Editorial: Skip Norman. DFFB and Beyond

This chapter of Rosa Mercedes 03 focuses on Skip Norman’s time at Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB) where he started studying film as one the first-year students in 1966. Apart from directing Riffi (1966), Blues People (1968), Cultural Nationalism (1968), and his thesis film Strange Fruit (1969), Norman was a prolific cinematographer collaborating closely with other students including Helke Sander, Holger Meins, Johannes Beringer, and Harun Farocki.

Based on extensive archival research, Madeleine Bernstorff’s essay “Transnational Learning,” the modified version of an article written for DFFB’s 50th anniversary in 2016, highlights the various transnational aspects of the film school’s early years, continuing into the 1990s and still to this day. Bernstorff uncovers a trajectory of encounters, exchanges, and critical engagement in films by a diversity of students from the Global South (and the Global North), the likes of Sofoklis Adamidis, Mehrangis Montazami, Kampopo Uazuvara Ewald Katjivena, Edna Politi, Gaston Bart-Williams, Carlos Bustamante, Irena Vrkljan, Sema Poyraz, later followed by Raoul Peck, Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Auma Obama, Branwen Okpako, and Khaled Mzehr.

The other contributions to Rosa Mercedes 03/C result from invitations to engage with Skip Norman’s DFFB films. Taking a closer look at Blues People, Strange Fruit, and Cultural Nationalism, curator and writer Greg de Cuir Jr. has an amicable conversation with Michael Gillespie, author of Film Blackness (2016). They talk about Norman’s political and aesthetic concerns and make suggestions to situate him historically: “The history of film. Where does he fit in? How do we reinsert him in his proper place? Whether we’re talking about the history of European film or the history of Black film?”

In her article, Karina Griffith’s starts from the observation that Black femininity is largely missing from Skip Norman’s films. In a closer reading of Strange Fruit, Griffith detects a remarkable photograph of a Black woman in the final short color section of the film. “How can we understand this Black woman in this undulating text about capital, consumerism, and war?” she asks. “Is it a punctuation mark, a new phrase, or a space? We, as spectators, are already versed in the cinematic appearance of the Black Panthers, which include women who bear arms, not their breasts.”

At the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen in 1968, Blues People made a splash. The film wasn’t awarded a prize, but was widely discussed in the media. The Filminformation 58, one in the series of information leaflets published by DFFB, both gives an impression of the conceptual thought behind Skip Norman’s film and gathers quotes from the contemporary news coverage: “It is rare that a film is so dialectically correct.” (Jochen Schmidt)

We would like to thank all the authors and interlocutors for participating in this chapter of Rosa Mercedes and sharing their views on Skip Norman’s work. The “beyond” in this chapter’s title also hints at the characteristic openness of this issue. In the months to come, we hope to expand the scope and add further contributions.

December 2021


Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/C, “Skip Norman: DFFB and Beyond”

Research Team: Madeleine Bernstorff, Elsa de Seynes, Kodwo Eshun, Tom Holert, Brigitta Kuster, Pascal Maslon, Doreen Mende, Volker Pantenburg, Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe

Production: Harun Farocki Institut

Managing Editor: Pascal Maslon

Translation: Ted Fendt (“Transnational Learning”), Colin Shepherd (“Filminformation 58: Blues People”)

Proofreading: Mandi Gomez

Thanks to Skip Norman’s family, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Greg de Cuir Jr., Michael Boyce Gillespie, and Karina Griffith.

We have made every effort to clarify all rights of use with regard to the publication of the images and texts used here. In a few cases, despite intensive research, we have not been able to clarify the rights holders. Please contact the Harun Farocki Institut in case of any legal claims.

Wir haben uns bemüht, alle Nutzungsrechte bezüglich der Veröffentlichung der hier verwendeten Bilder und Texte zu klären. In wenigen Fällen ist es uns trotz intensiver Recherche nicht gelungen, die Rechteinhaber zu klären. Bitte wenden Sie sich bei etwaigen Rechtsansprüchen an das Harun Farocki Institut.


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December 13th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / C

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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