Skip, Take a Picture, Record It!

Helke Sander

I met Skip Norman in film school. We were both in the dffb’s very first class in 1966. Right away, he was camera assistant on my first two films, on Silvo (1966) and also on Subjektitüde (1966–67). So we had already shot together in 1966 because we all helped each other out. That’s how the training was at the time.

The first thing I remember is the experience that made it onto the cover of Frauen und Film issue 5. It was 1975. The Federal Constitutional Court had overturned the law permitting an abortion within the first three months of pregnancy.1 There was a demonstration at the Gedächtniskirche where flyers were being handed out on whose masthead stood Alexandra Kollontai, Frauenstraße 1 in Kreuzberg. I was there filming with one of the first video cameras, which I had borrowed from Michael Geißler. But I had already put it away because the protest was not particularly interesting. But then the fire department came because the demonstrators threw a bucket of red paint on the steps of the Gedächtniskirche. A fire fighter dipped his forefinger in the red paint, which was still wet, and sniffed it. I don’t know if he tasted it too. I ran to the car and grabbed my equipment again. A lot of people were watching who were kind of there for the thrill. One of the firemen—meanwhile, the police had also arrived—wiped up the paint, which had spread out a little bit more. It was all rather strange. There were flyers lying everywhere. In any case, the police came over to me and arrested me, as the leader. Just then, I saw Skip watching from the crowd. I shouted: “Skip, take a picture, record it!” Because he always had a few still cameras hanging around his neck. He did that and then they arrested him right away too. We were only able to talk for about two minutes. He said he had just come from America and gotten off at Bahnhof Zoo and took a walk around the block to get used to the place and then stuck around this crowd of people. It was already a very unusual situation, I had not seen him in several years. We were both taken to the police station behind Bahnhof Zoo and were locked up in different cells there. It took insanely long, a few hours, before I could call a lawyer. But the people standing around at the Gedächtniskirche who had witnessed everything had gotten upset that we were arrested and immediately organized a demonstration to the police station. This was initiated by a CDU party member. Later on, the lawyer Nikola Becker got us released. The whole story went on and on because the unions got involved and it led to a small inquiry in the Bundestag from FDP party members Gerhart Baum and Burkhard Hirsch. In the end, the trial turned out like this: Because I was not a regular employee at the SFB or another radio station or newspaper, but freelance, it meant I was filming as a hobby and the police therefore had the right to confiscate the tapes. I never got the half-inch videotapes back.

Skip Norman had already left before the trial started. The trial was against—in alphabetical order—Alexandra Kollontai, who they spent a long time looking for. Then the lawyer Schily pointed out to them that she had been buried for this or that many years at the Kremlin Wall. The whole thing fell to pieces because everything on the flyer was fake. On the masthead was Frauenstraße 1 in Kreuzberg, where Alexandra Kollontai supposedly lived, but that didn’t exist either.

I had a similar formative experience with Skip. It was in 1967 during the Six Days War. Enzio Edschmid, Skip and I were sitting in the café near the film school on Theodor-Heuss-Platz. We were discussing Israel and the war and all kinds of other things. Then Skip suddenly said that we shouldn’t say “Nxxxx”2 anymore. It would be considered discriminatory. Enzio and I objected: “Why not?” We didn’t use the discriminatory nxxxx. Skip said that the Black Panthers now want to enforce that we say “Schwarz” (black) instead. We were grumbling a bit. But since Skip was our friend, we promised him we would only call him and others “Schwarze” if it ever became necessary at all.

In my film Brecht die Macht der Manipulateure (1968), Skip reads a long, off-screen text by Frantz Fanon, from the cameraman’s position. I found it was a little too long but also thought that he should really have his say. He was adamant the passage be included.

He was very cooperative. We could always talk about everything. It was a sign of the times that we discussed a tremendous amount and you were allowed to have different opinions. And we got closer that way.

I especially like Skip’s short 16mm film with the white screen: Cultural Nationalism (1969). He made it for the Black Panthers. They wanted a political film from him, and in my opinion, it really is one. However, an important Black Panther Group in Copenhagen didn’t know what to make of it, they had something entirely different in mind. More militant. Not a dot—which could also be mistaken for a somewhat damaged screen—that grows bigger and bigger over ten minutes until it can be recognized as a black kid in the snow, looking at the camera and walking by. It’s my favorite film of his. I’m also very fond of the camera movements in his very first film with the couple: Riffi (1966).

From a conversation with Madeleine Bernstorff, March 16, 2021

 

Helke Sander studied at dffb together with Skip Norman. She joined the Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund (Socialist German Students, SDS) in 1967, and in 1968 co-founded “Action Council for Women’s Liberation.” Sander initiated the movement for anti-authoritarian children’s nurseries, the “First International Women’s Film Meeting” (1973) with Claudia von Alemann, as well as the film magazine Frauen und Film (1974). Her groundbreaking film The All-Round Reduced Personality – Redupers was shot in 1977. She was a professor for Film at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg and is an author alongside her filmmaking work.

Translated by Ted Fendt. German version available as a PDF.

Footnotes

1 Editor’s note: Also called Fristenlösung: in 1974, following a bill proposed by the SPD and FDP concerning abortion, the Bundestag voted for the model of a so-called Fristenlösung allowing an abortion to be approved within the first three months of a pregnancy. Federal states where the CDU and CSU held office brought a lawsuit to the supreme court intended to declare the Fristenlösung unconstitutional. In 1975, the court voted in favor of this opinion. 1

2 Editor’s note: Helke Sander prefers that the N-word is written out. She has nevertheless agreed to this published version. 2

Image: Frauen und Film 5, 1974 © Brigitte Tast

[Suggested citation: Helke Sander, “Skip, Take a Picture, Record It!” Rosa Mercedes 03/B (April 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/04/30/skip-take-a-picture/]

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April 30th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

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
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