A brief piece guest-starring the great Harun Farocki. The L Magazine, January 22.
Videograms of a Revolution screened at the Spectacle Theater in New York as part of the film series "Ways of Seeing: Four Films by Harun Farocki," which also featured the films Images of the World and the Inscription of War, How to Live in the German Federal Republic, and A Day in the Life of a Consumer. The 70 year-old German filmmaker has been incisively examining how societies portray their citizens and vice-versa ever since powerful early works like Inextinguishable Fire.
Farocki co-directed Videograms (which can be viewed here) with the Romanian filmmaker Andrei Ujică, for whom it would be the first in a trilogy of found-footage films about the end of communism that would also include Out of the Present and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. Farocki and Ujică both speak below about the process of making their film. Farocki’s quote is a longer version of what appears in the L Magazine piece; parts of Ujică’s monologue were previously published in Film Quarterly and in Filmmaker Magazine, and the filmmaker and I have edited them for this occasion.
Ujică and I went to Bucharest together with this concept in mind, and after some days of watching archival and found footage we realized that more than a hundred thousand people had known exactly when to gather in the streets. This is what you call a revolution. The French texts had stated that the Romanian revolution had been nothing but a scam set up the Iliescu group, but we quickly saw that this was not the case. We considered how much material was available of the revolution’s five days and decided to reconstruct them through using our different sources: Images from state-sponsored and free TV, images shot by professionals, amateurs, and semi-amateurs alike.
We spent more than a year creating the film together and never disagreed on anything. I made several such direct cinema films in those days, and I still continue to make them.
Andrei Ujică: After I immigrated to Germany in 1981, I was forced by circumstances to take a detour through theory. I got an assistant post at the University of Mannheim, with a specialty in Literary Theory and Film Theory. That’s where the events of 1989 found me. In 1990 I published, together with the photography historian and theorist Hubertus von Amelunxen, a book called Television/Revolution: The Ultimatum of the Images – Romania in December 1989. It contained, among other things, four dialogues I had with Romanian intellectuals, friends from youth, two from Timisoara and two from Bucharest, who had witnessed the events both firsthand and on TV.
Harun Farocki contacted me through the publishing house, expressing his interest in making a film adaptation of the dialogues and asking me if I wanted to help him. I thought that it would be so much more interesting to make a film about what was not dealt with in the book, namely the videograms of that revolution. We decided to do the film together. It was a harmonic, fertile collaboration with Harun. Naturally this film took form at the editing table.
In 1989, between December 21st (the day of Ceausescu’s last speech) and December 26th (the day of the first television reports of his trial) cameras at all the most important locations in Bucharest captured the revolutionary events almost in their entirety.
In this film we have gathered all these various recordings together in order to reconstruct the visual chronology of these days. The aim was to disentangle the mass of images and to arrange sequences in such a way as to suggest that for five days, one was moving from camera to camera on the same reel of film. The surprise was to discover the cinematic coherence of history.
My idea of creating a film trilogy was developed backwards. When I made Videograms with Harun in 1992, I didn’t know that I would make three films on this subject. At the time when I was working on the first two movies, the events were still very hot and we were all terribly excited, all the guys in my generation who shared a similar experience of totalitarianism and immigration from an Eastern country. We were all driven by a huge curiosity to try to understand more about what had happened, probably because we weren’t there when the events had occurred. (We saw them on television from Western countries—for me it was from the American zone in West Germany.)
Out of the Present was finished in the summer of 1995. Ten years later, in 2005, I was confronted with the idea of a project about Ceausescu for the first time. I was in Bucharest when Romanian television broadcast Videograms after a delay of 13 years and I was invited to discuss the movie from the studio. I ran into an old producer friend of mine, Velvet Moraru, who asked me if I didn’t feel like the time had come for an “objective” biography of Ceausescu. I thought that the time was right, and this led to The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu.