Letter to Helene Schwarz (DFFB), 1984

Skip Norman

Skip Norman’s contribution to DFFB “volljährig” (DFFB “adult”) is one of the longer and more comprehensive entries in the publication. Apart from a detailed filmography and his answers to the survey, he also sent a letter to Helene Schwarz, the secretary who had been at DFFB since the school’s beginnings and was an important confidante for many of the students.

Dear Frau Schwarz,

I would really love to see you now. It has been nine years since I left Berlin and I miss Berlin and my friends very much. My development has not been at a standstill since then. As you will notice in my Vitae (pp. 5—7) I have been involved in making films. I have also become a Scholar. I received a MA degree in 1979 and a PhD in 1984. My special area of academic and professional concern is ethnography. Ethnography is the study of culture. I will combine my experience in documentary filmmaking with my research skills as a scholar to produce ethnographic films. These films will not only advocate better socio-economic conditions for the subjects of the films but they will throw light on the cultural, social and psychological strengths of the people being documented from their point of view. The ethnographic film extends the concerns of the filmmaker beyond the political-economic into the social-psychological. Of course the ethnographic film is far more complicated than I have outlined here because it is based on the premise of developing a methodology that will minimize the biases and ethnocentric perspectives of the filmmaker. I would love to be invited to teach a course in ethnographic filmmaking and photography, so that your students can learn that filmmaking can go beyond the boundaries of the feature (narrative) film and the documentary (advocacy) film into such areas as Visual anthropology, Visual sociology, and Visual ethnography. Filmmaking skills can be used to record, document and study society. The Visual study of society through the study of culture should be seriously considered as an area of film training for future social scientists, i.e., anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and humanitarians.

I didn’t intend to give a discourse, although brief, on my enthusiasm for bringing film closer to the lives of real people. That is to say, people as they see themselves and not as they are interpreted by film intellectuals.

I intend to send DFFB a copy of my dissertation for the library as soon as it is available. In the meantime, let me extend my heartfelt greetings to you all and reiterate that it would be a pleasure to teach the principles of Visual ethnography and the Visual study of culture. Please give Heinz Rathsack my warmest greetings. One of my doctoral teachers is his friend and international colleague (Robert W. Wagner).

Shoot of <em>Migrant Family</em>, dir.: Homero de la Cruz” /></p>
<p><span class=Shoot of Migrant Family, dir.: Homero de la Cruz

The enclosed picture was taken during the shoot of what will be an important documentary film on Mexican American Migrant farm workers in this country. The Mexican American Migrant farmworkers are the ‘Gastarbeiter’ of America. We are hoping to have the film entered in the 1985 festival program in West Berlin. But that depends on how much money can be generated for the post-production work.

Enclosed you will find my curriculum vitae, a set of answers to your questions (I didn’t answer the questions that implied experience in a German setting), a photograph and a copy of a newsletter that is published by an independent film production Organization in Columbus, Ohio.

Take care and please inform me of the time and place of the twentieth anniversary of class “66”.

Mit sehr herzlichen Grüßen

Skip Norman


Source: DFFB “volljährig”. Absolventen-Info 1984, Redaktion: Malte Ludin, Berlin: dffb 1984, p. 67. Image: ibid.

[Suggested citation: Skip Norman, “Letter to Helene Schwarz,” Rosa Mercedes 03/A (January 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/01/28/letter-to-helene-schwarz-dffb-1984/]

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January 28th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / A

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022

Vasyl Cherepanyn (Visual Culture Research Centre, Kyiv) on Putin’s “World War Z” and the West’s deadly “foot-dragging”, via Project Syndicate: “The main feature of this Western condition is constant belatedness. The West has always been too late, incapable of acting ahead and instead just reacting to what has already happened. As a Ukrainian joke went at the time, ‘While the European Union was taking a decision, Russia took Crimea.’ Then as now, Ukrainians wondered, ‘What is the West’s red line? What will compel the West to act instead of waiting and discussing when to intervene?’”

Barbara Wurm on Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius, killed in Mariupol, via Die Welt: “Kvedaravičius unfolded a whole spectrum of visual anthropology over a decade with only three films [Barzakh, Mariupolis, Parthenon]. It now awaits evaluation and exploration. The time will come. The films themselves make possible an infinite immersion in the matter of the world, between dream and reality, horror and everyday life, facts and phenomenal imagology.”

April 5th, 2022

Statement by #AfricansFromUA on Equal Treatment via e-flux notes: “Non-Ukrainian nationals from the war in Ukraine arriving in Germany have been facing very different terms of treatment—both in different federal states and cities but also within the very same city throughout time and different facilities. While some received so called ‘Fictitious Certificates’ for one year without further procedures others were pressured to submit an asylum application with their finger prints registered and passports seized. Again others were given a so called “Duldung” including the threat of deportation.”

April 5th, 2022
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