The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

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OCT 2022 Issue

Third Horizon Film Festival 2022

Do not represent, de-speak!

Still from <em>Aimé Césaire: le masque des mots</em> (1987) by Sarah Maldoror.
Still from Aimé Césaire: le masque des mots (1987) by Sarah Maldoror.

Miami, a center of Caribbean diasporas, proved to be the right arena for speculation about a cinema that reaches beyond centralizing narratives that seek complete interpretations of history and disregard other potential strands of remembering. Third Horizon Film Festival, in its sixth iteration this year, is a leader in the exhibition and discussion of filmmaking and other works about the Caribbean. The 2022 festival's overarching theme was to uncover film practices probing alternative memory, subjectivities, and non-linear time structures.

Six short film programs and six feature screenings dealt with supernatural elements, diasporic archives, intergenerational family collaborations, and poetic hybrids between fiction and documentary. Additionally, panels, such as “Not So Far From Reality: History, Memory, and Documentary Practice,” traced the obscured histories and uncertain memories that come with the Caribbean experience and examined alternative ways of breathing new life into these histories and experiences by pushing the limits of cinematic form. The constant reverberations between the contemporary works shown here and past events enriched the discussion on what a different way of storytelling may look like.

Olivier Marboeuf offers a theoretical approach to this discussion in his essay “Towards a de-speaking cinema (a Caribbean hypothesis),” which was transformed into a “non-performance” lecture at the festival. “We don't need another hero,” asserts Marbeouf in his essay, reiterating a quote from art critic Pedro Morais all the while reorienting it against the mechanisms of the politics of representation.

Olivier Marboeuf lecture at Third Horizon Film Festival 2022. Photo: Austin Peete.
Olivier Marboeuf lecture at Third Horizon Film Festival 2022. Photo: Austin Peete.

Marboeuf—a writer, curator, and film producer—calls for a cinema against a heroic center in storytelling, against a separation of minority worlds by reproducing the same narrative tropes over and over again: “This is a cinema of dispersion by flight, but also a cinema of excess, cacophony, and explosion. For it removes itself from the centre of the scene as much as it atomizes the centre itself, by making it impracticable, inaudible, untranslatable.” Essentially, Marbeouf's de-speaking cinema attempts to move away from the ways colonial narratives make a spectacle of non-white representation.

Two such expressions of a counter-spectacular cinema could be found in Third Horizon's retrospective, “Nomadic Griot: A Tribute to Sarah Maldoror, as well as Maxime Jean-Baptiste's diptych works of familial history Nou voix (2018) and Moune Ô (2022). Featured in the retrospective, Maldoror's documentary Aimé Césaire: le masque des mots (1987) follows the Martiniquan poet Aimé Césaire during the 1987 Négritude Conference in Miami, which was in celebration of Césaire at the time. The Négritude movement was born from the namesake anti-colonial movement founded in the 1930s by African and Caribbean students who aimed to reclaim Blackness and African culture from European colonial exploitation.

Through a series of interviews in this film, Césaire gives insight into his fascinations and work, which draws similarities to a de-speaking cinema the way Marbeouf poses it: “We seized our own past through poetry, through imagination … it is the intermittent revelation of our possible future,” elaborates Césaire. He claims that poetry is like wearing a mask through which we gain “access to another world, a sacred world.”

Still from <em>Moune Ô</em> (2022) by Maxime Jean-Baptiste.
Still from Moune Ô (2022) by Maxime Jean-Baptiste.

Engaging with the short films featured at Third Horizon through this de-speaking cinema lens—or as Césaire says, through the “mask” of poetry—our attention is drawn to the different forms of expressivity in more recent works. Recent films have used the reappraisal of reenactment and the archive as tools to retell history from an alternative perspective.

Maxime Jean-Baptiste's Nou voix is an autobiographical account of the filmmaker's father who participated as an extra in Alain Maline’s Jean Galmot, aventurier (1990), a film about a journalist and adventurer who bought land in French Guiana with the prospect of digging for gold in the 1910s.

Instead of reiterating the white savior narrative of the original film, Nou voix starts with a sequence from Jean Galmot, aventurier portraying Guianese witnesses in court gaining their freedom as a present for their service as jurors in a trial. They jump from their benches in celebration. Meanwhile, we listen to the filmmaker's father's voice reciting poetry. Through this juxtaposition between the images and the voice-over, the film’s staging of Black bodies becomes apparent: freedom can only be gained through labor given to the colonial system and thanks to the benevolent decision made outside of the community living in it.

By focusing on the particular and amplifying the visceral, Jean-Baptiste’s use of his father’s voice-over detracts from the savior spectacle prevalent in Maline’s film. By choice, the maneuver shifts towards something more communal, proffering a narrative that means something for the community itself.

In the accompanying film, Moune Ô, Jean-Baptiste reiterates the conversation between colonial memory and constructed “mainstream” narratives but in an altogether different mode that is also closer to home for the filmmaker. Here, he uses archival footage of a celebratory carnival street party for the premiere of Jean Galmot and layers on-screen text over it. Jean-Baptiste and his sister feature in the footage as onlookers of the event while their father participates in it. Dressed in a yellow hat and suit, he moves along, carrying a percussive instrument.

Jean-Baptiste manipulates the image by slowing it down, every frame ticking forwards/backwards while time progresses at a snail’s pace. The bodies pass by the parade in a lapse while lit up by spotlights; they are aware of the invasive gaze of the cameras recording them. As the stumbling pictures progress second by second, grinding, almost to a stand still, they re-emphasize the spectacle displayed by exposing their staging. As if history were taking a moment to reflect on itself, Moune Ô not only reveals the inner process of memory by remembering this episode in the filmmaker's and his father's life, but it also transcends memory itself.

In opposition to linear storytelling and inevitable conclusions, Moune Ô’s narrative is revolving. Thus, it prods at what Marboeuf calls an affirmation of “speculative potentiality and expectations.” Through repetition of the images, the film reverbates between past and present. By removing itself from a totalizing narrative, or as Marboeuf says, from the “control and centrality of a Body that wants to speak for everything and everyone,” Moune Ô seeks truth in a specific event to expose the oppressive structures of the staging of Black bodies.

As we walk out of Third Horizon, enriched by the poetry of the works shown here, it seems like a door has opened to a different kind of cinematic storytelling. A cinema for a plurality of narratives not seeking the center, but exploring subjectivities and peripheries in their own forms. Or, to paraphrase Marboeuf, a cinema that does not need another hero speaking, but that speaks through itself.


Marius Hrdy

Marius Hrdy is a cultural worker, film programmer and writer.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

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