There are some the filmmakers who have contributed in the formation, evolution and prominence of the relationship between film and visual anthropology, which encourages all types of cultural dialogue and suggests different ways of looking at the world. Τhe Belgian pioneer director Chantal Akerman, is certainly one of them.
Some of Akerman’s films have a close relation with the notion of ‘diaspora’ and this is one of the reasons that film studies are not the only academic area interested in her work. As Naficy mentions, the filmmakers who have this notion at the epicentre of their interests, or the diasporic filmmakers, like some writers call them, are “figures who work in the interstices of social formations and cinematic practices” (2001 p.10). In his book, the theorist uses the term ‘accented cinema’, and he tries to analyze this particular cinematic practice, which includes the exilic dimension as well as the diasporic. The ‘accent’ for him comes not from the accented speech of the characters, but from the “displacement of the filmmakers and their artisanal production mode” (p.4).
Chantal Akerman was born in Brussels. For a period time she lived in New York and then she moved to Paris. According to her own words, the moment that proved crucial for her decision to become a filmmaker was the year that she saw Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1965), which gave her an unexpected inspiration and led her to the world of the filmmaking. She is famous for her deconstructive style and her observations of identity, sexuality, and politics. Her films have been called the single most important and coherent body of work by a female director.
A seminal film in feminist cinema and an enduring presence in film critics’ “best of” lists is the extraordinary “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”, which Akerman shot when she was only 25 years old. In the film she tries to explore the everyday life of a woman who just stays home, cooks, helps her son with his homework, cleans, takes cares the house and goes to sleep, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day along with the fact that she offers paid sex while her son isn’t around. In this film, the great filmmaker turns the daily thoughts and worries of an ordinary housewife into a study, a cinematic experiment that has been exhaustively analyzed and has still a great influence today.
News from Home came right after her critical success with Jeanne Dielman”. The film is well known as ‘diasporic and epistolary’ documentary and the story is based on letters that her mother sends to her while she was living in New York. The film does not show any of them; we just listen to a voice reading the letters and the viewer is free to assume the identity of the voice as belonging to the mother or to the daughter. While we hear the voice reading the letters, we watch a series of fixed-camera takes of a city, the city of New York and particularly of Manhattan, and of subway cars
News from Home, probably her most influential film in this process of “formation, evolution and prominence of the relationship between film and visual anthropology” is not only a great film but also a characteristic example of how a film can influence many aspects beyond the cinematic world. This year we have the chance to screen it in Athens, wishing only that the occasion was a different one and not her sudden loss that shocked us last October.