Remembering Chantal Akerman

Tributes to the pioneering director.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

No Home Movie will play at New York Film Festival
No Home Movie will play at New York Film Festival
Chantal Akerman's death came when she was preparing to attend this year's New York Film Festival to present the US premiere of No Home Movie. This is what she wrote to me on September 9: "I will come at the beginning of October. I don't know yet the exact date. Best. Chantal."

Upon hearing the very sad news, Richard Peña, Director Emeritus, New York Film Festival, filmmakers Catherine Breillat, Atom Egoyan and Fabien Constant, cinematographer Ed Lachman and film curator Delphine Selles-Alvarez sent me their remembrances this morning.

Catherine Breillat writes:

Chantal Akerman: 1950-2015
Chantal Akerman: 1950-2015
"I’m completely K.O. With the news of Chantal's disparition, I was friends with her, not very close, but friends with her and her cinema. When we met together at EGS [European Graduate School], they were very surprised how, far from being antagonistic, we held each other in great respect.

"She will be missed by me. I did not even know that I liked her so much. We are not a lot who stay, in this style. In fact she was more close to me, by her work than it looks like. Sort of sisters of the secular, with Claire Denis and “my” Christine Pascal the closest to me, you even did not know her because she died so early. But she was a great cineaste and sort of twin sister.


Richard Peña writes:

"I'm shocked beyond words. We spoke this summer, after I saw her new film, and she complained that we never got together. I promised her I'd make a date with her when I was in town this fall (I'm teaching at Harvard this year).

"In 1985, I organised the first then-complete retrospective of Chantal's work at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I was the Director of the Film Center. "You make me feel old!" she told me, saying it was much too early for such a programme. Yet by then I truly believed, as do now, that she was one of the most significant filmmakers of the past 50 years.

"I first met Chantal in 1981, at the Rotterdam Film Festival, when all the foreign guests would be lodged on a ferry in the harbor. Chantal and her producer Marilyn Watelet were there with early scenes of what would become Les Annees 80. We spoke a lot about musicals, and spent a lot of time hanging out quite late, as no one could sleep on that rockin' barge.

"After that, our meetings were pretty regular, every year or so at most, at some kind of festival or other event. When I moved to New York, I was able to bring her a few times for a number of programmes, and it was always such a pleasure to see her. Recently, I wrote a letter supporting her visa application so that she could teach at City College.

"No filmmaker I know more embodied the spirit of 'cinema du recherche', treating every film as a new theoretical problem to address. Yet even her most abstract works always had an emotional pull, a feeling that stayed with you long after the ideas expressed in her brilliant manipulation of film form had somehow settled in your consciousness.

"I'll miss her enormously. So will the cinema."

Atom Egoyan writes:

"What a terrible shock. I will never forget the experience of watching Jeanne Dielman and its extraordinary exploration of endurance. That this magnificent artist is no longer with us is quite unthinkable. I was just standing in the middle of her wonderful installation in Venice some weeks ago, and now we are alone with these memories of her work and the influence it has had on our lives and creative process. A great loss. Her work will endure.


Fabien Constant writes:

"I'm not the biggest expert but, for me, Akerman's work was out of every league. In my point of view, if she was a child of the New Wave it was more from the border side of the New Wave, the Jacques Rivette side of it more than any Godard or Truffaut. She was a filmmaker in the proper meaning of the word. She was making movies and no matter the shape or the format: fictions, documentaries, testimonies or art films for museums, she was making films in the sense of adding together images 24 times by second to bring a bit more sense to this world. She was definitely atypical and will be missed in such a Formatted world we're living in today."

Ed Lachman writes

"She’s always been a poet of images and found ways to create a new narrative in storytelling. Her language in images will be missed."

Delphine Selles-Alvarez, film curator French Institute Alliance Française in New York writes:

"Yes she was supposed to come. How tragic! The coincidence is quite something, she had just started to travel with the her new film, a tribute to her mother, someone she deeply cared about and was so close to."

No Home Movie New York Film Festival public screenings: Wednesday, October 7 at 6pm - Walter Reade Theater; Thursday, October 8 at 6.15pm - Howard Gilman Theater

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