Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Heddy Evening and Persistence of Vision Award

Fortunate to have a front row seat to the wonderful new film from Heddy Honigmann, filmed in Paris in the famed Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, where notables go to rest for the ages. Proust, Chopin, and yes, Jim Morrison. The portraits of the living -relatives, tourists, caretakers - were central, though, as the life within the graveyard passing through, not staying, were enlivening and Heddy's highly regarded style of being able to enter the souls of people is unsurpassed.

“San Francisco has been a kind of hometown for me and my films,” documentarian Heddy Honigmann said as she accepted the Persistence of Vision Award Tuesday evening. “Receiving this award is like putting a crown on the princess I have been here. Now, I feel like a queen.” The director (whose films are, in her words, “about memory, exile, love—important things in life”), sat for an onstage interview with writer John Anderson (pictured at l. with Heddy in the Kabuki Theater lobby). When he asked the director why she rejects Frederick Wiseman-style objectivity, she replied, “There is a journalist in the Netherlands who says I’m the best interrupter in documentaries. I won’t erase myself from the film because there is a curiosity and a spontaneity and a daring that’s part of the film that I like. I don’t like to be in the frame, but I won’t get out of the film.” She also noted that in order for her to work on a project, she has to have affection for her subjects (or as she calls them, characters). “When a person is in front of the camera, I have to love this person to film it. A producer said to me once, ‘You have to learn to film people you don’t like.’ I asked, ‘Why?’” One can presume that her question was rhetorical.

from and John Anderson:

The Père-Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Paris and the final repository of the famous. Among its occupants are medieval lovers Heloise and Abelard, modernist icons Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein and ’60s rocker Jim Morrison. Through its gates come tourists toting cameras to the burial site of Marcel Proust (though they might never have read him) and who sing at the gravesites of Yves Montand or Edith Piaf . Widows of well-remembered husbands, meanwhile, sweep their late spouses’ gravestones and water the flowers. Into this ripe milieu, Heddy Honigmann—Peruvian-born Dutch documentarian and career-long chronicler of dislocation—brings her unique perspective and boundless curiosity, looking for the key to art and eternity, the allure of a celebrity afterlife, and the solace to be found in a necropolis of stars. In a world of the disenfranchised, Honigmann often has given voice to the dispossessed—immigrant musicians in Paris, war widows in Bosnia, cab drivers in Lima. But like her sensual ode to Brazilian love poetry O Amor Natural (SFIFF 1997), Forever finds that time and memory are the more profound divisions between longing and reality. A young Japanese pianist seems to yearn across the ages at the grave of Frederic Chopin, while elsewhere at Père-Lachaise a middle-aged woman remembers the young husband who lies beneath her feet, dead three months after they wed. Honigmann has made a film of great tenderness as well as profound inquiry. She is never reticent about asking a question; her trademark is getting people to open up in ways that must surprise even them. But she exercises the greatest respect, even awe, for those who walk among the headstones or occupy the more ethereal world of Forever.—John Anderson

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