A POTENTIALITY (2020, digital, 16mm film, 16 minutes)

Winner of the Alice Guy Prize Special Mention at FID Marseille 2020. Notes from the Jury: A film which meticulously reflects upon the materiality of time following specific histories. While focusing on details, the images prevent us from accessing the whole. This gesture reflects the subject where voice has been violently stripped from the people, left silenced. The Special Mention for Prix Alice Guy goes to “A POTENTIALITY” by Dana Berman Duff.

A POTENTIALITY is a continuation of my interest in using film to shoot printed material, as in the Catalogue series. I'm especially interested in the equivalence of the film grain to the halftone print dot at the base level of the construction of reproduced image and language.

This piece is built on a graphic project by Susan Silton in which she reprinted five pages of the New York Times from the 1930s. Her project has a disturbing resemblance to present day newspaper reports.

Opera "The Emperor of Atlantis" composed in 1944 by Viktor Ulmann, libretto by Peter Kien.


The actual title of Silton’s work is A potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past which is from a quote from Hannah Arendt:[https://www.susansilton.com/a-potentiality].

Program notes from FID Marseille 2020

What does it mean to decipher History in the making? Here is the “potentiality” at stake in Dana Berman Duff’s film, developed in two movements. First movement: words, framed in extreme close-up shots, cut out from what appears to be a newspaper page, as can be guessed from the greyish, see-through paper and the black ink of the printed letters. Words read in silence, traces of the rumble of international news. The work of artist Susan Silton, a collection of five front pages of the New York Times published in 1933 and 1934, raises a question: how is it possible to miss the blindingly obvious, how can one unravel what is really going on? Extract from the news, from their thunder and background noise, what is there, waiting to be read—the readable clues, like so many omens. Second movement: how can one testify, bear witness for the witness, as Celan says? When they were prisoners at Theresienstadt concentration camp, now known as a showcase and an instrument of propaganda meant to hide the reality of extermination, musician Viktor Ullmann and librettist Peter Kien, who were later killed in Auschwitz, composed an opera in 1943-44: Der Kaiser von Atlantis. This opera with a terribly lucid subtitle: oder Die Tod-Verweigerung, or Death’s refusal, was not to be performed until 1975. The singing here, from a 1994 version, reaches us from a grey screen, without images, as if hollowed out to be better engulfed in the power of voices coming out of invisible bodies, conjuring up their absence as well as their persistence.

Fragments of almost unreadable sentences, where everything was yet so obvious, connected in their silence to a voice whose source was voluntarily annihilated. And out of this connection rises what refuses to disappear: a latency, a buried power, as shown in the title, borrowed from Hannah Arendt. (Nicolas Féodoroff)