Sadly Chantal Akerman passed away this week (5th October 2015), so we wanted to honour her by dedicating this week’s spotlight article to her, to remember the achievements of the Belgian filmmaker and her substantial influence on feminist filmmaking and avant garde cinema.
Chantal Anne Akerman, whose occupations included artist, film director, professor, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer and film editor, was born on 6th June 1950 in Brussels to Polish Jewish parents. Her grandparents and mother were sent to Auschwitz, but it was only her mother who returned. The event that took place even before her birth was to have a profound impact on Ackerman and her personal experiences. Traces of a turbulent past were expressed through her mother’s anxiety and were extremely present in the environment where Akemran was brought up and it was inevitable that this would resurface in her work. In fact her mother’s anxiety is a recurrent theme in the director’s work.
Watching Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1965) at the age of fifteen was a cornerstone event in her decision to become a filmmaker and she always claimed that it was “Godard who gave me the desire for making films”. Though she applied and entered into film school at the age of 18, she left soon after to make her first short, a thirteen minute black and white picture in 35mm, called Saute Ma Ville. With more films to follow, her films often dealt with narratives around women, taking place in real time and contained many elements from her own life. What stood out about her work was the unique way she transmitted her stories to the filmic medium, whether short or long and from the early 70’s onwards she was considered a leading figure in European experimental cinema and feminist film.
In 1972 she moved to New York where she made such distinctive films as Hotel Monterey (1972) and shorts La Chambre 1 (1972) and La Chambre 2 (1972). These films were notable for their influence of structural filmmaking through the use of long takes in these films which served to oscillate images between abstraction and figuration. These influences can be said to come from American experimental filmmakers such as Stan Breakage, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer and Andy Warhol which she often cited as having an impact on her experience of film.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) is her most well known film and considered one of the great feminist films for its real-time study of a middle-aged widow’s stifling routine of domestic chores and prostitution. This hypnotic film was praised by The New York Times upon its release and named “first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema”.
Other notable titles in her filmography include I, You, He, She (1976), News from Home (1976), Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1979), Nuit et jour (1991) and D’est (1993). She continued to make films up until 2015 with her last release, No Home Movie, a video essay about her mother, an Auschwitz survivor which premiered at Locarno Film festival 2015. She will always be a highly regarded filmmaker and it is no doubt that she has left her mark on the film world. She will be missed!