Atelier de la pensée | Simone Späni - Mischa Hedinger

[…] Marcy Goldberg’s competent and acrobatic moderation has assured the delivery of intriguing inputs, where the process of filmmaking – from the production and the funding to the shooting and the distribution – crosses the caveats of decolonial anthropology.

Filmexplorer has extended the discussion launched at the “Atelier de la pensée” through a dialogue with two of the protagonists: Mischa Hedinger («African Mirror») and Simone Späni, producer of Kivu Ruhorahoza’s «Europa – “Based on a True Story”» (Cocoon Productions).

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore | Audio/Video: Ruth Baettig


Talk with Simone Späni and Mischa Hedinger at the Solothurner Filmtage 2020

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The “Atelier de la pensée” in Solothurn

One of the novelties introduced by the new director of the Solothurner Filmtage, Anita Hugi, the “Atelier de la pensée” has raised great expectations in me, because I find the theme of the Atelier not only an inspiring but also an urgent one: «Pays étrangers, images étrangères?», «Fremde Länder, fremde Bilder?». A country of documentaries, Switzerland cannot avoid reflecting on its strong filmic relationship with foreign countries. As Mischa Hedinger’s African Mirror has brilliantly shown through the figure of René Gardi, goodwill is far from being a sufficient condition to overcome the many subtle or devious forms of neo-colonialism.

While the expectations were high for the content of the Atelier, I confess that I was somehow scared of its format: three languages and fourteen people facing the public for an hour in the Säulenhalle of the Solothurn Landhaus! However, the Atelier has definitely been more than an intended revival of the passionate discussions of the first editions of the Solothurner Filmtage. Marcy Goldberg’s competent and acrobatic moderation (a huge “brava”, Marcy!) has assured the delivery of intriguing inputs, where the process of filmmaking – from the production and the funding to the shooting and the distribution – crosses the caveats of decolonial anthropology.

The risk of self-censorship

The power and violence of representation still challenges an ethically informed approach to filming the Other, and the ideal of an inclusive and participative collaboration is often haunted by a resisting paternalist attitude, but one should also suspect the plethora of bans that can flourish from the new dogmas of political correctness. The accurate claim against the privileges that “whites” often have in expressing themselves should not turn into guilty self-censorship. More than pointing at (morally) good behaviours, one should always put one’s own expressions and ideas in a self-critical framework. The best alternative to a bad statement is never a non-statement but a doubt that systematically accompanies any statement.

The specificity of cinema and the need for discussion

All of this amounts to a plea in favour of open discourse, of dialogue. How is this possible in cinema? One cannot but be aware that the cinematic form, at least when it uses the cinema theatre, is as emotively powerful as it is necessarily manipulative. That is why, even if the content of a film is openly self-reflective, a cinema film that focuses on the Other (foreign countries) should always be accompanied by a discussion. In this regard, two films that have been announced as opposite poles in approaching the question of filming the Other in Filmexplorer’s newsletter on the Solothurner Filmtage, Heidi Specogna’s Cahier africain and Mischa Hedinger’s African Mirror, should both need the support of a discussion. This is evident with Specogna’s emotional language, that seems to search for shocking images, in a way that risks the assimilation of cinema into immersive journalism; and is natural with Hedinger’s critical discourse. In a way, the “Atelier de la pensée” should be imagined as more than an occasional event, but as regular daily practice in a festival like the Solothurner Filmtage with so many documentary films on foreign countries.

Filmexplorer has extended the discussion launched at the Atelier de la pensée through a dialogue with two of the protagonists: Mischa Hedinger (African Mirror) and Simone Späni, producer of Kivu Ruhorahoza’s Europa – «Based on a True Story» (Cocoon Productions).


Atelier Africa

I don’t know if it is simply chance, but among the films that Filmexplorer has selected at this edition of the Solothurner Filmtage there are six titles that directly concern Africa – six titles that have also constituted the backbone of the discussion of the Atelier de la pensée.

Beside Cahier africain and African Mirror, Aron Yeshitila Gebrehanna’s short film Dagu exploits the resources of a fictional future setting to depict repressive regimes and movements of civil resistance or rebellion, with an intriguing balance between realistic and symbolic elements.

In a way, it is the same theme of Peter Guyer and Thomas Burkhalter’s collaborative documentary on the Ghanaian music scene. Through the collaborative and performative form of the film, Contradict exemplifies the ideal of a sort of transparency, or neutrality, of the “white intervention” in an African country. Even the editing process – often the last moment for the documentarist to impose his/her view on the film – has been the result of a collaborative work. A certain narrative disorientation results, even if the documentary material that is presented is highly informative and exceptionally interesting for the musical and social aspects.

Basile and Jules Koechlin’s Buganda Royal Music Revival seemingly follows a more traditional format than Contradict, as the film project is the output of research on traditional music in the former Buganda Kingdom (now part of Uganda). The music has disappeared, together with the Kingdom that it has glorified, so the performative effects of the “white intervention” are far from being inapparent - but the film concentrates on the difficult search for sources and witnesses of this music and, moreover, on the weak motivation of the new generations that can hardly feel the meaning of this music. The successes and failures of the project are self-documented, thereby revealing a self-critical stance – which finally prevails on the amazing musicological aspects.

The most radical film, at least in terms of perspective on a foreign country, certainly is Europa – «Based on a True Story», by Kivu Ruhorahoza, not because Kivu is a Rwandese filmmaker but because his focus is London and, through London, Europe. He tried to tell an essayistic love story with a film, A Tree Has Fallen, but the difficulties suffered in London due to the British conservative anti-migration agenda finally involve both his characters and himself as filmmaker. The fictional tale expands on parallel documentary images of the rallies in London. Here the political identities are often blurred in a common reduction of language and ideas. An intense and intelligent text is squeezed onto an elusive voice-over layer, the narrative lines of fiction and documentary fragment and compose each other. There are enough of these elements to put us at a certain distance, the distance of an intellectual reception, which echoes the distance of Kivu’s migration back to Rwanda (where he tried to complete the “European” film). In its strengths and weaknesses, Europa – «Based on a True Story» shows an incredible justness, insofar as it expresses the urgency of dialogue through the dismantling power of exclusion and separation.



Atelier de la pensée : «Pays étrangers, images étrangères?», «Fremde Länder, fremde Bilder?» | Solothurner Filmtage 2020
More Info 

Simone Späni, Mischa Hedinger | Interview

Dagu | Short | Aron Yeshitila Gebrehanna | CH 2019 | 19’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2020
More Info and Trailer

Contradict | Film | Peter Guyer, Thomas Burkhalter | CH 2019 | 89’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2020
More Info and Trailer

Buganda Royal Music Festival | Short | Basile Koechlin, Jules Koechlin | CH 2019 | 61’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2020
More Info and Trailer 

Europa – «Based on a True Story» | Film | Kivu Ruhorahoza | CH-UK-RWA 2019 | 93’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2020
More Info and Trailer

First published: February 04, 2020