Jacqueline Maurer

CinePaesaggi – Modes of Appropriating Rural Landscapes in Film Practice and Research A Conference Report.

Jacqueline Maurer (1984) is an art historian and a film scholar, critic and curator. In her research she examines interrelations between film, architecture, urban environments and rural landscapes. She was Postdoc Fellow at the Collegium Helveticum, research assistant at the FHNW and at the gta at ETH Zürich, and art mediator at Kunstmuseum Basel. Jacqueline studied art history and German philology in Basel and London and holds a PhD from the Department of Film Studies at University of Zurich. In Rome, she will continue with her interdisciplinary research about rural landscapes and cinema.

CinePaesaggi – Modes of Appropriating Rural Landscapes in Film Practice and Research A Conference Report.

Rural landscapes are a social construction, just like urban landscapes. Both have long been connected discursively and through visible and invisible infrastructures. Our sensory perception and affective experience of rural landscapes and those (re)produced in the media are interdependent and never neutral. Our reception and imaginaries of rural landscapes are based on aesthetic, cultural, economic, political, social, and technical factors, and evolve within contexts of identities, norms, and values on individual, local, regional, and national scales. 

How do contemporary filmmakers deal with these complex relationships and create their poetic visions within Italian and Swiss landscapes? To what extent can the structures and interests of the film industry have an influence on which and how rural landscapes are mediatized? How does the video essay as a research by design method and output appropriate and explore landscapes? An interdisciplinary conference with Italian and Swiss guest speakers from the field of film production and research addressed these and other questions on 27 March 2024 at Villa Medici – Accademia di Francia a Roma. The evening concluded with the screening of Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte (IT/DE/CH 2010).

Cinema’s power to change a tradition

Michelangelo Frammartino is a Milan-based filmmaker and lecturer who studied both architecture and cinema. His award-winning films Il dono (2003), Le quattro volte (2010) and Il buco (2021) are documentary and feature film hybrids. They are a cinematically unique long-term study of rural spaces, communities, and traditions on the border between Basilicata and Calabria and, above all, in central Calabria where his family comes from. Le quattro volte is a poetic vision of the revolving cycles of life and nature and the unbroken traditions of a timeless place; a story of one soul that moves through four successive lives, from the human to the animal, vegetal, and, finally, to the mineral. Starting from the tree episode exploring the Pita Festival in Alessandria del Carretto in Pollino National Park, Frammartino created the video installation Alberi. It was based on a forgotten pagan tradition of one man disguising himself as a tree in spring, maybe to ask for charity. The artwork had the power to bring the tradition back, while changing it: instead of a single man, groups of people now do a procession.

Connecting and creating with the locals

Michael Koch is a filmmaker and lecturer based in Berlin and Basel. He won the prize for best feature film at the Swiss Film Awards 2023 with his second feature film Drii Winter (2022), the tragic story of a young couple living in a rural landscape and community. It was based on a true story of a woman who lost her partner due to cancer. The filmmaker met her by chance. He understood that the way of dealing with this destiny was closely related to the rural landscape. It shapes the modes of life within it and has an influence on how people face the unpredictable. After ethnographic studies lasting a couple of years, Koch became convinced that his film had to be created together with the inhabitants of a specific landscape. He chose the remote Isenthal valley in central Switzerland. Despite the doubts of a funding commission, he worked with non-professional actors from the region. The small film team provided the necessary intimacy and 70 (!) days of shooting. The 1:1.33 format focused on the people and on the steepness of the mountains instead of celebrating them by means of a widescreen format. The fascinatingly detailed portrait also created lasting human contacts between Koch and his protagonists.

Cinematographic versus touristic landscapes

Niccolò Castelli is a filmmaker, screenwriter, film producer, and artistic director of Solothurn Film Festival. For his talk he was invited to reflect on the topic in his role as the director of the Ticino Film Commission. Funded in 2014 as the first film commission in Switzerland it supports any audiovisual project as a competence center while promoting the region as a location and land of cinema. TFC is financed by the Department of Finance and Economy of the Republic and Canton of Ticino, the Banca dello Stato and the tourism organizations of Canton Ticino. Castelli’s talk about the contested ideas of ‘beauty’ and the realities of filmmaking revealed the challenging position of the Ticino Film Commission, irrespective of stereotypes. It is an institution connecting audiovisual competences and visions with the realities and demands of the film industry and regional economies that strive for placemaking in a context where the importance of locations must not take second place to the funding of productions. Castelli mentioned the difference between film plots specifically located in a landscape versus those interested primarily in regional funding. He explicitly criticized the observation that regional film commissions are starting to compete and concluded by saying that the TFC aims for film productions that deal with the very identities of Ticino’s landscapes and that give something back to the region – not only in terms of the economy but in a constant dialogue between identity, storytelling, and new perspectives.

The “I” and “border thinking”

Silvia Cipelletti from Milan studied and worked at the Academia di Architettura at the Università della Svizzera italiana USI before joining the new USI Chair on the Future of Cinema and the Audiovisual Arts at Locarno Film Festival. Her PhD, entitled “Audio-visual Atlas of the Swiss-Italian Border Landscape”, is part of the SNSF research project “The Video Essay: Memories, Ecologies, Bodies”. Her videographic approaches are based on several research by design projects, for example, about the industrial landscape of ore extraction in Kiruna or the exploration of Gibellina and Nuova Gibellina. Her PhD project engages more broadly with the complexity of border and marginal landscapes. It underscores the intricate relationship between marginal landscapes and knowledge production. She bases her theoretical framework on Walter D. Mingolo’s study Local Histories/Global Designs. Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000), while using the video essay as a tool of knowledge production that always reflects and stresses the positionality of the “I” as a researcher.

Concluding remarks

The two filmmaker contributions showed forms of intense negotiations with peripheric rural landscapes and their communities. The film commission contribution revealed the challenges of not reproducing cliches promoted by tourist offices as funding partners. The research contribution at the intersection of landscape and cinema studies presented the video essay as an epistemological tool and border thinking as a critical concept with huge topicality.

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