In a society where social media means we’re surrounded by first-person accounts of people’s personal lives, it might feel like this perspective has become part of our mundane everyday. But our season, Inner States, features documentaries from around the world that offer not only a deep look inside the filmmaker’s inner life, but tell us something wider about the world.
‘Making films about a personal interior world and being able to express those ideas visually is challenging even if you’re making fiction, but with documentaries it is especially difficult,’ says University of Sussex’s Professor Alisa Lebow, who’s curating the season with our Head of Cinema, Gali Gold. ‘But when it works, that’s real art.
‘These are utterly intimate, personal revelations,’ says Gold, ‘but what makes them meaningful is they say something about the world at the same time as saying something personal.’
Jonathan Caouettes’ film Tarnation (2003) is exemplary of a film that attempts to viscerally render an emotional, psychic state on film, giving viewers a glimpse into a mother’s psychosis through a son’s empathic lens. Another film that considers psychic states is Raed Andoni’s Fix Me (2009) where the Palestinian filmmaker documents his time in therapy as he struggles with the effects of living in a perennial conflict zone.
One of the extraordinary films in the programme is Allah Tantou (1991), in which David Achkar recreates his father’s prison diaries from the time he was incarcerated in Guinea. The fact that it’s a first-person documentary but acted out, is a particularly interesting angle among the films chosen.
The imprisonment of the father is just one of the many interpretations of ‘inner states’ this programme considers. A remarkable short film called, A Season in My Paradise (Shahzaib Naik, 2020), included in the shorts compilation, poetically considers the question of confinement, in this case the oppressive curfew imposed on the people of Kashmir, asking young people from New Delhi to imagine what it must be like to live under harsh military occupation.
Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film takes the notion of ‘inner states’ quite literally, in that this is the first of the famous Iranian director’s films made under house arrest. We begin to understand how much of a film is actually made in the director’s head, as well as what miracles can be made even within the confines of one’s own home.
Elsewhere in the programme, Chantal Akerman’s Là-bas (Down There, 2006) Cezar nominee and the winner of the Grand Prix at Marseille’s International Documentary Festival, is an instance where confinement (in this case voluntary) in an interior space – a rented apartment in Tel Aviv – leads to a deeply moving exploration of interiority reflecting on identity, family ties and our relation to real and symbolic places.
Our programme was due to take place at the Barbican in June, while our cinemas were still closed. We've felt that the films and the mode of filmmaking it champions, together with the introspective gaze, have gained a new urgency in recent months, as we’ve all been experiencing confinement, isolation and often, time and space for reflection.
In its updated version, this programme finds its way into our homes through the recently launched Barbican Cinema On Demand which enables these cinematic gems to overcome social distancing barriers. It also grew to include a handful of shorts from around the world made during lockdown, exploring the many folds of interiority.