A Wall is a Screen: A Promenade Film Street Performance
by Koeli Mukherjee Ghose
Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad in collaboration with Tourism, Archaeology and Museum, Government of AP & Chowmahalla Palace hosted “A Wall Is A Screen - a Promenade Film Street Performance” where short films from Germany selected by Sven Schwarz, Kerstin Budde and Peter Stein were screened on walls in the old city of Hyderabad on October 28 and 29, 2010.
Amita Desai, Director, Goethe Zentrum, Hyderabad found the idea of “A Wall is a Screen” in Hyderabad, very interesting. In 2009 a cultural delegation from Hamburg had visited Hyderabad to discuss a number of projects, “A Wall is a Screen” being amongst them. A two member team led by Kerstin Budde and Sven Schwarz went around the city of Hyderabad searching for the walls suited for the screenings --- “From our point of view Hyderabad was the ideal city for the first Indian stop of our project because of the city - landscape which gave us the possibility to screen films in an area which was on one hand very busy but on the other hand left us some space on the streets, something which is quite rare in Indian cities”, mentioned the curators. The curatorial team reflected upon the fact that the relations between Hamburg and Hyderabad are becoming stronger, and that the similarities between them are many. “Not only is the landscape similar, with the lake in the middle of the city, the area code is 040 too”, they pointed out.
The event took place out in the open as invited guests of the Goethe Zentrum from the city centre and passersby from the mosque, women in burqas, returning home from the market gathered. The first two screenings happened on the outer façade of the Khilwat of the Chowmahalla palace, the screening equipments were placed on a pushcart and the three curators were visible in the darkness in their fluorescent jackets. The film cart got pushed across the road and moved on into the lanes of the old city. Alongside the pushcart, loaded with the screening equipments, the crowd now moved wherever the push cart would move to. The situation was somewhat similar to that of the tale of the pied piper of Hamlyn the only difference was the presence of adult followers, who, along with the children, were among the spectators.
Peter Stein, Antje Haubenreisser and Kerstin Budde founded “A Wall is a Screen” in 2003. All three are either engineers or technicians for theatre technique. In 2006, Sven Schwarz, Tom Schlösser, Sabine Horn and Sarah Adam joined the group. They started “A Wall is a Screen” with the idea of using the public space for something other than just shopping. The idea of the event was to screen short films in public while the screening site was swiftly changed for each film. This did away with the idea of being confined to one's seat, as the screening moved from one wall to the other. It also connected different areas, places and cultures by bringing the inhabitants of a city to places they have never visited before. The spaces for living, working and shopping are well segregated in most of the German cities. People gather for the screening in places they have never been to, since these places are normally used for shopping. In Germany, the stores close at 8 o'clock at night, after which inner cities get deserted. The screenings show short films with the primary intention to bring the short film out of the theatre since professional short films are usually shown at festivals, or sometimes before a feature film. And secondly, the show intends to make it possible for more people to view the films so that the short film genre gradually comes to enjoy bigger audience.
Since 2009 -2010 “A Wall is a Screen has conducted more than thirty short film events. The team drove, flew or took the train all over Germany, Texas, the UK, Croatia, Bavaria to Bamburg, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Tangier, Morocco & Stuttgart.
For the creators and the curators of “A wall is a Screen”, their public screenings seemed to be a reasonable answer for the exposition of the growing number of short films available on the Internet to a larger viewership.
“The number of short films is growing steadily; everybody can produce a short film and put it on a web site. Therefore the section for short films makes considerable progress and the curation of programmes channel the huge number of films for viewing” explained Kerstin and Sven. The team mentioned that they are in search of the films throughout the year at festivals, at the Short Film Agency of Hamburg or by using our private contacts. If a film is considered for the film bank of “A wall is a Screen”, the curators seek the filmmaker's consent to include the film in the archive. A nominal fee is offered for each film that is screened, and that too is not paid in advance. “On our website is an entry form for filmmakers, who want to send us their film”, informed Peter, Kerstin and Sven.
The films that were screened were first chosen by language with English subtitles. The main focus was to show a relation between Germany and India, so the first film which was screened at Chowmahalla Palace was about Germany. Although the film was not about well-known German images and sites (Brandenburger Tor, Neuschwanstein, etc.), it depicted things which are typical of a German city: images of old gates, flower buckets, parking lots, flitted past, with the majestic Chowmahalla Palace in the background, The viewers were led to experience a clear contradiction that was created between the images and the surrounding palace. The film also brought into discussion the wide range of buildings and effects we see in our surroundings without realizing the artful architectural part of the urban space.
The second film was also screened at the Chowmahalla Palace; it was a documentary on a moving cinema cart, which was quite popular in India until the beginning of the success of the VCR and DVDs. The amalgamation of the old moving cinema and “A Wall is a Screen” that used the same kind of trolley to screen the films. This set the starting point for the forthcoming screenings and established the similarity between “A Wall is a Screen” and outdoor screening methods from India. The projection from the push cart for films projecting the push cart for films on the screen created the interplay with the reality of the moment and the reality of the image.
Once in Germany, during a screening while the two characters in the film were engaged in a debate over the issue of smoking, a door opened out next to the projection on the wall and a man came out in the open to light a cigarette. Such moments disclose the meeting and departure of reality and cinema.
The third film was screened on a local market square in the middle of the old city, above a pharmacy. The film was shot in an Irish supermarket and is an Irish version of a Bollywood Film that had romance, song and dance. “We chose the film to show a correlation between Europe and India: an Indian style film set in an Irish supermarket and finally screened on an Indian Market”, reflected Kerstin and Sven.
As the pushcart film turned towards the opposite wall for the fourth screening the crowd also took a one eighty degree turn. The viewers were active not only to move from wall to wall, they were also seen to make suggestions in choosing walls for the next screening , but the curatorial trio had already done their homework in selecting and there was an element of surprise waiting at bends and squares for the spectators. The fourth wall was a bit shabby and the film screened on it matched the mood it created on it was shown a clip of animated garbage bins, engaged in dancing. This short animation was all about the unexpected things that keep happening in public spaces.
The fifth screening projected some German habits on the wall of a house: titled as “What Germans Do on a Sunday”. The film showed families cleaning signages on the streets. The voice-over of a girl speaking of Sunday meals and other household chores added another layer to the superimpositions of space and culture.
The next wall was set slightly away in one of the side lanes --- the film was about a bet in Moldova that fascinated the audience in this small alley and showed an absurd situation which provoked a lot of laughter and comments within the audience. People were out on the terrace, watching from their balcony, absolute strangers began to communicate with each other.
At this point the last but one film, “Tyger”, was by far the biggest projection made in this tour; this was screened beside a house which was illuminated to celebrate a wedding. This film created along the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake illuminated the streets. The look of the film resembled the look of the real building next to it; the illumination from the surrounding lamps and from the film created a fine illusion of resemblance and created an environment of reciprocation.
The local cricket ground was the last stop where a film about judging people and their abilities to perform a certain sport was shown with the example of a security guard and a janitor cleaning a basketball field. The film turned out to be inspirational as the janitor deftly made long calculations and delivered a hat-trick at the post. The security guard looked on in amazement at the close circuit television, wherein he saw the janitor achieve his goals. This screening brought the tour of the old city to an end.
An after-note from the curators:
“With a warm feeling and the knowledge, that everything is possible in the world, we said goodbye to our audience. The screening in Hyderabad was very different to other places, because of the usage of the public space in India. We have never before been in an area, where the public space is used so intensively. Even though the public space was for four wheelers to ply, our public art was very well accepted by the passersby, they were even able to stop or slow down the traffic close to our screening sites. Even though India has a tradition of pushcart film entertainment in public spaces, the onlookers asked us about the aim of our screenings. Some of the visitors did not understand why someone just screens films in public - neither for money, nor for advertisement, but just for the sake of engaging with the arts!
Screening in India seems to come along with screening with children. Indeed, it is not screening FOR children, it is a screening WITH them. At the beginning, though a little bit shy still, the steadily growing number of children showed a lot of interest in our work, it was not just the attraction of the films, the children were excited to discover several historical places in the Chowmahalla Palace area, they found the technical equipments absorbing too. We demonstrated several times to show how the whole projection system works. During the show, they wanted to help us to regulate the sound or by pushing the trolley. For us, the most touching moment of the whole tour was after the second screening, when we had already finished and were packing our equipments. A young boy, not older than 12, came up to us and said "it was fantastic, it was fantastic". In his eyes you could see the yearning for the wide world.”
Question: “If your film museum is closed for renovation, what do you do?” Answer: “Ask “A Wall is a Screen” to curate a tour for you!”