SEE NL #18

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Berlinale feature presentation

Eisenstein in Berlin

Peter Greenaway’s Dutch feature Eisenstein in Guanajuato has been selected for Berlinale competiton. The director tells Geoffrey Macnab of a lifelong fascination for one of cinema’s founding fathers. Peter Greenaway discovered the films of Sergei Eisenstein by accident when he was seventeen in 1959 in an East London cinema. The first film that caught his attention was Strike, made in 1925 when the Russian director was only 27. “When I asked around about this extraordinary film and filmmaker, most people said surely I meant Einstein not Eisenstein,” the British director recalls. “The same mistake occurred frequently. “A crowd of Rotterdam journalists in 1929 rushed to the airport to greet him off a plane from Zurich. Their faces fell in disappointment when this Russian stranger got off the plane. To his credit Eisenstein was always amused at the misidentification – a joke against himself which he was happy to share with Einstein.”

“And a curious use of side-stepping metaphor and associative poetry – all of which I came later to understand as characteristics of montage, cinema of comparison - film by association – an “only-connect”cinema, cinema at long last not a slave of prosaic narrative but hopping and skipping about with serious purpose to run like the human imagination runs, making everything associative till everything past, present and future, old and new, both sides of the wall - like Cubism - is involved and embraced. Amazing!” Greenaway had found his first cinema hero. He has run and rerun the Russian master’s films ever since, consumed everything he could in translation that he wrote and published, and followed all the news about him that seeped out of

Russia in bouts of unexpected liberated knowledge. He has also repeatedly visited his library in Moscow, the sites of his filmmaking in Odessa and St Petersburg, his place of forced exile in Alma Ata in Kazakhstan, his father’s art nouveau architecture in Riga.

‘I’d never seen such serious-purpose earlycinema films before’ Now, Greenaway has made his very own Eisenstein movie, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, which will screen in competition at the Berlinale. The film focuses on the Russian’s years in Mexico and is produced by Amsterdam-based production outfit Submarine. It was supported by the Netherlands Film Fund. Greenaway has long had strong ties with the Dutch industry. He was invited over to the Rotterdam Film Festival by Kees Kasander in the early 1980s - and Kasander went on to become his regular producer. At a time when British broadcasters and public funders turned their back on the British director, the Dutch were always open to his filmmaking and have supported many of his films over the last three decades. The Netherlands Film Fund is a regular backer of his work, which has often had Dutch themes (for example Nightwatching) as well as Dutch cast, crew and locations.

Photo: ©Submarine

Peter Greenaway

The young Greenaway subsequently steeped himself in Eisenstein’s work and that of his Soviet contemporaries. “I had never seen such serious-purpose early-cinema films before – the Americans seemed showy and sentimental, the Germans extravagant and unbelievable, the French too self-regarding and literary,” Greenaway states. “Here in Eisenstein was serious purpose and fast-moving self-conscious cinematic intelligence – no film in American early cinema moved as fast – a great many shots – and surprising violence of action and a fascination for violence itself.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato Director: Peter Greenaway Script: Peter Greenaway Production: Submarine (NL), in co-production with Fu Works (NL), Paloma Negra (MX), Edith Film (FI), Potemkino (BE) Sales: Films Boutique 12

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