Ji.hlava Fest honors feminist writer and documentary pioneer Susan Sontag


American essayist, director, human rights defender and feminist icon Susan Sontag might have been surprised to know the sheer size of her audience in the Czech Republic.

But, says David Cenek, who organized work for the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival for over a decade, “Most of Sontag’s books, including his novel, have been translated into Czech – which I think, is due to the interest of Czech. intellectuals in his work. His book on photography is a world reference.

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This year’s Ji.hlava retrospective, “Susan Sontag: Filmmaking Is a Privilege”, shows – probably for the first time in Central Europe – six of Sontag’s films, ranging from shorts to feature films, made from 1969 to 1993 and The collection shows a remarkable range of creative approaches.

As the programmers of the Ji.hlava fest put it, “Her universal activities remain an impressive feature of this Renaissance woman in modern history,” as evidenced by the early 1964 play “Notes on ‘ Camp ‘”, which first caught Sontag’s attention for his explorations of the word in connection with gay culture and art.

And, as Cenek puts it, Ji.hlava is often proud “of trying to recall the cinematic work of a non-filmmaker or a prominent intellectual.”

Sontag’s essays “On Photography,” “Under the Sign of Saturn,” and “Concerning the Pain of Others” and his novel “The Volcano Lover” have all been surprisingly widely known to Czech readers for years, and l Sontag’s interest in cinema runs through all of her work – making her in some ways almost late for a tribute to the film festival in the region.

As Adriana Belesova, head of programming for Ji.hlava, says, “Basically we wanted to show the complexity of Susan Sontag – the approach to directing and writing scripts.”

Among the unique gifts Sontag brought to the screen was a push for topics others would have easily overlooked, exploring the formal and psychological bases of couple relationships, as in “Duo for Cannibals” from 1969 to anxiety and impatience among tourists in Vienna in the years 1993 “Self-guided tour.”

“His way of thinking about cinema is completely original,” says Cenek. “I am fascinated by his work as a whole. His films are an inspiring example and an extension of his reflection on society, relations or civic actions.

One of the purposes of the tribute to Ji.hlava, Belesova says, is to celebrate “the topics she shared through her films and also the way she communicated through the edit. For example, in the film “Promised Lands”, she uses the montage as the narrator of the stories. “

Sontag’s selection of images also has a special logic, Belesova adds. “It combines different elements, things and details, and focuses on the meaning of these symbols such as churches, streets, roofs, etc.”

Her philosophical positions are shared with film audiences, Belesova says, in constructing plans that seem to reflect the positions she takes in her essays and literature. Sontag “also uses the analysis and decoding of social constructs” as a method of communicating the broader dilemmas of contemporary life, she adds.

“That’s what I love – I think we feel the same way about 21st century society. “

Cenek adds: “I think his films work a lot for someone who knows his lines. They are certainly proof that no film can be essentially apolitical.

Sontag’s films also serve to illustrate “how the theoretical concept can be developed within a sovereign creative process” like cinema, he argues.

“It is certainly instructive to see that an intellectual seemingly distant from the cinema can act and think differently than with pencil and paper.”

And, although Sontag had its heyday in the postwar American era and the hippies, says Belesova, its positions are just as relevant today “even if the film reflects historical events or different cultures of those of the Czech Republic “.

And besides, women today face in many ways the same struggle for status as they did in the ’70s or’ 80s, she adds.

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