Gramsci’s Notebooks

The official spot of the 24th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival. Director: Mike Hoolboom

My friend Francesca says that taking pictures is as important as water rights or a homeland for the Palestinians. She talks about a new contract that would stop anyone from making a picture until you’ve been there six months. I guess it would stop the news from looking like it was made by tourists.

How would the world appear if every face and street corner was also a picture of home?

I want to follow her advice, but not before making one last trip. I guess I’m not quite ready for utopia.

Sometimes you have to travel around the world in order to see where you are. I haven’t been able to get out of bed in weeks, paralyzed with depression. Perhaps it was time to visit my dead Italian friend to look for answers.

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It turns out the great Italian writer Antonio Gramsci was also a jogger. He even wrote a book about it, though most prefer his prison notebooks. He said, “I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void."

Gramsci was often asked what he thought about as he ran. He wrote, “Usually the people who ask have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? To be honest, I don't have a clue."

Scene 1: Faces

Gramsci asks us to look closely into every face. What he is looking for is fear because fear is the beginning of a culture. Every self doubt and hate crime, the name of every country, wherever there is a boss or king, or a voice raised against a different race, gender or species, it all begins with here, in the place where fear lives. 

The face is the primal scene of the class struggle. Perhaps by dedicating ourselves to the close-up, we might find the beginnings of a new society.

Scene 2: Ghost 

Because Gramsci’s spine was crooked he was hunchbacked and grew to a height of only five feet. He became a journalist and then an organizer for workers. He saw that the ruling class no longer needed guns, the media would do that for them. Common sense, it seems, was the sharpest weapon of all. He started the Communist party in Italy, knowing we would need different kinds of relationships.

Scene 3: Sunset

I need your love so badly, I love you so madly

But I don't stand a ghost of a chance with you

Scene 4: Blinds

The end of my old life began with a single, tiny mistake: my partner, making a left-hand turn, forgot to signal. The car accident… My partner got a concussion that left him needing constant care. I maxed myself out – physically, emotionally, financially. When my partner recovered, he left.

I became homeless for a short time, and then turned into a dog. How did Gramsci put it? The old world is dying, while the new struggles to be born.

Scene 5: Waves 

vo: Gramsci was arrested for thinking out loud and spent the rest of his life in prison. He had convulsions, vomited blood, and suffered headaches so violent he beat his head against the walls of his cell. He dreamed that the movements of swans would model a new human society. The state had ruined his body but not his analysis of power, which he poured into 20 notebooks. 

He dreamed of the ocean.

Mike Hoolboom (1959) is a leading figure of Canadian experimental filmmaking. He is the author of a novel and a number of books on experimental cinematography. In his personal and essay films, he works primarily with “stolen footage”. His films appear regularly at the Ji.hlava IDFF. In 2003 the festival held a retrospective of his work and his film called Fascinations made such a strong impression that the Ji.hlava's  experimental festival section adopted its name. Mike Hoolboom was the author of the Ji.hlava festival´s spot in 2020. „The nun is Romy Cola, an artist who has a special interest in crossing over, stepping into forbidden zones, singing where others fear to tread. Who else could I ask to appear as a nun?,“ says Hoolboom about his spot.

14. 12. 2020

from current issue:

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