THE FREEDOM OF CINEMA
An excerpt from the LICHTER concept 2022 // Text by Kenneth Hujer
SINCE THE INVENTION OF CINEMA OVER A 100 YEARS AGO, FREEDOM HAS BEEN ONE OF ITS CENTRAL MOTIFS.
Looking at the list of film classics, the motif of freedom is omnipresent: in Germaine Dulac’s “La souriante Madame Beudet” (1923) as the longing to escape the confining daily grind of marriage, in Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) as the counterpart to the repressive work environment, or in “Casablanca” (1942) the reason to flee from the German Wehrmacht occupation. It is in the title of Richard Attenborough’s biopic “Cry Freedom” (1987), the director’s cinematic monument to the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. The science-fiction trilogy “The Matrix” (1999-2003) even deals with the topos of freedom in its epistemological dimension.
THE DYNAMICS OF FREEDOM ARE ALSO VIRULENT IN FILM PRODUCTION ITSELF. REPEATEDLY, ENCRUSTED STRUCTURES AND RESTRICTIVE NARRATIVE FORMS HAVE VIRTUALLY PROVOKED LIBERAL PHASES OF AWAKENING, EXPERIMENTATION, AND THEREBY NEW FORMS OF PRODUCTION. IN MOST CASES, THESE HAVE ALSO FOUND NARRATIVE EXPRESSION AND, IN THE FILMS, HAVE SHAPED A CRITIQUE DIRECTED AT SOCIETY. BEYOND THIS, FILM HAS TIME AND AGAIN BEEN AN IMPORTANT CATALYST FOR POLITICAL LIBERATION MOVEMENTS.
One of the great cinematic awakenings is without doubt the French Nouvelle Vague, which initially turned against a screenplay production external to film and demanded for the film narrative to be developed out of the logics of the film itself. Its founding film is considered to be François Truffaut’s youth drama „Les Quatre Cents Coups“ (1959). With its adolescent hero, who finds himself in conflict with the restrictive authorities of his family, school, and reformatory, it anticipates the coming-of-age genre and in the final scene stages the open sea as the symbol of longed-for freedom. In the following years, Truffaut’s films became increasingly more experimental and progressively more radical in their breaking of narrative conventions in film. His comrade-in-arms Jean-Luc Godard worked most notably with new montage techniques, written slogans, and the use of documentary material and music against the viewing habits of the cinema audience and transferred the break with conventions onto a socio-critical level. As early as 1960, his film “Le petit soldat” (1960), which thematises the brutality of the French war in Algeria against the country’s independence movement, led to problems with the French censorship board, who initially banned the film.
In the US, the New Hollywood movement brought new liberties to film and at the same time questioned the societal promises of freedom. One of New Hollywood’s greatest successes was the road movie “Easy Rider” (1969). Since nobody believed in the film at first, as is so often the case with fundamentally new approaches, the director Dennis Hopper produced it independently. Only after its completion was it bought by the film industry and became a cult film. “Easy Rider” was free of anything that constituted old Hollywood. It tells of people who want to build a life independent of society, who seek freedom in drugs, rock music and self-built motorcycles in the provinces. Yet despite invoking freedom, the film shows the search for it as a hopeless one: Even far away from the US-American metropolises, the freedom of the pioneering spirit of old can no longer be found. All those who seek it are met with aggression and intolerance; they are confronted with unlimited impossibilities.
IN THE HANDS OF A FREE SPIRIT, THE CINEMA IS A MAGNIFICENT AND DANGEROUS WEAPON. (Luis Buñuel)
In Germany, the Oberhausen Manifesto opposed the artistic restrictions of the established cinema in 1962, thus founding the New German Cinema. It said: “This new film needs new kinds of freedom. Freedom from the customary conventions of the industry. Freedom from the influence of commercial partners. Freedom from the paternalism of stakeholders. […] The old film is dead. We believe in the new film.“
Also with a manifesto (Dogma 95), the Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier established a reorientation of film in the mid-1990s, thereby exposing the dialectic of freedom: They drastically restricted film production by means of ten rules in order to enforce new freedoms in filmmaking. In the case of these two manifestos as well, the artistic consequences also had a socio-political effect.
This was even more radical in South America (with the Grupo Cine Liberación among others), and in parts of Africa and Asia with the “Tercer Cine”, which firmly considered itself as political and located itself within the context of various revolutionary liberation movements. All of its films served the purpose of political education and agitation, which is why they could only be shown in clandestine cinemas created specifically for this purpose. A question worth exploring is how the digital revolution and its new distribution channels can also stand, at least in part, in this tradition.
For a long time, the political film has tried to reach the masses. Now the masses themselves are moving the film cameras of their mobile phones through the world. What artistic and political impulses of freedom can come with this?
IN ITS INTERNATIONAL FILM PROGRAM, THE LICHTER FILMFEST JUXTAPOSES SOME 20 POSITIONS OF CURRENT WORLD CINEMA ON THE SUBJECT OF FREEDOM, WHICH CAN PROVIDE POSSIBLE ANSWERS.