Close Up

3 - 24 September 2017: Close-Up on Ruth Beckermann


Close-Up presents the first UK retrospective on the films of Ruth Beckermann, curated and introduced by Colm McAuliffe with support of the Austrian Cultural Forum London and Sixpackfilm. Born in Vienna in 1952, Beckermann has been creating essay films and documentaries for 40 years and is well known internationally as one of Austria’s most courageous and spirited filmmakers. This programme explores the work of a director equally suspicious of closed narrative forms and linear views of history and memory.

“As the images in her work become ever freer and bolder, they intertwine past and present, the here and there, the filming I and the world. This nimbleness, reminiscent of the work of Chris Marker, is reinforced by the titles of her most recent works: Those Who Go Those Who Stay, an essay concerned with voluntary and involuntary movements across the European continent; The Missing Image, a controversial artistic intervention on Vienna’s Albertina Square; and The Dreamed Ones – Beckermann’s first, wonderfully harmonious hybrid fiction film, in which she imagined and staged the relationship between the poet Paul Celan and the young writer Ingeborg Bachmann.

An examination of ”the work of memory“ combined with a close observation of present circumstances is at the core of Beckermann’s work. Time and again, she makes the viewer aware of how one flares up in the other, as in her treatment of questions of personal and collective identity (or their disruption). She never resorts to experimental gimmickry. Her films reveal an author who feels the need to express the time she lives in. Her time as filmmaker goes back to the Vienna of 1977. As a member of an independent video collective, she compiled material on the struggle for an autonomous cultural centre in Vienna: Arena Squatted – a documentation of a utopia and its end, but also an attempt to make cinema politically useful. 

A traveller from early on including studying in Paris and New York and working as a journalist in Switzerland, Beckermann’s interests are by no means localised. Paper Bridge, a cinematic quest for traces of Jewish life in the territory of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, illustrates the geographical space of her cinema (even if the Waldheim election campaign in Vienna suddenly bursts in at the end of the film). Her road movie American Passages started after the financial crisis in Harlem on November 4, 2008 – the day Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States. Then the film continues as an associative travelogue ending in Las Vegas.

At the same time, Beckermann’s films bridge gaps across time: from the fate of her father, born in Czernovitz (Paper Bridge), and intense conversations with communist Franz West about interwar Vienna (Return to Vienna) to her present day doorstep, the Marc Aurel Street in what used to be Vienna’s Jewish textile district (homemad(e)). From the traces empress Elisabeth left in Egypt (A Fleeting Passage to the Orient) to the exhibition Crimes of the Wehrmacht and the memories it triggered in visitors, the majority of whom were former Wehrmacht soldiers (East of War).” – Austrian Film Museum

We're pleased to have Ruth Beckermann here in person throughout the Missing Images and East of War programmes on Sunday 3 September 2017.

Programme 1: Missing Images

Arena Squatted
Josef Aichholzer, Ruth Beckermann & Franz Grafl
1977 | 77 min | B/W | DCP
Introduced by Ruth Beckermann

By means of material that was created in the Arena the film shows the squatting, the organization of collective work, the negotiations with the city and finally the demolition of the buildings. It calls to memory, how a generation had been politicized through their involvement in the Arena movement.

Suddenly, a Strike
Ruth Beckermann & Josef Aichholzer
1978 | 24 min | B/W | DCP

In the tire factory Semperit the only strike after World War II takes place in May 1978, lasting for three weeks. The film shows the course of the strike in interviews, photos, graphics and talks at a pub; it draws attention to the position of the union between its loyalty to the workers and its responsibilities towards the entrepreneurs.

The Missing Image
Ruth Beckermann
2015-16 | 11 min | Colour | DCP

Documentation of the installation. The installation The Missing Image relates to the bronze figure of a bearded man lying down with a brush in his hand, depicting the Jews cleaning the streets during the pogrom after the “Anschluss” in March 1938. Ruth Beckermann completes the scene by adding the missing images, those of laughing spectators, recently found in film archives. read more

Programme 2: East of War

East of War
Ruth Beckermann
1996 | 117 min | Colour | DCP
Introduced by Ruth Beckermann

White-tiled rooms, neon lighting; on the walls black and white photographs documenting the atrocities committed by the german Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in WW2. Against this background former soldiers talk about their experiences beyond the bounds of "normal" warfare. An uncompromising film on remembrance and oblivion. read more

Programme 3: Return to Vienna

Return to Vienna
Ruth Beckermann & Josef Aichholzer
1983 | 91 min | Colour & B/W | DCP

Franz West (1909-85) remembers his youth in Vienna: the variety of the Jewish population of the so called Matzah-Island, his commitment to the worker’s movement of the Red Vienna and the rise of Austro-fascism and National Socialism. West’s masterly narration combined with impressing archive footage illustrate and elucidate the complex Austrian history between WW1 and WW2. read more

Programme 4: Paper Bridge

Paper Bridge
Ruth Beckermann
1987 | 95 min | Colour | DCP

Paper Bridge is a journey through Ruth Beckermann's own family's history and at the same time the story of Central Europe's Jews and of a region. It takes her from Vienna, where her grandmother survived the war and the nazis in hiding and to which her mother returned from Israel, to the landscapes of her father's childhood: the Bukowina, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. read more

Programme 5: Towards Jerusalem

Towards Jerusalem
Ruth Beckermann
1990 | 85 min | Colour | DCP

Towards Jerusalem is not about a chronological recording of history or a clear-cut evaluation of the short and conflict-loaden history of Israel; it is a snapshot, an instantaneous portrait which seems to set itself the Marker principle as a leitmotif: one never knows what one is filming. read more

Programme 6: A Fleeting Passage to the Orient

Mozart Enigma (Mozart Minute 10)
Ruth Beckermann
2006 | 1 min | Colour | DCP

Mozart Enigma is an ironic comment on biographical pseudo-documentaries. Envisioning a person? Is that possible? Why not go to a fortune teller, take off your wig and have your cards read?

A Fleeting Passage to the Orient
Ruth Beckermann
1999 | 82 min | Colour | DCP

The filmmaker decides to trace Sisi’s travels to the Orient, even though the results were uncertain. With great openness, she embarks on a journey, with the risk of perhaps discovering nothing at all: no clues to the real figure behind the fairytale princess, no answer to the question of how one deals with foreign countries as a privileged traveller. read more

Programme 7: Homemad(e)

Ruth Beckermann
2001 | 84 min | Colour | DCP

From summer 1999 until spring 2000, Ruth Beckermann undertook a series of small journeys on and around her own doorstep and investigated her locality with the help of a film camera. The film gives also evidence of the political turnabout which went along with the joining of the government-coalition by the extreme right. read more

Programme 8: Zorro’s Bar Mitzwa

Zorro’s Bar Mitzwa
Ruth Beckermann
2006 | 90 min | Colour | DCP

At the Wailing Wall or in the spotlight of a stage, wearing a Zorro costume or a designer dress, solemn or rollicking: crossing the threshold to the adult world can take place in very different ways. This film accompanies four 12-year-olds – Sharon, Tom, Moishy and Sophie – as they prepare for their bar or bat mitzvot. read more

Programme 9: American Passages

American Passages
Ruth Beckermann
2011 | 121 min | Colour | DCP

“Veteran Austrian documentary filmmaker Ruth Beckermann's American Passages is an impressive road-traveling collage of the U.S. at the advent of the Obama era. Although the film was ostensibly made to honor Robert Frank's famed 1958 photo essay, The Americans. read more

Programme 10: Those Who Go Those Who Stay

Jackson/Marker 4am
Ruth Beckermann
2012 | 3 min | Colour | DCP

A cinematic fragment, vibrant in its mystery.

Those Who Go Those Who Stay
Ruth Beckermann
2013 | 75 min | Colour | DCP

Rain on a window pane, a fire truck, a tomcat with innumerable offspring: it is an intentionally unintentional gaze that allows for chance encounters, for stories and memories – leads that Ruth Beckermann follows across Europe and the Mediterranean. Those Who Go Those Who Stay is a story of being on the move, in the world and one’s own life. read more

Programme 11: The Dreamed Ones

The Dreamed Ones
Ruth Beckermann
2016 | 89 min | Colour | DCP

The themes of love and hate are depicted in the movie. At centre stage are the two poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, who came to know each other in post‐war Vienna. Their vivid postal exchange creates the textual basis of the film. Two young actors, Anja Plaschg and Laurence Rupp, meet in a recording studio to read the letters. The tumultuous emotions of proximity and distance, fascination and fear captivate them. read more

Generously supported by Austrian Cultural Forum London and sixpackfilm: