CORRESPONDANCES






08
Letter
ANDRÈ ELIAS MAZAWI
April 15th 2020
Vancouver, BC, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 7:51PM
& January 28, 2021, 8:45AM
Dear Kamal,

Thank you ever so much for your kindness, generosity and engagement for providing us with the opportunity to watch your yet to be launched film, An Unusual Summer.

“Life must be disrupted in order to be revealed” — announces the film’s text. What starts as an arbitrary set of scenes, shot by a surveillance camera, ends up emerging into a profound tribute to life, time, memory, love, and destitution. Ultimately, An Unusual Summer offers a tribute to the search of meaning to life’s often mundane events, events that we would have otherwise discarded, or deemed meaningless. Small events matter. They contain the emerging meanings of life, their fleeting nature, like a litany of small things that make the big picture clearer, sharper, deeper, and more complex.

Watching An Unusual Summer I found myself wondering what could a surveillance camera reveal. And yet, there’s much more to surveillance than finding offenses and who did what. What emerges are aspects of community life, snippets of memory and fleeting moments of being, each carrying its own histories of time and revelation. The scenes introduce viewers to the vulnerable circularity of life, beyond its presumptions, its claims to power, put simply: in its mundanity. Scenes capture the daily behaviours, the apparently insignificant actions which are catapulted to centre stage in pursuit of a resolution of a hidden actor. In many ways, An Unusual Summer pays tribute to these moments — freezing time in its shadows, and reclaiming stories which would have otherwise dissipated, like steam in the air, leaving very little, if any, signs behind.

As viewers move through the scenes, they familiarize themselves with characters and plots, in which individuals who probably never thought of acting turn into actors despite themselves. Characters who may have been just passing through that segment of space suddenly assume centre stage,  a theatrical space of being. In making sense of these sequences, viewers find themselves connecting dots, feeling the suspense, if not the drama, making speculations about what next, who broke that car window. Converging and diverging stories intersect, complement each other. Some stories come into fruition; stories of one line. Others are more complex; others still remain enigmatic, baffling. Not every thing has a purpose. For things to exist, no apparent reason is needed.

I need to think through what I have just experienced by watching An Unusual Summer. Three aspects stand out for me:

First, the fixed camera: it brackets space, time and movement, a feature which is embedded in the functional technicalities of a surveillance camera. A surveillance camera’s relation to space – both in its geographic and temporal manifestations are intriguing. In relation to a given space, within a given time, surveillance cameras offer a total – if not totalizing – view, reminiscent of Bentham’s Panopticon. Yet, it is precisely that feature that turns a banal camera — so frequently used these days — into a powerful tool that reveals more than just surveillance. It allows a zooming in on those fleeting moments where not just stories — but also the individuals who enact them — are revealed in their most intimate and vulnerable aspects of their life and being. Secondly, the processing of the surveillance camera’s footage is intriguing and revealing, both in terms of concept and in terms of techniques used. The “surveillance” footage has been worked out by the filmmaker, transformed. Certain scenes were cut out while others were re-arranged; music and sound over image added; temporalities inverted. Inserted texts infuse into what started as banal scenes the aura of historically situated personal and collective narratives. Emerging into a narrative, the film – as distinct from the “surveillance” footage – is organised around nested stories; stories within stories within stories. Each story reveals a part and contrasts with others until these sequences reach the big stories, the Stories of life, being, love, dispossession, the space’s own transformations, and loss through the story of the fig tree, Kamal’s parents meeting and getting married, childhood memories, refugeedom and dispersion. The result represents simply a tour de force. A final crescendo – similar to Maurice Ravel’s one movement orchestral piece, Boléro (1928) - An Unusual Summer captures through its iterative and accumulating one movement sequences, the big drama that underpins apparently insignificant and plotless acts and scenes, gradually educating our sense perceptions to see and understand life in novel ways.

Thirdly, in as much as the protagonists in the film did not intend to be “actors”, and many may not have been aware of their role as such, the same goes for the filmmaker — Kamal’s late Father, Abedeljalil. At the time of installing and activating the camera he may not have thought about himself as a filmmaker. Nor did he think the footage may one day be useful for any subsequent production, perhaps at most as “evidence” of something. This goes to show that intentionality and filmmaking can be two separate phenomena, situated apart by a time-gap until a third agent intervenes and reframes what appears to be arbitrary footage. It is from within this gap - between the primary intention of Abdeljalil, and his son Kamal’s intentionality - that An Unusual Summer emerges as a vivid testimony to life’s vicissitudes, vulnerabilities, yet also redemptive outlook.

May An Unusual Summer stand as a tribute to the memory of  Abdeljalil Aljafari, a time-lapsed collaboration between father and son, and a redemptive one at that.

        André Elias Mazawi


07
Film Festival - Video Essay
L’EXTRAIT DE LA SEMAINE N° 19: PORT OF MEMORY (KAMAL ALJAFARI, 2010)
August 17th 2020
L’extrait de la semaine est une série présentée par Zoom Out (zoom-out.ca). Elle invite des amis du cinéma à produire un court texte qui évoque un moment favori de leur histoire personnelle du cinéma.

︎︎︎L’extrait de la semaine, Zoom-Out

TECHINCAL INFO
Texte                 Nour Ouayda
Montage           Olivier Godin
Voix                   Rose-Maïté Erkoreka
Durée                2’29’’
Licence             Creative Commons (CC) BY-NC-ND

Collaborators    Nour Ouayda, Olivier Godin
Series:               L’extrait de la semaine
Category           Audiovisual Essay
Country             Lebanon
Language          French, Other
Date                  2020/8/17

06
Letters, Woche Der Kritik
AN UNUSUAL SUMMER
February 2nd 2021
Dear Kamal,

I am happy that Nic asked me to write to you about An Unusual Summer. I have seen many films in 2020, but few have seemed to move cinema forward like yours. I will take a risk and tell you a few things I felt watching it. Did I understand you correctly? I cannot know, of course. But I am very curious to read your thoughts.

First let me speak about my experience of time in your film. In your very first shot we see your father getting into his car and driving away. But it is in reverse. We hear the voice of a little girl (later we will learn she is your niece) saying, “This happened a long, long, time ago.” This intro prompted me to pay attention to time. And, as the film continued, I in fact felt that I was moving through different periods of time. There is the summer of 2006; the present; your childhood; and there is even 1948 (which I thought of, for the first time, when your home cast its unfinished shadow on the street). It was not only the movement between different periods of time, that I found special, but also how time flows in the film. Sometimes it flows fast, sometimes it flows backward, and often it will slow down to allow us to look at the details. Did you want us to pay attention to time in these ways? What role did time play for you?

The richness of time was accompanied by the multitude of voices that are telling me this story. And again, as with the flow of time, I was taken with how you created many different voices with such modest cinematic means. There is your (unheard) voice and the (heard) voice of your niece, but reading the intertitles and connecting them to the images, I felt I was hearing many other voices—voices from the family and from the neighborhood. Was this your intention? Can you tell me more about the voices?

As the film progressed, I also began to hear my own voice, and it actually amused me. I became suspicious of everyone, and everything that happens on the street corner. I heard myself asking, “Why would somebody’s grandson lean on a car which is being repeatedly vandalized?”; “What reason does a boy have to look under a car, especially if he later throws a stone?” Or “Why would a red car suddenly park in your mother’s parking spot? Nothing is a coincidence!” I hope I didn’t miss your intention there…

On a different emotion, I was very moved that, by finding the box of old videotapes, you actually found an object that captures your late father’s point of view of the summer of 2006. The film mentions some other things that happened in that summer: the war, your sister being courted, a shooting in the neighborhood. Can you share anything about the story of finding this object and understanding its significance?

There are many other things I am wondering about. For now, I will mention only one more—it is the ending. In the ending of this film both the story and its cinema are being deconstructed. Everything that was under the surface is surfacing as the image is deteriorating and disrupted. “Life has to be disrupted so it can be revealed.” Can you say something about your decision to deconstruct this beautiful machinery that you created right in front of our eyes?

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz

Palermo, February 24th 2021
Dear Ra’anan,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the questions evoked by the film. I hope I will be able to answer you.

Finding the material was like finding a treasure—everything was there, existing and waiting. I started watching not like a filmmaker, but like the son, who decided many years ago to leave the country he was born in. The material allowed me to share in the daily life with my family, live again in the neighborhood where I was born, not just for any one time but for every time. The camera brought together everything I knew, and I missed all the emotions, all the history, it didn’t distinguish between people, everything which exists existed, and it existed equally. Only a camera can do that. There was no good and bad take.

My father knew where to position the camera; in order to catch the culprit, the man who threw the stone and made it possible for this film to exist.

I followed what my father did. Fast-forwarding, rewinding, stopping, slowing down the image and looking for traces. Slowly the film started to take shape, time didn’t matter, the single angle somehow eliminated time as we know it in cinema, this wasn’t made for a film, it was made for life. Everything and every time existed. The shadow of the house, which could only exist because the second floor is unfinished (since 1948) and the windows are not windows but frames, the shadow is only the shadow of the second floor left uninhabited until today with no roof, and not the shadow of the entire house.

It is the shadow of the catastrophe.

I doubled the shadow, putting a shadow upon shadow.

It felt natural to me to make my father go backwards, I wished it was possible to go back in time. But for the little girl, my niece—“it was a long, long time ago,” she wasn’t even born when the footage was made. For her the notion of time as we adults know it doesn’t exist. What is the meaning of yesterday and tomorrow for a child? Everything she said was poetry, and I treated it as such.

The material was silent, I basically did with sound what my father did with the camera. For my recordings I placed the mic where the camera was placed. I wanted to capture all sounds, just as the camera captured all images. The intertitles originated from the diary I took while watching the material, resulting in many pages in which I took notes of almost everything happening and not happening in front of the camera, emotions and memories they evoked in me. Unlike in films, narratives are endless in life, and there is nothing as endless and mysterious as sound. I recorded myself coughing, and I knew it will sound like my father’s cough. When I watch the film now I believe it is his voice.

In front of the camera everything was a coincidence and an incidence. Such a single, non-moving camera makes you wonder, makes you take an active part in creating your narrative, and other narratives—perhaps this is the sole role of this film, to make coincidence and incidence one, to make you interested in all the things and people who pass by and we don’t notice. But as I wrote in the film: “not everything has a purpose”!

My sister told me about the material, but then she was surprised that I wanted to make a film with it. I carried this material with me for many years before deciding to make a film with it. Then the time came to pay a tribute to my father. A man who worked all his life to give us a better life.

It was quite odd to figure out that the material was made exactly in the month of July 2006, during the war. I don’t mention what war, for me there is a continuous war, but also continuous grace if we contemplate life as the camera does, and as this film does (I hope).

I wrote the text for the end credits when I started editing the film, this is one story I knew, one story among many other stories, each passerby has a story, each living soul and everything has a story. I don’t care as much about cinema as I care about what I wish to express: deconstructed, deteriorated, disrupted. Only then I think we can make beautiful cinema.

Kamal Aljafari



05
FestiFreak Film Festival 
¿QUIÉN ARROJÓ LA PIEDRA?
2020

SINOPSIS

Melisa Liebenthal, Sofía Mele (2020, 4’)

Un ensayo audiovisual sobre An Unusual Summer de Kamal Aljafari (Palestina, Alemania, 2020)

An Unusual Summer de Kamal Aljafari es una película hecha exclusivamente a partir de los registros de una cámara de seguridad ubicada en el barrio árabe de Ramla (también conocido como “el Ghetto”), Israel, durante el verano de 2006. Una cámara de vigilancia está dotada de inteligencia artificial y sirve tanto para prevenir delitos como para identificar culpables. La imagen de una persona queda registrada y si la reconocen la atrapan. ¿Pero cómo la reconocen? ¿Por la cara? ¿Por la forma de caminar? ¿Por la ropa? ¿Por el pelo? Toda la responsabilidad recae sobre la imagen, ¿pero se puede confiar en ella?

︎︎︎Melisa Liebenthal and Sofía Mele, FestiFreak Film Festival

04
MnArtists, Walker Art Center
The Silent Chorus of Limestone: Non-human Witnesses to Intimacy, Creation, and Destruction in Settler Colonialism
October 04th 2020
Interdisciplinary artist Lamia Abukhadra delivers a meditation on settler colonial violence that cuts between multiple perspectives—giving voice to limestone “witness stones” as a temporary archive, material witness, and intimate participant in the creation and destruction of Palestinian life.

Read the full writing here: ︎︎︎The Silent Chorus of Limestone: Non-human Witnesses to Intimacy, Creation, and Destruction in Settler Colonialism

︎︎︎Lamia Abukhadra
︎︎︎The Silent Chorus of Limestone – Mn Artists

03
69° Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
IT’S A LONG WAY FROM AMPHIOXUS, POSTER
2019
Poster designed for Kamal Aljafari in occasion of the presentation of his It’s a Long Way From Amphioxus at the 69° Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, Forum Expanded.

︎︎︎It’s a Long Way From Amphioxus, Forum Expanded – Berlinale

02
MFA STUDIO ARTS –– Concordia University
RECOLLECTION, POSTER
January 28th 2016
“Kamal Aljafari is the chronicler of the inchronicable, visionary of the faded out.  Somewhere between the early Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (“Un Chien Andalou”) and the late Mani Kaul’s entire magnificent oeuvre, in his new film, “Recollection,” Kamal Aljafari has tapped on a disquieting vision of the ruins and debris in material and memorial, pushing as he does his previous work forward by leaps and bounds. The significance of this work is manifold, achieving two contradictory tasks in particular:  dismounting the omniscient camera and staging the relic.  By allowing the memory to stage and announce itself, an enduring philosophical task made essential as early as in Walter Benjamin’s prophetic turn to relics and ruins in his theory of allegory, Aljafari wonders: who is watching, who is watching the watcher, and by what authority:  The damning question:  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?:  is here staged with astonishing confidence and ease, with the threadbare power of a visionary artist taking the instrumentality of his own art to task. The result is uncanny: You feel you have been there: but where, when, how, and now what?” 
––    Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University, New York

︎︎︎MFA Studio Arts, Concordia University
︎︎︎Conversations in Contemporary Art

01
Cinema Project, Portland
DISTANT INTERIORS, POSTER
June 15th and 16th 2010
Cinema Project's Pan Asian series of visiting artists is rounded out this season with Palestinian-born independent filmmaker Kamal Aljafari. Through his witty, restrained, and personal documentary style, Aljafari examines varying definitions of home and place in the Middle East. In pieces like The Roof and Port of Memory the focus is primarily on the veritable ghost-town of Jaffa that in pre-1948 Palestine was a thriving urban and economic port-city. These works demonstrate Aljafari's thoughtful but not overly formal compositions of half-inhabited houses and damaged neighborhoods, which reveal the strained co-existence of past and present and the complicated layers of history that help construct (physically and psychologically) such places. Curator Jean-Pierre Rehm has called The Roof "as much a stylistic as a political manifesto." With an approach recalling the suspended action of other international cineastes like Taiwanese Tsai-Ming Liang, Aljafari brings something less mysterious but more palpable to his coded landscapes and personal portraits.

︎︎︎Distant Interiors, Cinema Project

Kamal Aljafari
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