Based on documents found in Berlin archives, Four Parts of a Folding Screen explores exclusion, statelessness and the legalised theft and sale of everyday family possessions by the National Socialist regime. A voice, enigmatic and sometimes uncertain, foretells of, relates and recalls the routine processes of injustice and their legacy: the creation of a diaspora of household objects, scattered amongst buildings that no longer exist. As the camera probes the secrets of ordinary spaces, streets and buildings around the city of Berlin, semblances of a person and a history begin to emerge and coalesce.
Distribution: Collectif Jeune Cinema
Contact: foldingscreen at tutanota.com
Friday, 7 December, 2018 at 19.00 Kinosaal, Rathaus Schöneberg, John-F-Kennedy-Platz 1, Berlin, screening as part of CrossKultur.
Saturday, June 30th, 2018 at 19.00, Kino Delphi Lux, Berlin, screening as part of Jewish Film Festival Berlin and Brandenburg 2018. Introduction by and Q and A with Professor Gertrud Koch, Freie Universität Berlin.
Cinema São Jorge, Lisbon, Sunday, 6th May, 2018 at 17.00 as part of IndieLisboa, Festival Internacional de Cinema, Lisbon 26 April – 6th May 2018
Claus Loeser, Nichts ist vorbei, Berliner Zeitung , 23rd. June, 2018 (hard copy only)
Freedom is passing through here: IndieLisboa 2018 (in Portuguese) by Catia Santos, May 10th 2018 www,ruadebaixo.com
Amputees and Morgellons: The Best Films of Rotterdam, Dimitry Voltchek, Radio Free Europe, February 2018 (translated from Russian below)
The authors of the documentary, “Four Parts of a Folding Screen” found in Berlin archives, lists of items confiscated from Nelly Koch. They also found documents pertaining to two auctions, held in 1941, where these items were sold, listing the names and addresses of the buyers. The film, similar to Peter Greenaway’s novel, “Gold” is a journey to these addresses – those of the institutions that participated in the robbery of Nelly Koch and those of the people who bought her things, including a folding screen, at the auctions. Of course, two thirds of the buildings have disappeared from Berlin but the sinister spirit lives on. Never has Berlin looked so shameful on the screen.
Jos van der Burg, IFFR: A History of Shadows De Filmkrant #408 January/February 2018 (translated from Dutch below)
“Four Parts of a Folding Screen” is a documentary essay by British film makers Anthea Kennedy and Ian Wiblin, which deals with dehumanisation. It shows images of houses, streets, squares, interiors, letters and documents to portray how a Jewish family were gradually deprived by the Nazis of all their possessions and were driven into ruin. Their goods- from a piano to a fish tank- were confiscated and auctioned. The proceeds of the auction went to the state, maybe helping to finance the persecution of the Jews. “Four Parts of a Folding Screen” does not contain images of murders but grabs the viewer by the throat with laws based on a bureaucratic sadism that pushed the Jews into the abyss. That this Jewish family miraculously escaped, only emphasises the horrific fate of millions of others.
FOUR PARTS OF A FOLDING SCREEN
TEXT BY CARMEN GRAY
It’s often said that old belongings are “full of history”. It’s a telling phrase. Even if we harbour no mystical belief that objects literally carry residue of the past, we routinely confer significance upon them as extensions of lived experience, memory and identity. Essay film Four Parts of a Folding Screen opens with a succession of objects, from a wooden trinket box with a rural cottage scene on the lid to a rusted noodle press, mother-of-pearl opera glasses, and wicker baskets. Out of context against a black background, the items take on almost talismanic import. Just as we wonder what links them, and governs their appearance before us now, a woman’s voice gives us coordinates to unlock the mystery: a Berlin street address, and a crisis of separation and displacement. A wife learns her husband cannot return from a foreign trip due to an arrest warrant. She must also leave, but must first sell their beloved home, and arrange for its contents to be transported abroad.
The attempt to systematically annihilate European Jewry by Hitler’s National Socialist Party during World War II is often recalled with a prime focus on the genocidal murders the regime carried out; the six million killed by gas chambers, shootings and other means of terror. Today’s battle against forgetting is in part one of memorialisation. Walk through Berlin’s streets and it’s not long before one comes across a brass plate set among the cobbles, bearing the name, date of birth and dates of deportation and death (if known) of a victim of the regime who once lived there. This is a Stolperstein (“stumbling stone”), named in rebuke to the anti-semitic saying that a Jew must lie buried under any street-protrusion tripped over (the gravestones of Jewish cemeteries were repurposed as paving stones during the Nazi era). Initiated by German artist Gunter Demnig in the ‘90s, the project has spread across Europe and there are now more than 56,000 brass Stolpersteine symbolically bringing victims back to their last chosen homes, in what is the largest decentralised memorial in the world.
A symbolic returning of the dispossessed home and an act of resistance against the spatial erasure of lived identity could also be said to be the aim of Four Parts of a Folding Screen; a project that remembers not only the flight of a Jewish citizen denied her statehood but also maps the diaspora of her household property, which she was stripped of by the Reich. The painful sense of violation inextricable from this loss is an undertow always felt not far beneath the film’s composed surfaces. This depth of feeling could hardly be otherwise when the divested woman was Nellie Koch – the grandmother of one of the film’s directors, Anthea Kennedy (her previous essay film The View From Our House (2013), also co-directed with Ian Wiblin, was built around the troubling Berlin memories of Nellie’s daughter Erika). It’s a personal connection that remains unspoken in this work of understatement. But it’s virtually tangible in the care taken over collecting up scattered family details, for a film that feels more devoted vigil than educational exercise.
Among things we do learn about Nellie from the narrator is that she has a passion for breeding Siamese cats, and for creative writing. One of her stories, “The Two Cups”, was published in a local newspaper before her exile. It tells of a pair of teacups who live in an old-fashioned glass cabinet side by side, closely attached to one other. They attentively observe all that happens outside, recalling to each other sensory details from past cosy winters. This uncanny historical detail suggests how deep a psychic violation the coming rupture to a world of things-and-beings-in-their-place must have felt for this refugee, who imaginatively animated the objects that surrounded her with great nostalgia and affection.
The theft of Jewish property was not an incidental byproduct of the Holocaust. Economic racism and the expropriation of assets were key components in the National Socialist agenda of decimating the Jewish population financially and excluding them from civil society. Germans wishing to personally enrich themselves could hide their avarice behind the new regulations, while the aiding of the war economy by the plunder of Jewish valuables was a horrifically acute form of insult to injury (silver – one of the precious metals non-Aryan citizens were outlawed from owning – was used for film stock to make the propaganda films that sought to hasten their demise). The obsessive record-keeping that became a notorious feature of Hitler’s regime left much of its destruction documented. The team of Four Parts sourced Berlin archives to trace the possessions that Nellie was forced to part with, finding 271 items listed on an inventory that a removal and storage firm invoiced for. The safekeeping of the goods was meant to be temporary, while the permission to ship them to London was sought – but after the Reich stripped Nellie of her statehood it seized her things for auction.
In documents could also be found the identity of the buyer of the Koch home – and another strange parallel. The new owner (who, buying from non-Aryans, was able to make the purchase for well below the asking price), was a small-time actor – and himself a maker of documentary films. We see an excerpt of We, East Prussians (Wir Ostpreussen), which he shot in East Prussia among the well-to-do, militarist landed class; a stark reminder that social inclusion and the creation of culture are reserved for those authorised to have the means, and that material plunder and cultural destruction are closely linked. While this apparent regime apologist was free to settle himself into his ill-gotten abode, Nellie’s husband, who had worked as the director of the cultural department of a gramophone company now filled with party loyal, was unable to retrieve his dearest possession: wax cylinders containing years of his personal recordings. Four Parts of a Folding Screen could thus also be seen as an act of regaining a voice in what makes up a nation’s culture; a documentary that speaks to and for the excluded and divested, and says: I too was here, and here I am still, as in traces I remain.
Or rather: “You are here.” The female narrator uses the second-person form of address to tell Nellie’s story directly to her in the present tense, as if it is happening now, even as shots of the addresses mentioned reveal a modern-day Berlin much-changed. It’s a rare form of narration, that creates a haunting sense of a city destroyed and replaced, but imbued with memory that cannot simply be overwritten (the years of dates given are deliberately left out, adding to this sense of an eternal present). With this direct address comes a sense of intimacy; of a fate over which the addressed holds no agency, but which she is summoned to relive before us as if by a hypnotist, whose mesmeric tones talk us through the nightmare in the hope that return will grant empowerment or exorcism. This identity is addressed as if fractured: in London unaware, yet still in Berlin, all-seeing.
The auction is about to start, and: “For the next hour people will be looking at your things. Touching them. Examining them. Turning them over.” This voice, bringing events into our temporal present, allows us to identify with and experience with visceral, skin-crawling immediacy the violation of a life taken over. Purchases are made, and it would seem a cross-section of locals have no qualms in going on with their daily lives amid the remnants of the Koch family’s devastation; in laying claim over these possessions as if it were the natural order. We’re told: “You don’t know that Herr Schultz the baker is wearing your husband’s bathrobe; you don’t know that Herr Alex the optician has your painting of an alpine scene on his wall.” The effect is vampiric; of a German citizenry readily effacing and absorbing the talismans and material manifestations of one’s belonging as a way to augment their own.
Methodically, the record of who bought what at the auction – from lamps, to tennis racquet, to folding screen – is read out, and the listed addresses are tracked. The buildings are invariably gone now, and the street names often changed in a political break with past shames (the strip of Sonnenallee temporarily renamed in tribute to Hitler’s birthplace has now, we hear, reverted back to its former title). Terrifying footnotes creep in to punctuate this mutable, domestic topography, related in the same factual tone (when the camera glances over a Stolperstein beside the baker’s former house, we learn a landscape painter and three others were taken from there and killed.) As for the stolen belongings, with so much disappeared and erased, we can only assume they’ve been long lost. But the repetitive, insistent mapping of their traces remembers and brings home the degree to which the regime’s horrors spread through even the smallest, most banal details of the city; silently arresting its true history.
Contact: foldingscreen at tutanota.com