Specters of: Part 2

Film screening curated by Beirut


Specters of: Part 2 is a two-day film screening that expands on some of the core questions that lie at the heart of Beirut's past and current program. Season two offered a reflection on the concept of the nation state and the magical and mystical undercurrents that exist parallel to its supposedly rational disposition. Season three presently undertakes similar reflections on and from the perspective of institutions, their language and nature of existence, as well as the (art) institutional future in Egypt and internationally.

These ruminations inevitably take aspects of (post-)colonialism into account, chiefly the colonized as constitutive outside for the modern nation state, and the negotiation between dependence, social rules and newly gained authority over one's own culture and identity in the colonial aftermath. The selection of films offers a varied perspective on the complexity and the implications of this condition, and the ghostly matter at play in the cycles, debts and states of financial capitalism. The program is part of an ongoing film exchange between 98weeks in Beirut and Beirut in Cairo.

Katarina Zdjelar, My Lifetime (Malaika) (2012), 6 min.

The video piece My Lifetime (Malaika) features Ghana’s National Symphony Orchestra, which was established in the late 1950s under the government of Kwame Nkrumah, performing Malaika – an originally cheerful and empowering postcolonial composition. Being a part of this political and cultural legacy, the national orchestra today has become an institution which has witnessed this shift of one social rule to another. The film highlights the discrepancy between how Western musical tradition has never fully been integrated into Ghanaian culture and how the Ghanaian state continues sponsoring such an institution, which cannot be abolished without provoking political turmoil, but is also too insignificant in contemporary Ghanaian society to be supported financially. However, My Lifetime (Malaika) is neither a portrait of the musicians nor a documentary on the orchestra itself. Katarina Zdjelar, rather, deploys the orchestra in order to draw a sketch of a complicated state of affairs in which grand ideas and the mechanism of a nation state project takes root in and affects individuals. –Text from

Sven Augustijnen, Spectres (2004), 104 min.

In this film essay, the title of which is derived from Jacques Derrida’s “Specters of Marx. The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International” (1993), Sven Augustijnen presents a controversial view of Belgian colonial history, but with questions that go beyond these national colonial events. How does a country or an individual deal with a colonial past? How does a nation process the suffering it has inflicted, dubious political acts or moral bankruptcy? “Spectres” focuses on one of the darkest pages in the colonial history of the Belgian Congo in about 1960 in a documentary thriller, set to the music of Bach’s St. John’s Passion. Augustijnen follows Jacques Brassinne de La Buissière, a French-speaking Belgian who is now 82 years old and who was a high-ranking official when the prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was murdered in 1961. With his delicate psychological portrait, Augustjnen shows how the friction between personal involvement and an objective writing of history, between fact and fiction, truth and conviction, wholly obscures the question of guilt which arises. –A summary review borrowed from

Abderrahmane Sissako, Bamako (2006), 115 min.

In this courtroom drama, which takes place within a mud-walled compound and revolves around an unlikely cast of characters – the plaintiffs are the people of Africa; the defendants, charged with worsening the economic plight of the continent, are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – Abderrahmane Sissako investigates Africa’s social, economic and human crises. An oblique, delicate and sad story also threads its way quietly through the film, concerning a singer named Melé (Aïssa Maïga); her husband, Chaka (Tiécoura Traoré); and their young daughter. While their destinies are linked with the themes under consideration in the trial, these characters are not so much symbols or ciphers as reminders of the almost incomprehensible gulf between the general and the particular. Without engaging the pity of the audience through sad stories or terrible images, Sissako manages to tackle the central question — have the ostensible good intentions of the West, in particular the World Bank and similar institutions, contributed to the impoverishment and demoralization of the continent? — calmly and systematically, with evident passion throughout. –Text by A.O. Scott