This afternoon, there was a special screening of Chantal Akerman’s film News from home in the Sphinx cinema in Ghent. A full house with people even sitting in the corridors for Akerman’s 1977 film… a nice tribute to Belgium’s most extraordinary filmmaker indeed. The film was screened partly in honor of Akerman, who unexpectedly passed away two months ago, and partly as a special event in professor Steven Jacobs’ lecture series on the representation of New York.
Akerman inscribes News from home within a city symphonies tradition, displaying the urban infrastructure of roads, subways and car noise. This is accompanied on the soundtrack by Akerman reading letters that her mother wrote her while she was in New York. All letters are variations of the same message: we miss you, we send you some money, we hope you’re happy, you must write us back soon and often. Akerman underlines the repetition by reading the letters in an almost automatic manner. At the end of the film, the fixed and straight shots of the dirty city that New York in 1970s was, are contrasted by the meandering line of a boat, showing every second more of the archetypical New York image, accompanied by seagulls, giving it a romantic layer – leaving NY, heading home?