How to Make a Molotov Cocktail? The Cinema of Revolution.

Introduction on the filmprogramme by curator Erik Viskil

Still from Gerd Conrad’s ‘Farbtest – Die Rote Fahne’, 1968

There is a new revolutionary feeling blossoming in the very depths of our society, an adventurous, uneasy feeling that urges to open up new horizons, to not only change the way we think, but also how we live together, to change society for the better. Exactly at this time of hope for transformation we remember, without celebrating, the uprising known aas the Russian Revolution.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 was one of the most far-reaching political reversals in human history. Radical social change went hand-in-hand with a radical artistic revolution in which art experiments became a motor of enthusiasm for the young, and at that time still promising, communist society. Inspirer and leader of the revolution Vladimir Lenin regarded film as the “most important art form” in his bolshevist society.

Pioneering Russian filmmakers at that time represented the struggle for social justice and celebrated the military, social and economical victories of the communist doctrine. While working on their moving images in the 1920’s Sergej Eisenstein, Dzigo Vertov and Oleksandr Dovzhenko discovered the medium film in all its depth. They experimented with the camera as was never done before. They enriched the language of cinema with principles of cutting and editing, which are being used until this day. In Russia, revolution and radical film became strongly tight together.

Revolution. What a beautiful word. It arouses images of Che Guevara, and of smiling militaries wearing colourful flowers on their helmets. Revolution, and everybody will be fine.

How to Make a Molotov Cocktail? The Cinema of Revolution does not proclaim the glory of upheavals. Neither does it provide recipes for starting turmoil and political chaos. It is a compelling film programme for the curious, which examines with great care both the mechanism at work in political revolutions and the glory of revolutionary film itself. The title refers to a lost early activist film made by the student Holger Meins at the newly founded Academy of Film and Television in Berlin in 1968. Only six years later Holger Meins died in a German prison after an exhausting hunger strike as an imprisoned member of the revolutionary Rote Armee Fraktion. His fellow students continued filmmaking. The programme will show Gerd Conradt’s Farbtest – Die Rote Fahne from 1968, in which also Holger Meins carries the red flag through the streets of Berlin, and Harun Farocki’s Videogramme einer Revolution.

Still from Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Week-end’, 1967

Whereas social and political revolutions went through ups and downs during the 20th century, their radical counterparts in cinema triumphed. Among filmmakers there appeared to be many revolutionaries, particularly in Europe. It were these revolutionary filmmakers, those who turned the medium upside-down, who succeeded in creating the cinematic landmarks of their time. Jean-Luc Godard could not make a film without even thinking of revolution. We show his surrealistic Weekend, one of his most accessible movies, loaded with revolutionary energy, and critical about everything, not the least revolutions. Harun Farocki and Andrei Uijica’s masterpiece Videogramme einer Revolution is a sharp and shocking reflection on the crucial position of the media in the Romanian revolution of 1989. It starts where the revolution started and ends with a sudden execution, zooming in on the cruel revanchist side of uprisings.

Bela Tarr was born and raised in communist Hungary in 1955. He experienced the consequences of the Russian Revolution first hand for almost 35 years. His wonderful poetic film Werckmeister Harmoniak shows the political machinations on the eve of a revolution in a cinematic language that both speaks to the mind and to the soul. A special place in his film is reserved for an enormous stuffed whale, a symbol of importance when it comes to revolutions – Holger Meins, after he went underground, was referred to with the code name Starbuck, the first officer in the quest for Moby Dick.

A great surprise is the film Al Midan – The Square. It was shot during the gatherings and fights on and around Tahrir square in the course of 2011. We see the revolution proceed both from a bird’s eye perspective, and through the innocent eyes of some striking individuals, who were followed from the very beginning to the end. With them we are immersed in a world of hope, which through machination and betrayal, turns into a scene of shocking violence.

Still from Jehane Noujaim’s ‘Al Midan – The Square’, 2013

It is a bitter observation that the recent violence in Cairo does not differ so much from the bloody scenes at the famous Odessa steps in Battleship Potyomkin, Sergej Eisenstein’s 1925 landmark of early avant-garde filmmaking. We will present his brilliantly edited, still disturbing black-and-white film with live music, written and performed by Kevin Toma, film critic at de Volkskrant. Kevin Toma is well known for his impressive music scores for silent movies. He will also accompany Eisenstein’s film Oktyabr, which will run in the Classics on Monday series of Focus Filmtheater Arnhem.

In the Classics on Monday series, Focus Filmtheater screens five landmarks of cinema, which introduce and complement our one day film festival. The series starts with Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers: a thrilling fiction film in documentary style about the Algerian uprisings against the French colonial rule in the 1950’s. The series ends with Sergej Loznitsa’s documentary Maidan, covering the revolution in the Ukraine in 2013 and 2014. In between, three totally different films will be screened. Oktyabr, also known as Ten Days Which Shook The World is the other Eisenstein film famous for its cinematic language of cutting and editing. It was commissioned by the Communist Party for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and released in 1928. The beautifully photographed I Am Cuba by Mikhail Kalatozov, from 1964, consists of uncomfortable stories about the Cuban people suffering from capitalism and their slow transition into revolutionaries. The film was forgotten for a long time, and only rediscovered in the 1990’s. One of the most intriguing films about revolution, and about socialism, is Chris Marker’s Le Fond de l’Air est Rouge. For this film Marker edited an huge amount of footage about socialist movements and newsreel fragments from over the world, and put it together with such a rhythm and editing structures that it almost resembles a flowing stream of consciousness. Where are the deeds of socialism? Where has the revolution been brought into practice? Or is it existent only in the air? That is what this remarkable essay film is examining.

The unique cooperation between ArtEZ Studium Generale and Focus Filmtheater Arnhem enables both parties to present a comprehensive programme that gives a profound insight into the mechanisms at work in revolutions, and into the merits of revolutionary film itself. The full programme shows that since the advent of the moving image, interest in social and political change and pioneering with the medium film go hand in hand. It shows that those filmmakers interested in revolution are often themselves revolutionaries in cinema. If one thing stands out about the programme, it is that the these very diverse films make it possible to experience the concept of revolution ourselves, including the feelings of hope, adventure and excitement, but also those of loss and defeat.

Erik Viskil, curator of the programme


Focus Filmtheater Arnhem

Korenmarkt 42
6811 GW Arnhem