‘Manhattan, New York was where I happened to be born. After 6 months of stress, I boarded the first plane to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with my parents and sister. My primary and secondary school was not too far from Ipanema.
‘My university years were spent in Paris, suffering as Psychology major (Institut de Psychologie). To make life less tedious, I ended up seeing an inordinate amount of films of all kinds next to the Sorbonne where I occasionally attended classes. After a B.A. in Psychology I majored in Film Studies at the Sorbonne – Paris 3, at the Institut d’Art et Archeologie (Eric Rohmer’s classes) and at the Cinemathèque Française (Henri Langlois’ classes).
‘In the mid 70s I traveled throughout Europe with a friend, Rosine Grange, in a rundown Renault pick-up van, organizing women’s film festivals and distributing films made by women. Our distribution company was called Cine-Femmes International. My debut as an experimental filmmaker came in 1980, when I co-directed CAROLYN 2 with Martine Rousset (starring choreographer/ dancer Carolyn Carlson). It was a multimedia film and slide installation. Many films came afterwards, mostly shot in super-8 then blown-up to 16mm. Today I shoot video but still use super-8 whenever possible. Sound has been and is always a vital part of my work.
‘Installations consisting of multiple projections on different surfaces have been a new adventure. They are always site-specific, ephemeral works that are immersive and in dark spaces. I have presented them in Israel (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), Portugal (Lisbon) and Austria (Graz) together with my collaborator Ruth Gadish.
‘Simultaneously my film-related activities have expanded to curating programs for venues such as the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Intersections, a program of Avant-garde films and videos was initiated to introduce the public to cutting-edge works at the Jerusalem Film Festival every year. A competition for video art takes place yearly as well. The OFF Series is a year-round program of video art screenings films shown monthly at the Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem Cinematheques. Other venues I have programmed include the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Escola de Artes Visuais Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro.
‘“Home” is wherever I feel at home – and that might be in a hotel or on a plane or on my way to an unknown destination with a camera and recorder in my bag.’ — Vivian Ostrovsky
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Sao Paulo TV , 2009
I Didn’t See Time Go By
by Vivian Ostrovsky
Paris, 1974. I was running femmes/films, an international women’s film fest in Paris with a friend, Esta Marshall. Chantal’s entry, Je tu il elle, struck the audience like a thunderbolt; not only was it daring but the gap between Akerman and mainstream cinema left the public grasping for firm ground. The length of the shots, their composition, the framing with a still camera, the loose narration and intimate voiceover, Chantal herself, swallowing spoonful after spoonful of powdered sugar from a paper bag; and finally the intimate, self-exposing sex scene between herself and her ex-girlfriend. We felt a new wind from Brussels.
The next day Chantal offered to show me her first short, Saute ma ville, made in 1968 when she was 18. The 400-seat Gaumont cinema was empty before 10am; both of us sat alone, watching Saute ma ville in which she again acted herself. I loved her comic irony, her black humour and her frenzied and ebullient qualities. As we walked out to the street she candidly turned to me and asked: “Don’t you think I have a presence? ” (“Tu trouves pas que j’ai une présence?”).
UNESCO decreed 1975 the “Year of the Woman”. Sensing there might be funds available, Esta Marshall and I rushed to present a project consisting of the first international symposium of women working in film. Not only filmmakers/directors, but also theoreticians, directors of photography, editors, actresses. After a first refusal, we persisted and finally got our way. A palazzo-style hotel in St. Vincent, in the Val d’Aosta mountains, awaited us. About 30 or more women from different continents turned up – Agnès Varda, Marta Meszaros, Susan Sontag, Anna Karina, Helma Sanders Brahms, and many others. Chantal was the little “kid sister”, the youngest of all and she eagerly participated in everything during four intense days and nights, including after-dinner skinny dips initiated by the Swedes which so infuriated UNESCO representatives.
A year later came Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. It was hailed as a landmark film in academic circles, a canonical film for cinephiles and often cited amidst the “top 50 films ever”. What, she asked, could she do at age 25 after an oeuvre like that?
Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector expressed similar anxieties when she caused a furore with her first book, Near To The Wild Heart (1943), for which she was acclaimed as one of the great masters of twentieth-century Brazilian prose. “I was scared by what you said,” she wrote to her friend, author Lucio Cardoso, “… I feel like tearing it up in order to get my freedom back: it’s horrible to already be complete.”
While Jeanne Dielman was often mentioned as a film unfolding in real time, Chantal corrected this: it was recomposed time that gave us the feeling of being locked into a Brussels housewife’s apartment for three days. Seeing the film’s making of, shot by Sami Frey (Autour de Jeanne Dielman published on DVD by Carlotta Films in 2007), you realise that it is pure Akerman time. She sits with Delphine Seyrig, looking at her watch, instructing: “now you sit for 25 seconds”.
As a film programmer I have showed her films in different countries; during the late ‘70s it was often in the context of women’s film festivals. We became good friends. Unexpected meetings occurred in different cities with Paris and Israel as recurrent places on our agendas. Every time Chantal had a new film, I programmed it in my section of the Jerusalem Film Festival; she enjoyed showing her films there, was well taken care of and the audiences appreciated her. She, however, was quite impatient with audiences. She had zero tolerance for foolishness and could be brusque. One can witness this in her last Locarno press meeting.
Her visit to the 2014 Jerusalem festival was the most meaningful. She gave us a taste of the installation she had been commissioned to do for the 2015 Venice Biennale, projecting her work in a grotto-like space at the Hansen House. This building had been a 19th century leper’s hospital built of large blocks of beige Jerusalem stone, with a spacious unkempt rambling garden. The images she showed us were long travelling shots of the arid, windy Negev Desert that she had filmed a few months before, projected onto the stones. The sound track was raw, punctuated by explosive, rough noise conveying the violence of war. With hindsight I now wonder whether it wasn’t as much the clamour of sounds she heard in her head at the time, after her mother’s death.
Providing a welcome counterpoint, in the quiet seclusion of that dimly-lit garden, Chantal read softly to us at nightfall, in French, chapters of Ma mère rit, her last book. There were only some 30 people there, an intimate event for those who didn’t mind going to a book reading in the midst of film festival furore. We listened, transported, conscious of the fact that it was such a rare and poignant moment.
She sometimes referred to herself as a female Charlie Chaplin. I found her closer to Stan Laurel or Mr Magoo, in her clumsy encounters with everyday objects and practical matters. In her interview with Elisabeth Lebovici for the Italian Mousse magazine, in 2011, she said, “I can’t have actresses playing my clumsiness.” We once met in New York at her friends’ apartment where she was staying. As I was leaving, she decided to come out with me for a smoke. As soon as the door closed behind us she realised she had just locked herself out. Those were the pre-cellphone era days and finding a friendly neighbour to call a locksmith was not easy. Her close friends were often requisitioned to find solutions to her practical problems. These ranged from someone to assist her with picking up a few suitcases in Brussels and bringing them back to Paris by car or finding an available apartment in another city. I was happy to help get the apartment from which she shot Là-bas in Tel Aviv. On her first night there, a bomb exploded practically at her doorstep. Worried friends and family called all night but she didn’t answer her phone; after taking a sleeping pill she slept soundly through the detonation, the police sirens, ambulances and general brouhaha. When I first watched Là-bas I couldn’t help smiling as the film’s narration progressed. In a way I felt responsible for all the wine glasses she had broken in that apartment but could not replace, the last loaf of home-made bread she stole from the freezer because she was hungry but unable to leave the flat, and her other daily misfortunes.
Her emails were terse but affectionate: “How are you? Everything ok here. PS: Think of my cousin”. That was for a young cousin who was going to study in Jerusalem for a year. I managed to find him a place at a friend’s and she was really pleased. Could we find her an artist’s residence in Tel Aviv so she could develop a new project? Her flight schedule changed and she needed to leave from Moscow, not from Paris, could we change that? And repeatedly: “I lost my phone book again with all the contacts” or “I mistakenly erased your number and several others from my cell. Please send again.” There were also innumerous trips on the Paris–Brussels train without her passport or any ID. The train conductor would then have to call the French Consulate or the Belgian Embassy to sort things out. Her French emails were comically peppered with a few words of Polish and a few of Russian. She played with her name, using Chantakerman, since she loved to sing. It was puzzling (around 2008) to see her sign “Hannah Akerman” for quite a while.
“I was born as an old baby, in 1950”, she said. Birth of a wunderkind, a wanderer, a wonderer and writer. She brought us her acute view, her unmistakable voice, and left us her art and much more as comfort.
15 of Vivian Ostrovsky’s 31 films
‘A fragmented tribute to Ukranian-Brazilian novelist and fashion journalist Clarice Lispector that interrogates the idea of ‘in-betweenness’, the intermission, a hiatus.’ — letterboxd
‘Dizziness, in the sense that it inspires artists and filmmakers to move beyond their known borders. Or how a state of altered perception, instability, and confusion can be a catalyst for exploring new surroundings.Let go of the ground and attain giddiness or perhaps even foolishness?’ — VO
But elsewhere is always better (2016)
‘A new short film by Vivian Ostrovsky remembering Chantal Akerman, beginning with their first meeting in the early 1970s. Using her own footage of Chantal Akerman, the filmmaker remembers a few moments that illustrate Chantal’s personality. Forty years of friendship condensed into four minutes…’ — Family Film Project
On Dizziness (2016)
‘Dizziness : what appealed to me in this theme was the state of altered perception, spatial disorientation and instability in relation to moving images. Dizziness, in the sense that it inspires artists and filmmakers to move beyond their known borders, was what I was looking for. The loss of gravitas can be a catalyst for exploring new spaces leading to a sense of giddiness and sometimes even foolishness.
‘Our way of working: Ruti and I started by researching images representing dizziness in films and on the Internet. We selected the excerpts we wanted and then worked on giving them different textures. For that, we re-projected the images on different supports and on different surfaces as well. Projections on a screen were used as a counterpoint. This process helped us create additional layers and distance towards the work.
‘Sound: We used non-synchronous sounds and it came before or after the described action. Additional remarks : We believe in working in minimalist style. This means it is a low tech and relatively low cost installation. We need two days to set it up.
On Dizziness is site-specific. A dark space and power outlets are a requirement. The number of materials are adaptable to the site. (i.e. video projectors and speakers).’ — VO
Losing the Thread (2014)
‘Super 8 reels of Paris catwalks I shot in 1979/1980 were supposed to become an experimental short meditation on couture culture. Its authority has unraveled some since and Deleuze’s definition of style: “creating a foreign language in one’s own language,” encouraged me to loosen the threads of this pursuit. To ponder how fashion and style are interwoven but also influenced by individual flare and whimsy, I stitched together Coco Chanel, Courrèges, Cole Porter and Kaiser Karl with vintage film moments. Then, as now, to grasp the whole cloth of this interface involves finding, but also Losing the Thread…’ — VO
‘Splash is without any doubt the “experience” of the moment. An amazing sensorial 16 mm film installation projected on different items such as sculptures made by Silvi Simon. Exploring the abyss of the sea and contemplating the fusion of the personal and the public sphere, Splash brings you in a bubble and trouble your senses.’ — The Bubblist
Wherever Was Never There (2011)
‘An intimate film made on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of her father, Rehor Ostrovsky’s death. Re-collecting snippets of my first 8m and super 8 films, old photos, letters, and other memorabilia. À slow pan through my adolescent years, family trips, holidays and everyday scenes. Listening for lost accents, impromptu songs at the dinner table, and bits of conversation. A landscape of flickering memories somewhere between home movies and photo albums.’ — Lightcone
‘A delightful update of Jacques Tati’s classic Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot. Seagulls squawk, waves crash and swimmers cavort in endless summer days spent on the beach. Tatitude suggests that sand, water and sun are the basic elements in a happy, carefree life, and maybe even the secret to eternal youth.’ — Lightcone
The Title Was Shot (2009)
‘The Title Was Shot was commissioned for a conference of film theoreticians in Berlin in 2009 entitled: The Cinematic Configurations of ‘I’ and ‘We’. Composed of fragments from over 25 films dating from the 1920s to the 90s, this mischievous short features cowboys, Indians and damsels in distress. Tarzan, Jane, a transgender gorilla, and a menacing lion tango from frame to frame, prodded by Wittgenstein, Gilles Deleuze and Slavoj Zizek’s philosophical considerations. A fast-paced, heart-pounding cinephilic farce.’ — VO
Ne pas sonner (2008)
‘Can yesterday’s icons work their magic on a cell-phone screen? Can Alain Delon and Monica Vitti retain their aura on low resolution? Can my own CELLuloid images mix in with reminiscenses of the 60s and 70s films I fell in love with then? Does Nokia rhyme with cine-phi-lia?’ — VO
‘This playful collage of sea, sun, and ice is also a beach extravaganza starring suicidal skiers, soaking tigers, plunging mermaids, and more.’ — TFF
Nikita Kino (2002)
‘The film is a travelogue of sorts. In 1960 my family lived in Brazil when my father discovered his sister and brother in Moscow, who he hadn’t seen for 40 years, were still alive. Since they couldn’t leave the USSR we went to visit them regularly for about 15 years. At the time I had my 8mm then a super 8 camera with which I filmed the family, our outings, picnics, markets and their homes…
‘I decided to use this material, which was not very interesting per se, by mixing it with Soviet found-footage of the same period (1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s). I used feature films, propaganda footage, newsreels, etc. The result is a kind of Khruschev-era mix with a collage of Soviet music and a voice-over of my memories of the Cold War period.’ — VO
Uta Makura (Pillow Poems) (1995)
‘In 10th.century Japan, Sei Shonagon, lady-in-waiting to the Empress, wrote of the goings-on at the Japanese court. Fearing vengeance, she hid these secret notes on her pillow. UTA MAKURA is also a collection of humorous observations on modern-day Japan ranging from waterfalls to shopping malls, from kids in kimonos to fresh makimonos, from ancient wisteria to teen- age hysteria, from homemade noodles to live painted poodles.’ — Lightcone
*** (TROIS ETOILES) (1987)
‘Sarah and Paul leave their native California once a year to eat their way through France. They test the Michelin guide’s recommendations for three-star restaurants (the top rating) and between meals still have time to do some wine tasting at the best cellars. The filmmaker follows them around in a second car.’ — VO
MOVIE (V.O.) (1982)
‘With a super 8 camera from Paris to Berlin, from Amsterdam to Rio, from Jerusalem to New York shooting only at night. Hungarian crooners, Indian tribal chants, opera arias, and an occasional samba make up the sound track of this “hand-held” diary.’ — VO
TOP TEN DESIGNERS IN PARIS (1980)
‘This film was shot in 1979, when there were very few documentaries made on the realm of haute couture. It was made by a group of filmmakers- three men and three women- just to catch a glimpse of a stylish milieu unknown to most. Enticing top models such as Jerry Hall and Ines de la Fressange prepare to be catapulted on the catwalk; hairdressers, photographers and a whole armada of people prepare the show. The 10 designers are: Issey Miyake, Karl Lagerfeld, Angelo Tarlazzi, Tan Giudicelli, Jean-Paul Gaulthier, Marithé and François Girbaud, France Andrévie, Claude Montana, Kenzo, and Thierry Mugler. Nostalgia for the fashionistas.’ — VO
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, I’ve kind of had the feeling it would be. I’ll save it for a plane. Ha ha, it’s true the far fetched is the pot of gold around these parts. On the 31st’s at least. ** Damien Ark, HAPPY HALLOWEEN JUST A LITTLE LATE TO YOU TOO, DAMIEN!!!! ** Kweeathallon, Yeah, it would be, but mine was just LSD-related VR, I’m reckoning. ‘It’ was actually in the pantry, seen from the kitchen, but if my theory about it being mere LSD detritus is correct, it was in fact in the kitchen. I like the word unruly. I should do something with it. I can’t remember ever reading a ghost story, it’s weird, but I obviously have. My problem is I’m always hunting for devices. I didn’t get any kind of scare last night, it was sad. You? ** Steve Erickson, I think, yeah, either in an Emo band or else he’s going for a Conor Oberst thing. Everyone, Steve has reviewed that seemingly terrible (but I haven’t seen it, so what do I know?) film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ here. Things are going to get much uglier after the mid-terms whatever happens. That’s a stone cold given. I did know that about Malick producing a Lil Peep doc. How very interesting. And I imagine you know James Benning’s new film, which I have yet to see, is about Leonard Cohen. How very, very interesting. ** Sypha, I like Xmas too, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t like it muscling in on Halloween’s territory. My love is like a cat. New Sypha Nadon! Sweet! I’ll … Everyone, Here’s Sypha with some sweet as hell news and a related link. Sypha: ‘(T)o celebrate the holiday I released a new Sypha Nadon album on Mauve Zone Recordings today. It’s called the Gothic EP and it’s only 6 songs and its pretty bare bones and skeletal (which was deliberate). As always it can be downloaded and listened to for free at the Mauve Zone Recordings Internet Archive page.’ Go get it! ** Dominik, Very Happy retroactive Halloween to you, dear Dominik!!!!! ** _Black_Acrylic, I know! Blanchot is infecting not only me but increasingly everyone! ** Misanthrope, Oh, boy. That’s not good. Oh, man. That boy is in real danger of dooming himself. Jesus. Seven trick-or-treaters in the current climate is not bad at all. The last time I was on LA for Halloween, we got one. And he was 19 years old. And dressed in normal clothes except for one of those 59 cents at the Dollar Store ‘Scream’ masks. Uh, whoa, you will understand that I’m not quite sure how to feel about that Stern/me resemblance you think you heard. But that’s a first, to reach my ears at least, so there’s that. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Ha ha. Castration is a kind of big wish in the slave scene these days. Not a big as ‘puppy play’, which you wouldn’t know because I avoid those always irksomely cutesy profiles, or ‘feet fetish’, which is almost a plague in that scene, but big nonetheless. Hm, very interesting: your thoughts about memory = fantasy. And yet, simultaneously, the godlike virtue of fantasy is that it provides the opportunity to erase memory’s overriding hold and reduce it to an emotionless set of materials that has no more value to the fantasiser than one’s completely immediate concerns other than its upticked richness. And yet what Gore Vidal said seems absolutely right. Oh, fantasy, thank you for all that you have given us. Mm, I can’t think of anyone I’ve known who was into only making out who also didn’t have a phobia about having an orgasm in others’ company off the top of my head. But making out as a powerful act in and if itself as an ultimate fantasy or most excited memory, yes, definitely. Not sure myself about the return of ‘Indian’ over ‘Native American’ as a desirable term. I hadn’t heard that, but it makes sense. Thanks for at the very rich comment, buddy. ** Okay. I have a feeling that a lot of you won’t have known of Vivian Ostrovsky’s films prior to this day’s post popping up, but I could be wrong? Obviously, I recommend getting to know her. See you tomorrow.