Home > Editing & life, Editing practices, History/research > Chantal Akerman: Innovator and Influential Director

Chantal Akerman: Innovator and Influential Director

December 7th, 2015

There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history. And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.
Nicola Mazzanti, director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive on Chantal Akerman

Chantal AckermanIt was only after her last breath– suicide due to depression following her mother’s death – and an RIP Facebook posting in October by an editor friend that filmmaker Chantal Akerman entered my awareness. I’m not even sure I could sit through one of her films. Yet the clips that I’ve seen and will show here as well as the articles I’ve read about her call out to me to be real in my creations. I’m setting my gleanings down here to motivate you and honor Akerman.

Born in 1950, She worked in film and video in her native Belgium, New York (where she lived from the late 1960s to early 1970s), and in Paris (where she spent the rest of her life). Here’s an interview that serves as an intro to her and her oeuvre:

Akerman on editing
“I was breathing, and then at one point I understood it was the time to cut. It was my breathing that decided the length of my shots.”

Akerman’s Filmmaking Style
She shot at least one film by placing the camera at her height – short. She routinely locked off her camera and let her subjects – trains, subways, actors etc. – enter and exit and disappear for long seconds before reappearing. Her sparse, deliberate, time taking, non-manipulative, often non-linear style from women’s perspectives calls out to all of us to be upfront, real and authentic.

British writer and film critic Adam Roberts described her camera moves – she often captured dolly shots captured form moving cars – in a long essay. “What is extraordinary about Akerman’s travelling shots is that they do not lead to a reveal [a unlike Hollywood her pans shots] never build to climax, or pay off. The movements are very even, without accent, and do not have the feeling of a movement towards or away from anything.”

Here’s an example from Les rendez-vous d’Anna, a short she shot in 1978.


Akerman’s Story
In 1964 at 14, she saw Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou at 14 and decided to be a filmmaker. Beginning at 18, she directed over 40 innovative films (shorts and features) of various genres (fiction, documentary, thriller, comedy, art gallery, etc.) during her 65 years on the planet.

At 25 in 1975, she shot her first feature, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Considered one of her best films, it’s a drama that lacks drama – a fictionalized account of the deadening, daily life of a single mother a with a TRT of three hours and 45 minutes. Here’s the much-remarked upon scene of the Dielman (played by Delphine Seyrig) simply peels potatoes in one long, two and a half minute scene and take.

Auschwitz, which her parents survived and her grandparents did not, shadowed her life though she didn’t deal with it directly in most of her films. Her last film, No Home Movie (2015), consists of recorded conversations between her and her mother (via Skype and digital camera) and was an attempt (unsuccessful) to get her mother to unburden herself about Auschwitz.

Since WWII ended humanity has endured more torture, terrorism, and genocide. The continued murdering of our fellow humans leaves us beyond words with anger and sadness. Making films is one way to take action and move beyond isolation and defeat. So please, keep breathing. Keep making films. Keep furthering the human race. And perhaps someday the peace and world we imagine will materialize.

Editing & life, Editing practices, History/research

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