yet, I find that it is more a journey into a different time and a different place. Although Heimat is a German word and, I believe, a German concept, Germans struggle to identify their Heimat. A lot is down to the country’s history and the immediate rejection of it. How can you identify yourself with this country, with this Heimat, after everything that has happened? Heise’s response to this is a journey through memory and family history, suggesting that there is more than a single aspect of Heimat. Heimat is a complex, multi-facetted concept and even though Heise’s film is simple in its approach – close-ups of photographs and official documents or long takes combined with voice-overs – he reveals the complexity of where we come from, where we belong and who we actually are, what we’re made of.

The film tells the intimate story of three generations of Heise’s family, but this personal story reflects the history of Germany. I couldn’t help but think of Thomas Harding’s book The House By The Lake. Harding, too, traces the history of his family, originally from Germany, then escaped from the Nazi terror in the late 1930s. Harding wrote the story of the house that had belonged to his grandparents via personal stories of those who had lived in it throughout the 20th century. A magnificent and truly interesting piece, just like Heise’s.

There are his grandparents, a mixed Jewish-Aryan couple which is exposed to ever stricter racial laws in Nazi Germany. Victor Klemperer and the diary he wrote from 1933 through to 1945 comes to mind, tracking every obstacle, every new limit that the government had set. Most striking, however, is the story of Heise’s great-grandparents on his mother’s side, residing in Vienna and reporting in regular letters about the threat to Jewish life. Their deportation is imminent, the letters stop coming. Heise reads each and every letter while, for twenty long minutes, we see nothing but deportation lists. With each letter, we know that we come closer to the names of Heise’s great-grandparents. We know that they will be on this list, we have a feeling, but seeing the names finally appear comes nevertheless as a shock.

The close-ups of family photos – memories of the past, phantoms from a different time – are characteristic of Heimat. The film is like looking through a family album, which the director opened for us. He lets us into his world, the intimate world of letters, of love, of painful memories. The letters convey historical shifts, often drastic, that implicate the family. The macro cosmos and micro cosmos clash in Heise’s film. How did history affect the average person? Letters across the inner-German border speak volumes; the clash between a capitalist and a communist society, their ideals, also their mutual distrust.

Photographs and documents are altered with moving images from the here and now. Heimat isn’t so much a film about the past. It is about the ways in which past and present interact, about the anachronistic characteristic of time. History never stops, time never stops. The moving images become a visual pointer to “life goes on”, to the ongoing, never-ending development of stories. One cannot help but think that one stands in front of a large fresco of history and sees snippet after snippet. The question, however, is to what extent the audience can understand this piece fully. Of course, I doubt that Heise made the film primarily for the audience. It is a heart-felt film and lives off its personal tone. As someone who does family research, I know that it truly helps to tell those stories.

At the same time, certain aspects in Heise’s chapter on divided Germany might remain a mystery to the outsider, not necessarily knowing iconic names, iconic events (I have to think of Wolfgang Biermann, who appears in letters), to comprehend the full meaning of what was said or written. And yet, what Heise succeeds in is his representation of Heimat, of something that seems so difficult to define or to describe. Heise managed to do it with his film and after over three hours of viewing one cannot help but think that Heimat truly is a space in time.

Tao Films Selection and Other News

In the last six months, tao films has gone a long way. We started off with a mere six films in January that were replaced by a selection of eight films in April. By now, we have a permanent selection of 15 films available for streaming. And many more films are to come. We have around 80 short films and 50 feature films which wait to be uploaded, and we can’t wait for you to see them. But all in its own time…

This July, we have switched to a permanent collection, a library of films that cannot, for the most part, be found somewhere else. We pride ourselves with selecting films from mostly young and emerging talents from around the world in order to give them a chance to showcase their work. We have added 4 films this month, ranging from fiction films to experimental cinema.

In The Night of all Things/La Noche, director Pilar Palomero explores themes of loss as a result of death in connection with childhood. Her film is a quiet study, a study that makes palpable pain and grief transmitted through silence and the slow progression of time.

The night of all things – Pilar Palomero (2016)

Eli Hayes’ Mercury Vapor is an experimental film that, over the course of two hours, asks you to free your mind, to be open to the moving images, not always clear, blurred at times, open to what is happening on your screen. Hayes does not tell a story; the story shapes up in your head alone. The film becomes what you see in the director’s images, and it is this characteristic which makes Mercury Vapor a special experience. 

Mercury Vapor – Eli Hayes (2017)

In his short film Onere, which is part of a larger project, Kevin Pontuti metaphorically explores the theme of self and the role of our identity. What does it mean to carry the weight of ourselves? Can we detach ourselves from our identity and choose a new one?

Onere – Kevin Pontuti (2016)

In A Place Called Lloyd, Danish director Sebastian Cordes takes us on a trip to Bolivia. Even though the national airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano has gone bankrupt, its workers show up at their workplace every day. In at times vast and impressive shots, Cordes captures the stories of these people and their sense of dedication and pride. 

A place called Lloyd – Sebastian Cordes (2015)

Some films from season one have returned and others from season two have stayed on. We’re happy to say that the following films are also available on tao films: Bare Romance by Belgian director Karel Tuytschaever, Centaur by Aleksandra Niemczyk from Poland, Ecce Homo by Dimitar Kutmanov from Bulgaria, Metropole by Ozal Emier and Virginie Le Borgne from France/Lebanon, Osmosis by Nasos Karabelas from Greece, Remains by Yotam Ben-David from Israel, Seaworld by Hing Tsang from the UK, Sixty Spanish Cigarettes by Mark John Ostrowski from Spain, A Souvenir from Switzerland by Sorayos Prapapan from Thailand, Transatlantique by Félix Dufour-Laperrière from Canada, and Wanderer by Martynas Kundrotas from Lithuania. 

In other news…

There is a lot happening with our filmmakers and they make us proud. First of all, we’re happy to say that Yudhajit Basu, whose film Khoji will show on tao next month, has been accepted at the prestigious National Film and Television School in India. Congratulations! 

Emily Cussins’ Diviner Intervention, to be released on tao soon, has been selected for the Science Arts Cinema Festival (if this is not a curious festival, we don’t know what is!).

Kevin Pontuti’s Onere keeps traveling to various festivals, so many, in fact, that I lose track of them.

Centaur by Aleksandra Niemczyk was screened at the International Film Festival in Madrid this month.

Félix Dufour-Laperrière, director of Transatlantique, is putting the finishing touches to Ville Neuve, his new film.

The Slow Short Film Festival, all new, will kick off in September and they have selected quite a few tao films. Check out the line-up, or rather impressive screen grabs of the selected films, on the official website. I’ll try to be there and maybe I meet some of you 🙂

There is a lot going on, and I will keep you updated here on The Art(s) of Slow Cinema. Stay tuned!

Metropole – Ozal Emier and Virginie Le Borgne (2016)

!!! Now available for streaming on tao films until 30 March 2017 !!!

A man walks up and down in his apartment. He appears nervous, slightly on the edge. He opens drawers of little chests and suitcases in order to find something. Eventually he finds two passports. Who do they belong to? Passports suggest identity, suggest nationality, suggest citizenship. Why are there two?

Some grey and closed doors, that’s all I found when I got here.

Hector, a man perhaps in his late forties, looks out of the window, still nervous, and remembers the days when people back home were speaking about metropolitan France. That he could become someone, that he could make something out of his life. His two passports mean two identities; one of them left behind in his country of birth, the other an identity he assumed when he moved to the mainland.

Ozal Emier and Virginie Le Borgne’s short film Metropole deals with identity, migration, with the pitfalls of leaving behind a life which later comes to haunt you. Can you ever leave your home? Is it not, rather, the case that something of yourself always reminds behind? Something that draws you back? The past is never past. It is always present, travels with you. It is part of you, wherever you go.

Hector tried to adapt to society, to his new home when he arrived in 1985. He became a lawyer, had a notebook of things he must do in order to fully and successfully integrate. It was not just a change of country, but also of class. Hector wanted to belong to the elite, to the upper class. Becoming a lawyer was part of this transformation.

Look at me now: always well-dressed, with my fancy watch, my fancy cars. I look like them at last.

The man’s sombre voice doesn’t sound like success, though. Instead, he sounds exhausted, tired of putting on this second coat, this second personality. When he meets his presumed son at a coffee place, we can feel the pain Hector’s migration has come with. Even though Metropole was not intended to mirror the refugee crisis we witnessed in Europe in 2015, we can certainly take aspects of the directors’ treatment of the subject and apply it to the large number of people currently on the move to a better place.

You know, Martin, having rights isn’t everybody’s privilege. Only the powerful can afford it. 

Emier and Le Borgne use austere aesthetics. The film is set in a small apartment which is furnished with the mere basics. The emphasis is placed on Hector and his speech. Rather than using the man’s thoughts as voice-over, the directors decided to show his monologue on screen. Character identification is key. It is important to see Hector’s emotions, his facial expressions, his frustration.

In only sixteen minutes, Emier and La Borgne have managed to tell an important story about identity, about who we are, who we think we are, and who we think we should be. Metropole is a film about migration, about assimilation, about the haunting of one’s past. It is a film about identity; lost, assumed, false. It tells the story of millions of people out there who leave their homes behind in order to find a new one.