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

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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