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Letters from IFFR#5: Invisible Abuse

Courtesy of IFFR

Dear Tim,

The festival has come to an end. I’m slowly digesting and unpacking the films I copiously screened in the past five days. How do you feel? This was your first festival. Any screen fatigue? Slightly hungover, perhaps? Or are you one of those people who waltz out of films festivals, fresh as a daisy, fit as a fiddle?

I promised you my thoughts on Mayday and The Year Before the War but I decided to devote my last letter to the winner of the Ammodo Tiger Short Award instead. Bashir Mahmood’s new video, Sunsets, Everyday was commissioned by the In Between Art Film foundation. They are known, among other things, for their work with Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi on the documentary Angela’s Diaries. The recently launched project Mascarilla 19 – Codes of Domestic Violence, involves eight artists and three curators in producing work on gender violence. Mascarilla 19 is the code used by Spanish women to report abuse during lockdown.

Courtesy of IFFR Press

The images of Sunsets, Everyday are accompanied by the few auditory elements that seeped through a thick soundtrack of muffled noises. The furtive and rash lens films items on a small film set. Chairs are set up and there is ripe fruit in a bowl. Several men sit down, with instructions in their hands. Just as you start wondering where it all leads, sudden movements are picked up. The camera cuts to blood stains on the floor, after hovering briefly over the skin and neck of a woman on the floor.

Mahmood repeats this sequence several times, in various ways. Each time, the messy cuts are shorter and partly replaced by images of vases and flower pots. Gender violence is strongly suggested but never actually confirmed. Do the vases, varying in shape and colour, represent the women, soon shattered into pieces? Or do they suggest a home, the space in which the violence takes place?

In the Afterthought video, where IFFR invites filmmakers to discuss their work in a conversation with a writer/curator/researcher, we learn that the filmmaker commissioned a crew in Lahore to film a scene about domestic violence. The instructions are scripted and based on pictures of injuries shared by victims on social media. The images of Sunsets, Everyday are behind-the scene shots, made by two camera operators who were asked to record the 16 hour shooting day.

Courtesy of IFFR

On set, tea is served and bananas eaten covetously. The repeated act of cleaning the blood stains put forward the idea of triviality. Between the tea time and the chores, a woman in beaten. This painful conclusion is strengthened by Mahmood’s method of the double commission. The clash between the resulting distance and the involvement of multiple witnesses hints at the increased invisibility of the women, and the impunity of the crimes committed in times of pandemic chaos.

Though I realise I conclude our correspondence with a heavy topic, these are the type of nuanced, unpredictable films I’m grateful to watch and discuss during a virtual festival. I’d love to know what you made of it.

Warmly,

Inge

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Inge Coolsaet

Film critic and translator from Belgium, currently living on unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, Canada)

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