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Afterimage: Leonard Retel Helmrich’s Trilogy

April 20, 2013 - April 23, 2013


“Engrossing, poetic and often very funny… uses the lens of a single family to view the tumult of an entire country.”—New York Times

Over the past twelve years and over the course of three remarkable films, the Dutch Indonesian filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich has turned his camera on one working-class Indonesian family, creating a chronicle of everyday life that spans both the personal and the political, the intimate and the communal. The films—Eye of the Day (2001), Shape of the Moon (2004), and Position Among the Stars (2010)—have won prizes from Sundance to Amsterdam’s prestigious International Documentary Film Festival for their insight into not only family dramas—gambling addictions, parent-child conflicts, money problems—but global issues such as economic inequality, religious conflict, and the rise of modernity in traditional societies.

While drawing upon the rich traditions of Dutch documentary masters like Johan van der Keuken, Helmrich’s approach is entirely his own, especially in regard to his visual aesthetic, a balletic, ever-moving, and constantly surprising method that has earned him praise as “the master of impossible camera angles” from the New York Times, and which he terms “single shot cinema.” “The rules are a bit different than the ordinary way of filming,” he noted in a Hammer to Nail interview, “so you don’t think in shots anymore, but you think in camera movements, so also when you edit you edit from movement into movement, and that makes the whole scene much more fluid.” Taking advantage of new technology and compact camera sizes, Helmrich updates the intimate, questioning traditions of van der Keuken and cinema verité. “Nowadays, with these small cameras, you can move inside an event and go with your camera to the right spot, at the right moment,” Helmrich stated in a New York Times profile. “That’s what the whole single-shot cinema is about: trying to think of the world as a kind of clockwork, a machinery, with everything interrelated. The bigger and smaller things are just as important.”

Please join us for a weekend with this modern documentary master, whose trilogy of one family, one city, one nation, and one world turns both “bigger and smaller things” into works of art. Helmrich will be joined in conversation by Daniel L. Miller, professor of documentary film and civil and human rights studies at the University of Oregon, and founder of the Oregon Documentary Project. He has a book in progress on the history of documentary films about war, conflict, reconciliation, and human rights.

Jason Sanders

Saturday, April 20, 2013
5:30 p.m. Position Among the Stars
Leonard Retel Helmrich (The Netherlands/Indonesia, 2010). Leonard Retel Helmrich and Daniel L. Miller in Conversation. Three generations of a Jakarta family face an uneasy present and an uncertain future in this riveting documentary on globalization, religion, and family aspirations in contemporary Southeast Asia. (111 mins)

Sunday, April 21, 2013
5:15 p.m. Eye of the Day
Leonard Retel Helmrich (The Netherlands/Indonesia, 2001). Archival print! Leonard Retel Helmrich and Daniel L. Miller in Conversation. The fall of longtime ruler Suharto left Indonesia in turmoil; this remarkable documentary follows the changes through the eyes of an “ordinary” Jakarta family. Visionary, complex camera techniques add to this riveting film. (94 mins)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
7:00 p.m. Shape of the Moon
Leonard Retel Helmrich (The Netherlands/ Indonesia, 2004). Archival print! Leonard Retel Helmrich in person. Winner of Sundance's 2004 World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize, Shape of the Moon follows one Indonesian family navigating their country's myriad partitions: between urban and rural, Muslim and Christian, old world and new. (92 mins)

Series organized by Film Curator Kathy Geritz. Afterimage: Filmmakers and Critics in Conversation is made possible by generous funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association® and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.