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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.

This is a cautionary piece about looming totalitarianism in the world. It's built on a graphic project by Susan Silton in which she reprinted five front pages of the New York Times from the 1930s. Her project points out the disturbing resemblance to present day front pages of the New York Times and other newspapers.

The title of Silton’s work is A potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past [] is from a quote from Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil from 1963, in which she warns that once any event has happened in history, it can happen again. It is a potentiality.

In the opera The Emperor of Atlantis, composed in 1944 by Viktor Ulmann with libretto by Peter Kien, a mad emperor declares universal war against everyone and offends Death, who withdraws from the world. The result is a chaotic world in which the living no longer laugh, the dying no longer die, and life and death have lost their meaning. This daring satire of Hitler was written while Ullmann and Kein were interned in the Nazis’ Terezín ghetto and examines the arrogance of unstoppable power and humanity’s resilience.

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 film starts with 7-1/2 minutes of silent images then 7-1/2 minutes of sound with no image other than film grain. In designing the sound for this piece, I was unable to find any sound that could accompany the images, and in the second part, I couldn’t imagine any images that could accompany the sound. I was “speechless” in every way in the face of this material.


      REDCAT Los Angeles 2022

      FIDMarseille 2020, Marseille, France (Alice Guy Prize Special Mention) (in French)

      2020 La Plata International Independent Film Festival–Festifreak, Buenos Aires, Argentina (in Spanish)

      West Sound Film Festival, Washington, USA

      Alternative Festival of New Film and Video Belgrade, Serbia

      DAIMON International Film Exhibition, Mexico City

      Onion City Film Festival, Chicago

      Bogotá Experimental Film Festival (in Spanish)

      ULTRACinema Film Festival, Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico

      Rencontres Internationales Paris, Louvre 2022

      Rencontres Internationales Berlin, Haus der Kulturen der Welt. 2022

      La Gaya Scienza, Nice, France. 2024

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.

CRITIKAT · Society & Culture Website
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.

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