Yesterday, I interviewed Belgian writer Dimitri Verhulst in the Vooruit in Ghent, after the screening of Manu Riche’s recent film adaptation of Verhulst’s 2003 novel Problemski Hotel. Both the novel and the film give a disrupting view on the life in an asylum center. The realistic, raw and hard issues of misery are alternated by moments of absurd humor, which makes reading the novel/watching the film a very unsettling experience, forcing you to reflect on basic human rights and contemporary refugee politics.
This event took place in the framework of a ‘project week’ focusing on diversity in its broadest sense, for first year students political and social sciences at Ghent University. (Last year, I interviewed director Kadir Balci for the same event.)
Advertisement poster for the cinema Capitole in Ghent
Yesterday, we had an excursion with our Ghent University Master students in Film and Television Studies. In the morning, we went to visit the Flemish public broadcaster VRT in Brussels. In the afternoon, we visited the great Film Theaters exhibition at the Caermersklooster in Ghent. The exhibition has two parts: one with beautiful contemporary photographs (by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre) of USA movie palaces from the first half of the 20th century that are now in decay, and one on the lively film theater culture in Ghent.
We were very lucky to have Lies Van de Vijver as our expert guide!
This ‘Ghent cinema city’ exhibition was made possible by Lies Van de Vijver and Daniel Biltereyst, both from the CIMS research group to which I belong (Centre for Cinema and Media Studies, Ghent University). It shows the long and rich cinema history of Ghent, with more than 70 film theaters and many more fascinating stories – from the fire in the erotic cinema Leopold and the collaboration history of the movie palace Capitole to the story of the very first and trendsetting real multiplex cinema in Europe. Until 3 January 2016, you can visit it in the Caermersklooster, but this great exhibition definitely deserves a permanent place somewhere in Ghent!
Cinema Leopold curiosa
Next to the excursion with the Antwerp students to the Film Fest Gent (see the previous post), I also went to the film festival with the students from the Ghent University MA in Film & Television Studies. We visited the annual Film Music Seminar, which focused this year on British film music. In the morning, there was a conversation with composer George Fenton, mainly focusing on his collaboration with directors Richard Attenborough and Ken Loach. Fenton gave interesting look into the practice of film music composing, but the conversation could have been livelier. The afternoon session was more attractive in this respect, with British composers Daniel Pemberton and Craig Armstrong analyzing and contemplating on selected film fragments.
Craig Armstrong in conversation with Martine Huvenne
I also managed to see some more great films at the festival (although I have, of course, also seen some very shitty films), such as László Nemes’ horrifying and staggering holocaust film Son of Saul, or the tragic but at the same time funny and very creative Chilean film El Club by Pablo Larraín, which seemed to me some kind of self-conscious and modern allegory on the life of Jesus. Apart from seeing the films, one of the nicest things of visiting a film festival, however, is to be confronted with large crowds at the entrance of arthouse cinema’s…
Film festival atmosphere at the Sphinx cinema
Since two weeks, I’m working part-time at the Department of Literature at the University of Antwerp. During the autumn semester, I’m teaching a film seminar attached to professor Tom Paulus’ MA course Aesthetics of Contemporary Cinema. The seminar focuses on classic modernist filmmakers such as Robert Bresson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. Each session, I shortly introduce the film that we watch together, after which we have a group discussion about the film’s narrative, stylistic and emotional dimensions. It’s hard to imagine a teaching assignment that I would love better!
Yesterday, we organized an excursion to the Ghent Film Festival with the students of the Master of Theatre and Film Studies. We started with the first part of Miguel Gomes’ extraordinary Arabian Nights, of which I only can conclude that I’m looking very much forward to the next two volumes. The afternoon program started somewhat disappointing with the screening of David Wilkinson’s documentary The First Film. I certainly like the idea to make a documentary about Louis Le Prince, who was one among the many pioneers who during the second part of the 19th century simultaneously experimented with the recording and projecting of moving images. Wilkinson’s quest to prove that Le Prince made ‘the first film’ can be a nice approach to make the documentary more appealing, as long as there is enough nuancing involved. The central premise of the film, however, that ‘Louis Le Prince was robbed from his rightful place in the history books’, is simply not correct (see e.g. David Cook’s standard reference work A History of Narrative Film). Moreover, the documentary was in my opinion an hour too long and was only slightly interesting in creative terms. Luckily, the screening was followed by a very interesting debate on the past and future of film criticism with professor Tom Paulus, Nick Pinkerton (critic for a.o. Sight and Sound) and Patrick Duynslaegher (former critic for Focus Knack and now the artistic director of the Film Fest Gent).
Nick Pinkerton, Patrick Duynslaegher and Tom Paulus during the debate on film criticism
Finally, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin proved a more than worthy film to end with. Although many people in the sold-out film theatre seemed to have expected something different from Hou’s first wuxia film, the aesthetic qualities of the images was simply astonishing. I’m looking forward to delve deeper into the film festival’s varied program the next days!
Composition and color in Hou’s The Assassin
Group photo with the European Film History class
Today is my last day at Sichuan University in Chengdu. We finished the class on European Film History with a series of student presentations on 1920s avant-garde films, such as Entr’acte, Ballet mécanique, Emak bakia, Ménilmontant, La perle and Vormittagsspuk. During the initial preparations, many students were struggling with these non-conventional films, but today, it was so nice to see they successfully engaged with these films! Also for me, broadening the view has been the central theme in the last two weeks…
The afternoon class!
One of the main old university buildings
Last Sunday, I arrived in Chengdu, the capital of the Chinese province Sichuan. Together with 170 other international scholars, 450 international students and more than 3000 Chinese students, I take part in Sichuan University’s international ‘University Immersion Program’. It’s my first time in China, even my first time in Asia (although I once shortly crossed the Bosphorus…), and I must say I’m quite overwhelmed. The combination of teaching 3,5 hours every day and engaging with this new, fascinating culture every minute make it a very intense and rewarding experience!
Students of my European Film History class watching ‘Le voyage dans la lune’
Being back in Belgium for one month now, I realize what a luxury it was to be in Paris and to have time to read things without a clearly defined practical purpose, to watch as many films as I wanted and to write the things I had promised myself to write a long time ago. At the same time, however, it has been a very rich month in Belgium, especially in terms of education activities; finishing the course International Communication at Ghent University, providing a guest lecture on European cinema to an international summer school audience at the KU Leuven (this lecture was followed by a screening of Roy Andersson’s idiosyncratic A pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence) and correcting a pile of student’s tasks, exams and bachelor’s and master’s dissertations (that one excellent paper making all the work already worth it).
Richard Suchenski discussing Hou’s masterpiece A city of sadness
I was also happy to attend some interesting events at the intersection of academia and cinephilia, such as the closing event of Ghent University’s film club Film-Plateau, with a screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s rather silly but still amusing Green green grass of home (the Belgian Film Archive Cinematek had just restored this film), and, the next day, a symposium on this very same Taiwanese filmmaker in Antwerp. Unfortunately, I missed the interview session with the director himself (who had just won the Best Director award at Cannes for his film The Assassin), but this was partly made up by the illuminating presentation of Richard Suchenski, on the creative use of point-of-view, subjectivity, montage and the idea of realism in Hou’s films. The symposium was curated by Tom Paulus (University of Antwerp), who was also the supervisor of Vito Adriaensens’s PhD dissertation on the cinema of the French production company Pathé and the Danish company Nordisk in the period 1908-1914. Looking forward to the book publication that he promised at his public PhD defense…
Invitation for Vito Adriaensens PhD defense