Friday, October 1, 2010

Creative Documentaries from Barcelona

As Director of The Catalan Center, I am pleased to welcome Mr. Gerwin Tamsma as guest blogger to open the semester by offering his view of the Master's in Creative Documentaries of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

This semester we are delighted to be offering a series of films produced in the framework of this M.A. program. We are honored to welcome the founder and director of the program, Professor Jordi Balló, for the opening and closing of the series, to frame the mission of the program and discuss the films. In the following article, Mr. Tamsma, who focused on the UPF Masters in a "Signals" section of this year’s IFFR, tells us why these films are important.

Mary Ann Newman

The Master’s in Creative Documentary of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra at the Intersection of Genre and Technology

The films produced in the context of the Creative Documentary MA of Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra are more than ‘just’ the impressive result of years of dedication of some of Spain and Catalonia’s most talented filmmakers. They represent the cutting edge of arguably the most important trends in cinema. This film series offers an overview of this program and its role in these developments.

Much, if not all, of the vitality in contemporary modern cinema in the last twenty years is related to two developments: the rise of digital technology, and the disappearance of fixed borders between fiction and documentary.

Modern recording technologies opened up affordable possibilities for filmmakers to shoot anytime and anywhere, uncovering a wide array of new subjects and aesthetics. This helped to establish a certain type of personal and hybrid filmmaking, one that allows creators to combine documentary research not only with the joy of experiment, the reason of essay, the emotions of social commitment and self-examination, but also with the fantasy of fiction, poetry, and re- enactment.

It is this type of cinema that is proposed, thought, and produced by the Master’s in Creative Documentaries of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Characteristically, the films are full of people and places familiar to the filmmakers: rarely is there a film without mothers, fathers, uncles, neighbors or friends. Though the settings are distinctly Catalan and certainly Spanish, the films are very cosmopolitan – like the city of Barcelona itself, one could say.

These films are almost the exact opposite of the fare we are offered in the multiplexes: they are too caringly and patiently made to become mainstream: too contemplative, too intimate, too obsessed with the passage of time, with finding the right form. And this is why I care for them.

Gerwin Tamsma

International Film Festival Rotterdam

Gerwin Tamsma is responsible for programming the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s feature films from China and Korea, Latin America and - in Europe - Belgium, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, and he also coordinates the ‘Bright Future’ section. Mr. Tamsma is part of the selection committee for the Tiger Awards competition, as well as the committee of the Hubert Bals Fund. He has curated retrospectives as well as special programs for the festival.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Catalonia, Land of Missegetes

In the 5th century, Hecataeus of Miletus described the part of Iberia now known as Catalonia as a land of missegetes: mixed peoples. Catalonia has always been a crossroads and the Catalans have always been travelers.

The Fall program of the Catalan Center highlights and celebrates these to-and-fros of Catalan culture through a focus on scholarly literature and documentary cinema.

American scholarship: Americans here and abroad and Catalans at U.S. universities are producing original works of scholarship in English about Catalan culture. Stephen Jacobson’s Catalonia’s Advocates: Lawyers,Society, and Politics in Barcelona—1759-1900 reads European social history through the resurgence of Catalan law in the 19th century. Hot off the presses, John Ochsendorf’s Guastavino Vaulting traces the development of this remarkable construction technology from its Mediterranean roots to to the Oyster Bar at Rockefeller Center or the 59th Street Bridge. Finally,Professor Sara Nadal will return to NYU to speak on The Invisible Tradition: Avant-Garde Catalan Cinema Under Late Francoism, the first issue of the venerable Hispanic Review to be devoted to Catalan culture, and a new approach to Pere Portabella, Joaquim Jordà,Jacint Esteva, et al.

Film, form, and genre: Professor Jordi Balló, the founder of the M.A. in Creative Documentaries at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, will join us to explain the origins and influence of the program and kick off the semester-long film series. To quote Gerwin Tamsma of the International Film Festival Rotterdam: “The[se films] represent the cutting edge of arguably the most important trends in cinema: […] the rise of digital technology, and the disappearance of fixed borders between fiction and documentary.” The seven films on view in this series do their part to blur these borders; it is a rare opportunity to see them in the U.S.

Catalan Artists See the World: Under this rubric The Catalan Center presents work by Catalan artists on countries other than Catalonia. This fall we are proud to collaborate with the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center on an exhibition of Catalan artist Mireia Sallarès’s work, Las Muertes Chiquitas/ Little Deaths. Her exhibition/film/documentary archive reflects three years of interviews with Mexican women who, invited to talk about orgasm, proceeded to discuss life, death, gender, sexuality, violence, politics, and family. This gripping portrayal of the contemporary life and thought of Mexican women, part of a long, ongoing conversation between Catalonia and Mexico, will be shown at the CSV Center from October 16-28.

Missegetes one and all, please join us on these fascinating journeys!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jewish History of Catalonia: Forcano and Planas

What happens when you cross two under-studied traditions? What happens when experts in Catalan medieval history and in Hebrew philology collaborate on a groundbreaking publication like A History of Jewish Catalonia? When assumptions about medieval Jewish Iberia are shaken up by the legacy of a Jewish population that speaks Catalan and not Ladino?

To judge by the reaction of the audience at the presentation of the book at the Center for Jewish History in NY—on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.—, the combination is rousing, eliciting an outpouring of curiosity, questions, and intellectual excitement.

Authors Sílvia Planas and Manuel Forcano spent about 20 minutes each explaining the organization of their sections of the book (published simultaneously in Catalan, English, and Spanish by the Ajuntament de Girona--the Girona City Government--and Editorial Àmbit). Sílvia Planas, expert in medieval history, and Director of the Nahmanides Institute for Jewish Studies and the Museum of Jewish History, both in Girona, dealt with Ço que hem perdut—“What has been lost”—and Manuel Forcano, Ph.D. in Semitic Philology and Vice-President of the National Council on the Arts of Catalonia, dealt with Ço que li és romast—“What remains.”

The point of view of this first comprehensive history of the medieval Jewish tradition is that “Our past is not ours alone. The geographical space that our culture has occupied over the centuries has been home to diverse peoples with different cultural and religious identities, including, at least during the Middle Ages, the Muslim and the Jewish communities.” The book looks at the daily lives of Jewish women and men, evoking their names, their feasts, their good, and their rituals. It also looks at their role as, cultural transmitters, translators from the Arabic, original thinkers and intellectual go betweens whose works “are the fruit of their lofty speculation and their genius for welding together the very best of Arabo-Muslim culture from Al-Andalus and the culture of the Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula.”

According to Planas and Forcano, the Jews of Catalonia constructed a “soaring intellectual edifice…in spite of the difficulties of a daily life weighed down with religious persecution and social degradation.” The two eloquent authors conveyed this very well, awakening tremendous enthusiasm in the audience.

New Yorkers will have one more opportunity to hear Manuel Forcano speak: On Tuesday, May 4th, he will address the topic "Traces of Esther: The Jewish Presence in Contemporary Catalan Culture." Don't miss it: there are sure to be fascinating discoveries.

6:30 p.m., May 4th, King Juan Carlos Center

53 Washington Square South

For more information, call 212 998 8255