Lettre d’un cinéaste: Chantal Akerman

This program presents three films across three decades on artist/filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who directs two of the films in which she interrogates herself as subject alongside the nature and raison d’etre of cinema itself. In Lettre de Cineaste (1984), Akerman with Aurore Clément as a kind of stand-in or proxy asks “What is cinema for? Who is it for? If the Mosaic prohibition on making graven images includes film images, then where does that leave a Jewish filmmaker?” Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman (1996) turns a commission for Cinéma, de notre temps (a long-running French television program about filmmakers) into a study of herself in which she discovers a feminized sensibility and another way of seeing the world and self through a monologue accompanied by a montage of clips of her films including Hotel Monterrey and Histoires d’Amerique. The final film of the program is Sami Frey’s documentary video Autour de Jeanne Dielman (1975), shot on the set of her most famous work, Jeanne Dielman, and edited by Akerman. In questioning Akerman on how she wants her to comb her hair, a frustrated Delphine Seyrig tells Akerman “when you explain something, you find you don’t want to explain it,” perfectly encapsulating the notoriously unclassifiable filmmaker.

Genres: Documentary

Other Films by Chantal Akerman

Nuit et jour (Night and Day)

Julie and Jack, recently arrived in Paris, are a young couple from the provinces who spend their days making love and their nights apart, while Jack drives a taxi and Julie walks the streets, waiting for him to come home.  Their vague aspirations take a backseat to their constant passion. “Music” resonates throughout—Julie sings wordlessly

From the Other Side

On the Mexico-US border, the twin towns of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona—far from the population centers of Juarez/El Paso or Tijuana/San Diego—are home to both hopeful, persistent immigrants and resilient, spiteful permanent residents. As with most of Akerman’s documentary work, she brings a keen, searching eye to this most barren of places, in

Sud

The work of James Baldwin and William Faulkner long influenced Chantal Akerman’s work and life, and she had long planned to shoot a film about the American south — and finally, an opportunity came just before the new millennium. But in Jasper, Texas, mid-1998, James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was dragged behind a vehicle

Toute une nuit

One summer night in Brussels, sweltering heat stifles the community, which draws people out of their comfort zone and into despair. Akerman explores a series of on-the-brink relationships—break-ups, reconciliations—in the context of this hottest night of the year, where defenses are built, but at the same time, are down. Nearly wordless yet filled with subtle

Almayer’s Folly

With Almayer’s Folly, Akerman tackles the terrible legacy of the European colonial project in Southeast Asia head-on through an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s late-19th-century novel of the same name. Crucially, Akerman makes a handful of changes, transposing Conrad’s Cambodia for Malaysia and Conrad’s 19th Century for the 1950s, the tail end of direct colonial control.