28.05 — 01.06.2023

Fabrizio Terranova Brussels

Isabelle Stengers, Fabriquer de l'espoir au bord du gouffre

cinema — premiere

Cinema Galeries

Stair-climbing (up or down) | French → NL, EN | ⧖ 1h30 | €10 / €7

A mysterious house and a magical forest intermingle on a futuristic movie set. This is where we encounter philosopher Isabelle Stengers, in a place where her visions find their immersive transposition into a world of sensations. Born in Brussels in 1949, Stengers is one of the world's best-known philosophers. From responses to capitalist sorcery to a reflection on our damaged world, through the years she has developed a thought filled with resistance to the established order, and narratives that obstinately recompose common worlds. Always refractory to celebrations, she tells her story here for the very first time, and in a very unexpected way. Everything is disturbed in this fantastic and delirious space inhabited by her, and by cats wandering between ruins and new perspectives. Pushing the boundaries of documentary, and pursuing his research about the necessity to take care of our worlds through a meticulous aesthetic, filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova offers us a joyful portrait of Stengers. After his portrait of Donna Haraway (Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2016), he plunges us into the impressive image of an unsuspected world, where Stengers will share the hope that might flourish on the edge of the abyss.

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Isabelle Stengers, Fabriquer de l’espoir au bord du gouffre

How to film words and thinking? How to bring to the screen the voices we need to hear today? How to film those who embody and narrate these new perspectives?

Isabelle Stengers, Fabriquer de l’espoir au bord du gouffre is Fabrizio Terranova’s fourth film. It follows Absolute Beginners (2018), a medium-length production made in collaboration with six people living with Huntington’s disease, a progressive neurological condition, de-disqualifying them to become experts in their field. It enriches a filmography already inhabited by two powerful portraits of women: Josée Andrei, an Insane Portrait (2010), a film in collage form, devoted to the painter, tarot reader, photographer, and graduate of psychology and modern literature, blind since birth; and Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival (2016), which gave voice to the thinking, laughter, and journey of the American philosopher, primatologist and feminist theorist.

Borrowing its title, Fabriquer de l’espoir au bord du gouffre (Building Hope on the Edge of the Abyss), from an article by Isabelle Stengers specifically dedicated to the work of Donna Haraway, Fabrizio Terranova’s new film is devoted to one of the most important intellectuals of our time. A philosopher of science, trained in chemistry, and a professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Isabelle Stengers has over the years developed a mindful approach to the challenges of the present. Resisting the capitalist organisation of the world, she defends environmentalist thinking, which refuses rationalist extractivism in order to encourage other relationships with the living. A way of thinking that “fleshes-out reality rather than reduces it.” A way of thinking that’s collective, democratic, non-disqualifying, which supports the need to feel and act together, united around new stories and new ways of telling them. “Tell me how you tell it, I’ll tell you what you’re building.”

What kind of cinematographic existence to give to these words and this thinking? That was the formal question that mobilised the filmmaker in his portrait of Donna Haraway. A new film, a new proposal, new answers to the same questions. Meeting Haraway, Terranova had to deal with the philosopher’s demands, in particular that of being filmed in her home, in her kitchen, a situation he would have preferred to avoid. The introduction of disruptive elements during the editing process, instigating an ever-greater disturbance in the real world, had allowed the director to play with the constraints and to invent an original documentary form, in keeping with Haraway’s thinking. As the kitchen became an ocean, an octopus gently undulated behind the philosopher.

For this portrait of Isabelle Stengers, the chosen solution was to craft a space and a situation with a strong sense of artifice, where the backstage is revealed at the opening of the film. Hair, make-up, set: the main performer is treated like an actress, and her words are literally staged. Committed to this joint project, the philosopher and filmmaker worked together to play at making cinema. Flanked by sections of ruined wall, Isabelle Stengers’ workspace is propelled into a hypothetical temporality, where animals and plants have – as if after a catastrophe – regained their rights. Ferns grow among the books. Moss covers the sofa. Stumps, earth and rocks complete the decor, which is populated by a few laid-back cats. The wind blows. Dreamlike compositions by Lawrence Le Doux, responsible for the soundtracks of Terranova’s previous films, complete the construction of this cocoon.

It is through this fictional capsule that Terranova escapes from the documentary. It is from this cinema shack, this figurative zone of natureculture (to borrow a term from Haraway), detached from our space-time yet addressing it directly, that Stengers speaks to us. In Hayako Miyazaki’s film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the young Nausicaä recounts, from her underground laboratory, her desperate attempts to heal a world decimated by industrial civilisation. Stengers talks to us about science fiction, envisaged as a complementary tool to philosophy, which allows us to test the dimensions of possibility that our world does not yet accommodate. A narrative tool, of course, because “how else can we understand other than with stories?” And her words have a history, in which she situates for us some of the stages and figures, and in particular: May ’68 (or Year 01, in Gébé’s comic strip), or the possibility of finally getting in touch with reality, a ‘de-normalised’ reality, rid of an order that no longer has any reason to exist, so as to grasp the real questions; the witches of yesterday and today, survivors of the pyres set up by the inquisitors, resistance fighters and heirs of knowledge; the planetary climate crisis; the young graduates, refusing to participate in the system for which education has prepared them; the collectives of activists, organising themselves to erect Zones to Defend.

How to live in the ruins, on screen but especially in life? How to feel, think and act, when all around us everything we took for granted is collapsing? By accepting to forget our certainties in order to learn collectively, by embracing complexity and doubt here and now, and not on Mars (after having devastated the Earth) or in an above-ground utopia. By composing with Gaia. By building a culture of trust and hope amongst the living. By refraining from routine. By claiming, by hesitating, by speculating. By movement.           

  • Text by Xavier García Bardón
  • Teacher at École de Recherche Graphique (ERG) and Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), programmateur indépendant.

Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Cinema Galeries
Written and directed by: Fabrizio Terranova | Starring: Isabelle Stengers | Featuring: Asia Terranova | Cinematography: Tristan Galand | Sound: Edith Herregods | Film editing: Bruno Tracq | Sound editing: David Vrancken | Production designer: Julian Gomez, Louise Vandervost | Music: Lawrence Le Doux
Production: Wrong Men | Producer: Benoit Roland | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Cinema Galeries, RTBF
With the support of: C.B.A., Cinema and Audiovisual Centre of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, tax shelter of the Belgian federal government, taxshelter.be and ING

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