German filmmaker and curator Ute Aurand came to Brazil in September 2022 to present and comment on three sessions of the program “Portraits: Films by Ute Aurand and Margaret Tait” organized by Mutual Films (Aaron Cutler and Mariana Shellard) shown in São Paulo (days September 14, 15 and 18 at Instituto Moreira Salles Paulista) and Rio de Janeiro (September 17 and 18 at Instituto Moreira Salles Rio). In Aurand’s short film session, the films Maria und die Welt (1995), Renate (2021), Schweigend ins Gespräch vertieft (1980), Kopfüber im Geäst (2009), Lisa (2017), Halbmond für Margaret (2004) were screened in 16mm. In a second session of films of the German director, the short Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (2020) and the feature Rasendes Grünmit Pferden (2019) were shown in 16mm. And in a third session, dedicated to the Scottish director Margaret Tait, the shorts and medium-sized Three Portrait Sketches (1951), A Portrait of Ga (1952), Where I Am Is Here (1964), Aerial (1974), Color Poems (1974) and Tailpiece (1976) were exhibited in restored digital prints. In Rio de Janeiro, the session with Aurand’s feature was followed by a debate with the curator and researcher Lucas Murari. The debate and the commented session at IMS Paulista are available on the YouTube channel imoreirasalles (https://www.youtube.com/c/imoreirasalles).
The three sessions now occupy the top three positions with the largest audience for Mutual Films at Instituto Moreira Salles. These are exciting numbers for 16mm sessions of experimental films, increasingly rare in Brazil – even more so with the presence of the foreign filmmaker. The data mainly shows that young Brazilian moviegoers (majority audience of the three sessions) are more open to experimental cinema than previous generations and recognize the importance of showing these films in their original formats. Young people traveled to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo just for the occasion.
Compared to seven years ago, the numbers are optimistic. In December 2015, the French-Peruvian experimental filmmaker Rose Lowder came to Rio de Janeiro and Recife to present her films at the Fórum do Movimento de Imagens, but unfortunately, the sessions did not have such a significant number of audiences. In the same year, for the only time in Brazil so far, a film by filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, Song (2013), was shown at Fronteira – International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival in Goiânia, an event that today would certainly move many spectators.
We hope that the arrival of the German filmmaker and the exhibition of her films in 16mm, will be the beginning of a busier cycle for analogue projections, for the arrival of filmmakers and for the exhibition of experimental cinema, in particular, retrospectives that fill in the gaps of a marginalized history that, in Brazil, is known more through reading than actually through exhibition. We also hope that this won’t be Ute Aurand’s only visit to Brazil and that she will soon be able to return. We say the same for the exciting arrival of James Benning at the 2022 Festival Ecrã, which had a large audience at the session of The United States of America at Cinemateca do MAM and at the Masterclass given by the director.
In debates and conversations, Ute showed an insubordination that avoids falling into categories and frames, guaranteeing the freedom of her films and her creative process, also avoiding any limiting rationalization or explanations that oppose the fullness of intuition and will. She presented a simple and rigorous vision of cinema. Her films and comments were inspiring, as was her joy and lightness during her stay in Rio.
In this context, we conducted this interview with Ute Aurand on the front porch of IMS Rio, two days after the screening of all Mutual Filmes sessions. We talked about the films shown and her work as a curator, revisiting some of the ideas exposed during the presentations, about her creative process, editing, partnerships and friendships.
We thank Ute Aurand, Aaron Cutler, Mariana Shellard, Lucas Murari and the staff at Instituto Moreira Salles for all their help and kindness. More information: https://www.mutualfilms.com.
Gabriel Linhares Falcão
Gabriel Linhares Falcão: Could you talk about how you started working as curator and programmer in Germany?
Ute Aurand: In June 1990 I began the monthly series “Filmarbeiterinnen-Abend” (Women Film-Workers Evening) together with my filmmaker friend Maria Lang. The series was connected to a kind of alternative union founded by women for women working in film (Verband der Filmarbeiterinnen /Association of Women Film Workers). The idea was to program once a month films by women in the Kino Arsenal, Berlin. Soon the screenings were no longer connected to the organization, but we kept the rule to show only films by women. I wanted to find experimental films I didn’t know and started researching and discovered Marie Menken, Margaret Tait, Helga Fanderl, Utako Koguchi and many others. I curated these monthly screenings for almost five years. Then 100 years of Film was celebrated and a list with women filmmakers was circulating, but all the names were mostly known filmmakers of features. So, I was wondering how to make other women’s films visible which even I didn’t know and decided to ask 12 women filmmakers each to select a film by a woman which was important for her. This was a door opener, and we discovered many new films. I called the monthly series “Sie zum Beispiel” (She for Example) and it was generously supported by the “Künstlerinnen Programm” of the Berlin Senate so we could show almost 80 films in 12 months . Then I took a break and stopped curating for a while. Also I thought that I don’t need a cinema to show these kind of films and started dreaming of a “Film Chapel,” where one goes in, sits down and watches a film, alone. Or a kind of gallery space…. But when I discussed this idea with my filmmaker friends Renate Sami and Theo Thiesmeier in spring 1997, they convinced me to continue to show films in the cinema. So a year after “Sie zum Beispiel” we began our monthly “FilmSamstag” (FilmSaturday) screening series at Babylon-Mitte in former East Berlin. We did the monthly FilmSamstag screenings for 10 years, 1997-2007 , but we had opened it up to male filmmakers, yet we had to be careful that the male filmmakers didn’t take over…
GLF: Did you start looking for German filmmakers and then delve in other countries?
UA: The Filmarbeiterinnen-Abend series had started in June 1990 with Wanda (1970) by Barbara Loden combined with a film by Angelika Levi, who had studied at the Berlin film school. It was a very unusual double feature. Angelika made short films. I didn’t show specifically German filmmakers but of course, I also programmed filmmakers I knew from the film school. I looked into other countries, because people started to suggest films to me i.e. a Japanese woman programer gave me a tape with experimental films by Utako Koguchi, a Japanese filmmaker. I loved her strong personal films and we invited her; so that’s an example, but I also invited Laura Hudson from the London Filmmakers Coop with a program and Ruth Novaczek with her films, which I had discovered while researching Margaret Tait’s films at the Coop in London….
GLF: And you had the filmmakers in person there too?
UA: With Utako, we organized a tour. I asked for funding, she came to Germany and we toured six German cities.
GLF: There is something that always calls my attention when watching your films, in regards to your works which are closer to the tradition of the diary films; even thought I know they are not restricted to this category. Compared to Jonas Mekas, for example, his voice is in the present but describing or commenting past images or past sensations; there is a movement of looking back. Watching your films, I have the feeling that you are always in the present, you never look back.
UA: That’s interesting. Of course, Jonas’s films are connected to his life; if you have lived a life like his, to leave your country, to be forcibly kicked out, memories become very existential. But even when I film in the present – as you say – I look with my inner… I don’t know if soul is the right word but I look with something interior – which is a very complex matter. The interior is always connected to the past, even if we don’t recognize it. If you live completely in the present, there’s no need to make a film. You are living your life, you don’t want to hold anything. The wish to film is connected to the wish to hold the present… and as soon as you do that, something has changed.
GLF: So, you create a new kind of time…
UA: Hmm, that’s something else. Yes, I create a “new” time because I don’t film one to one. I shorten and condense by creating a rhythm mostly by editing in camera. Look here to this nice architectural ornament, and see the green behind, it is beautiful. (Ute points to the view in front of her – the next two pictures were taken by her and shows the view)
We can just look at it, but of course, if I want to communicate what I see and feel, I have to find a form to express these feelings, I have to transform the reality into a visual expression. I am interested in films where you can feel the filmmaker behind the images.
GLF: During one of the conversations after the screenings you talked about an idea that was “to take the content to another direction”. In To Be Here (2013), for example, you made a film around a college in USA, filming all your journey in the country. We see your first moments in USA, then in the campus, listening to the women students, and then we see your journey in other states of the country. I think that could be a good example for your idea, you have the content of the film, concerning the college, and then you take another direction: before and after. Considering these “other directions to take the content”, I also feel like the way you film “To Be Here” was somehow affected by what you’ve listened from these women students: I can’t watch the rest of your journey without thinking about the testimonies, but at the same time, it makes me wonder if the ideas you collected from them weren’t already inscribed in the way you film. Would that be an example of taking the content to different directions?
UA: That’s a difficult question. I spoke with the women students in Mount Holyoke College, a college only for women. I showed films there and asked that evening “who wants to come tomorrow? I would like to ask you some questions”. Ten women came and I asked them “how do you feel about studying in a women’s college?” I was deeply impressed by Mount Holyoke, because we don’t have women’s colleges in Germany. I was curious to hear wether studying only with women help them to become more confident and prouder of what they’re doing and also help them creating a network.…For To Be Here I did some research,  usually don’t do that. For instance, I didn’t do any research for my film here in Brazil, the same when I filmed in India and Japan. But in the USA, because I had been there many times already, I decided to look deeper into New England’s idealistic feminist movement of the 19th century, which was also connected to the spiritual, transcendentalist movement.
GLF: In one interview you said  you had the idea of creating a montage that was non-hierarchical dealing with this film, and I think it’s something that reverberates in your other films.
UA: I think in general that’s my way of looking at the world. Yesterday in the Botanical Garden here in Rio, I was watching the workers who cleaned the paths, when a thought struck me, “Maybe these workers are very happy people”, that’s the impression they gave me, even if their lives are hard. I’m always thinking there is no hierarchy, but, of course, circumstances are different. We know so little. We think we judge right, but we don’t know.
GLF: Going back in the question of producing a time, in Kopfüber im Geäst (2009), there is a moment that you’re looking for past pictures and crossing with present documents. In these segments, there is a kind of time that I think it’s unique in all your filmography. How was it like to film this and how was the montage?
UA: I knew my mother would die. It was clear. There was very little time, and it was my parents anniversary, and so, I asked them: “Can I film you?” I filmed them sitting in the garden superimposed with their marriage photos from 1954. I wanted to bring these two poles together – their marriage, when they started, and the end of their life together. I wanted to do this visually without saying anything.
GLF: Is it different for you when you are making portraits of couples, like Detel + Jón (1993) and Bärbel und Charly (1994), and individual portraits?
UA: Yes. Two people already bring two elements. And Detel and Jón are an unusual couple because he’s so much older than she. When you work with couples there is already a communication between the two of them and the filmmaker… So, it’s a triangle.
When you film one person, it’s more one to one, one behind the camera and one in front of the camera. It is a different kind of communication.
GLF: How do you collect your personal archive?
UA: Often when I film, I don’t know if the footage will ever be in a finished film. I just film, and collect it in my “personal archive” and at some point I may return to it, like for Rasendes Grün mit Pferden (2019), which was edited from footage that I had collected over 20 years. For many of my portraits and also the film about my parents, I looked at the footage I had filmed of them over the years and decided what else to film specially for this film.
GLF: So, your archive is not that big?
UA: No, it’s not big compare to people who work digitally. If you film digitally you have hours, but I have now maybe a total of seven hours, it’s not much. It’s already condensed, because of the concentration in filming and the 3minute limitation of each camera roll. I think about what I film and I’m not crazy to collect everything.
GLF: When you were editing Rasendes Grün mit Pferden (2019), which is a very long film compared to the others, how did you deal with these concentrated blocks and shots to make something longer?
UA: It was not easy, it took time, stages. Sometimes, I had smaller clusters and I thought “oh, these four or five situations work well together”. It’s not that I’d start in the beginning and go to the end; sometimes the film is growing from the middle, sometimes it’s growing from the beginning… It’s a long process with many decisions.
GLF: In 2020’s Festival Punto de Vista, a program was presented with your films along with films by Jeannette Muñoz, Helga Fanderl and Renate Sami, in which your short films were combined in different programs. Did you choose the program or was did the Festival chose? How was this process?
UA: We were four filmmakers with five programs. Garbiñe Ortega came to Berlin and looked at some films, she had her own ideas, had her own preferences. Mainly, she chose the films for the five programs, but we were involved in the decisions. We tried to balance the programs by pairing two/two: Helga and Jeannette, me and Renate and three programs with all 4 of us. It went very well.
GLF: And how was it like to watch your films combined?
UA: I know almost all of our films. But of course in new combinations the films looked different and new, the films spoke to each other, differences and similarities became clearer. Garbine and Maria Palacios had chosen the four of us because we are filmmaker-friends who share fundamental attitudes in filmmaking. But at the same time there was space to recognize the individuality of each of us.
GLF: Now, Robert Beavers’ new film, The Sparrow Dream (2022), premieres at Open City Docs, and you are in it. How was this like for you? Did you exchange ideas during the process, as in some kind of collaboration?
UA: It’s Robert’s film and I’m in it very briefly. Some of the shots are relatively recent, some are older. At some point in the editing, he showed me the film… And the fact that I’m in his film was not the main issue, it’s important, but I’m one of many other things. When we talk about editing we are talking about the whole film, I was a little hesitating about being filmed, but the images with me are very well integrated.
GLF: You two have very different styles of filming. I’ve always imagined how a collaboration would be like. Could it be possible?
UA: It could be possible, but we haven’t done it. We are influencing each other without knowing. Obviously, I slowed down more in my recent filmmaking, in the 90s I was much faster… and I was much more the person who collaborated with other filmmakers. Robert never collaborated.
GLF: You said that you got a new Super-8 camera and you have a new cell phone now. Do you intend to use them? I think you never worked with Super-8…
UA: I’ve never worked with a smart phone, but I had a Super-8 camera in the 90s. In my film Terzen from 1998 there is some footage I’ve filmed with Super-8. But in the last years I didn’t film with S8. Now, before coming to Brasil, I decided it could be nice to film in S8 again, so I bought a used camera and filmed a bit here. No idea how I will use the material, may be I will refilm it with my Bolex….
People said you need a smartphone in Brazil. So I bought my 1st smartphone! It is usefull to communicate and to find places, but I’ve no idea if my short Smart-phone-videos will find their way into the new film….It was fun to film with the smartphone, but it is so different, my movements are much smoother than my in-camera-editing with the Bolex….
GLF: Can you comment about your use of sound and silence?
UA: Some of my films are completely silent because I want to keep the space between the image and the spectator…. When we see a film with sound, the sound is everywhere, even in our bodies. The image is always in front of us on the screen with space between the spectator and the image. Sometimes I like to emphasize this distance, but sometimes I like the power of a sound, how it changes our feeling. Music puts the audience in an emotional state, but to come back into silence creates again a distance.
GLF: And your use of Black and White/Color?
UA: I like both. Black and white is not so naturalistic. To film with black and white and color is just a wider range I’m not thinking too much about it, I just like it!
GLF: You are recording sound with a Zoom, right?
UA: Yes, but, now, I have my smartphone. (smiles) Ewelina Rosinska, a filmmaker from the Berlin film school, DFFB (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin), encouraged me to tape sound with the smartphone… I have the Zoom here, but to record with my cellphone is so much easier! I will listen to how it sounds….
GLF: Is there any Brazilian directors you like?
UA: In 1985, the last film of Glauber Rocha, A Idade da Terra (1981), was screened at Berlinale Forum. I didn’t know his work at all. I was deeply fascinated I liked the energy a lot. I couldn’t catch what his references were, but I loved it’s energy. In the last years I saw many of Ana Vaz’s films, at European festivals and at the Flaherty Seminar – I like Occident (2015) a lot and what she brings together in her films is a complexe visual discourse…
 We published a list of films from “Sie zum Beispiel”, shown between 1995-1996, in this edition of Revista Limite.
 The programs of “FilmSamstag” from 1997-2007 is available in here: http://www.filmsamstag.de.
 Notes and stills from this research can be found here: http://www.uteaurand.de/assets/files/america-aurand.pdf.
 “Entrevista con Ute Aurand, por Francisco Algarín Navarro, Vanessa Agudo, Evaristo Agudo, Miguel García”, available in here: http://elumiere.net/especiales/aurand/.