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. 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].

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

Note: the first 7.5 minutes are silent.


      FIDMarseille 2020, Marseille, France

      2020 La Plata International Independent Film Festival–Festifreak, Buenos Aires, Argentina 

      West Sound Film Festival, Washington, USA

      Alternative Festival of New Film and Video Belgrade, Serbia

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)


CRITIKAT · Society & Culture Website    https://www.critikat.com/panorama/festival/31e-fidmarseille/
A festival under the pandemic by Nepheli Gambade

"We are convinced that a film is a living organism, as fragile as it is powerful." It is with these words that the director of the festival Jean-Pierre Rehm and his team welcomed the 31st edition of FIDMarseille, the first European festival to be held “in real”, that is to say in theaters, since the end of confinement. In a mixed climate, between joy of reunion and diffuse anxiety about the future, this meeting has found its audience, despite the few constraints imposed by the health situation: the duration of the festival was limited to five days instead of seven, the guests were fewer, the ticket office was held online in order to limit contact, the occupancy of the rooms was reduced to ensure distance and, of course, mask wearing was obligatory in all the closed places of the festival. These adjustments, however, did not compromise its success in reviving the collective experience of cinema, an experience that we might have thought, for a moment, could be replaced by the glow of our confined screens.

Faithful to its mission of defending and transmitting a demanding cinema, free from categorizations between documentary, fiction or experimental cinema, the rich programming of the FID presented more than 100 films, coming from 28 different countries. A new competitive section called "Flash" has appeared there, whose name refers, according to the selection committee, to the brief and resplendent character of the films that compose it.

Among the beautiful encounters offered by this new section, we could discover the short film essay by Dana Berman Duff, A POTENTIALITY, whose title is taken from a sentence by Hannah Arendt: "A potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past ”(“ A potentiality, long after its topicality has become something of the past ”). This potentiality, the film tries to reactivate by taking the form of a diptych: in the first part, we look in close-up at fragments of words and sentences, taken from five covers of the New York Times published in 1933 and 1934. Through the framing placing the typographic ink stains and the letters at the same level, special attention is paid to the materiality of the words, which destroys the obvious relationship between signifier and signified. These fragments of burst language that describe Hitler's first steps to power and herald the Holocaust, question us about the deafness of readers of the time and echo strangely with our passivity in the face of current reports, especially on refugees. In the second part, the screen is invaded by a dazzling gray, where the only marks are the scratches on the film. From this strange afterlife emanate the voices of the opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, written and composed by Viktor Ulmann and Peter Kien, shortly before they were assassinated at Auschwitz. The opera's subtitle, "Or the Denial of Death," takes on its heart-wrenching power and clarity in the voices that fill space, a spiritual triumph over the annihilation of bodies.