German avant-garde filmmaker Ute Aurand premiered her film to be here at the New York Film Festival this past Saturday. to be here followed two other portraits by Aurand and films by Shiloh Cinquemani, Robert Beavers and Jim Jennings. It is the third of her series of travel films, which previously featured India and Japan.
“I’ve been to America before, so I approached this differently than my film on Japan,” Aurand said. “It’s more familiar to me, so I made it more individualistic.” Shooting on 16mm film, Aurand captured American landscapes and culture from New England to the Pacific Ocean. Her control of the camera shutter creates a musical rhythm of cuts and frequent changes of aperture give the film a reflective quality, seeming to simulate the blinking of an eye. Technical elements such as these, which are arguably overdone in avant-garde cinema, are tastefully used and supplement the visual beauty of her film. “America is like music to me,” she said. The music in her film is what she heard through her travels, like a neighbor in a hotel room practicing the guitar. Everything from the visuals to the audio are organically American.
The viewer is taken on a journey across America, experiencing New England in the fall and spring in the Southwest. Modern culture that may include malls or industrial buildings is not shown, leaving room for wholesome and welcoming images to represent the country. Fall foliage, women lounging on grass and rustic buildings in Boulder, Colo. remind the viewer of the young age of the country and makes the viewing a passive experience.
Aurand is fascinated with the involvement of women in American history, and includes many archival images in her film. Early in the film she highlights Katherine Lee Bates, the author of the patriotic song “America” with Aurand herself reading the lyrics. I told her that the film in this way personifies America as more feminine than masculine. “It may be because I am a woman making this film, but that was not intentional,” she said.
Aurand uses Mount Holyoke as the capstone to her power-to-women theme. Women’s colleges do not exist in Germany, so she is captivated by their effect on young women in America. Aurand interviewed several Mount Holyoke students, who described the values of a women’s college. Themes such as the meaning of sex on campus and finding one’s voice are accompanied by images of students at Mount Holyoke in the fall. “There is a certain energy on Mount Holyoke that makes me feel welcome and at home,” explained the filmmaker.
The organic spirit of America is explored and well revealed in this non-narrative format. “I wanted to feed others and myself as a filmmaker,” she said. Aurand hopes to bring to be here to screen at Mount Holyoke in the spring.