62. Internationales Leipziger Festival für Dokumentar- und Animationsfilm
DOK Leipzig 28 October – 3 November 2019
62nd International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film
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Visual Electrics.
The Cinema of Jay Rosenblatt

The films of Jay Rosenblatt engage the viewer’s senses and set out to challenge rather than convince. This being the case, the American filmmaker approaches the greatest dictators of the 20th century by means of banal everyday scenes in what is probably his best-known work Human Remains. Edited archival footage shows Hitler, Stalin and Mao in a private or even intimate light. A voiceover reading out their diary entries – partly based on documents, partly fictitious – tells us about their eating habits or their favourite niece. The filmmaker does not mark the atrocities out as diabolical, as somehow other, but instead moves them towards us in an unsettling way.


Human Remains (1998); Regie: Jay RosenblattHuman Remains (1998); Director: Jay Rosenblatt

The use of archival footage is central to this experimental filmmaker’s work, some of which is part of the permanent collection of the MoMA in New York. Rosenblatt uses a wide variety of sources, such as educational, amateur and corporate films. By taking them out of their original context, his works unleash new meanings. His film essay The Smell of Burning Ants, for example, reflects the expectations we have of boys as they are growing up. They mistreat insects and are made to hold their own in a violent environment, since on the basis of their gender they mustn't come across as tearful, that’s to say, girly. Rosenblatt, who himself worked as a therapist before becoming a filmmaker, manages in his films to reflect viewers back at themselves and confront them with their own feelings. In his artful collages there are always sequences that jar, that if anything skew obvious expectations and for that very reason trigger inner processes.


Phantom Limb (2005); Regie: Jay RosenblattPhantom Limb (2005); Director: Jay Rosenblatt

This is a filmmaker who also frequently interrogates himself in his works. A whole group of works revolves around his family life. In these he focuses with humour and irony on his role as a father and the way it has changed his everyday life, which at times no longer has much to do with filmmaking. Consequently, another of his works is called I Used to Be a Filmmaker. The Phantom Limb, however, is an examination of the early death of his brother, in which he comes to terms with his family’s silence as well as his own feelings of guilt and recognises his residual memories as a phantom pain. His background as a Jewish filmmaker becomes evident in, among others, Four Questions for a Rabbi, in which he is not afraid to ask provocative questions about the state of Jewish identity.


The Homage was curated by Ralph Eue, a film scholar and programmer at DOK Leipzig. The programme is accompanied by a masterclass, in which Jay Rosenblatt will provide insights into the way he works. In addition, he will be a juror in the Next Masters Competition and is creating the exclusive festival trailer.

In cooperation with MUBI, selected films of the Homage are featured on starting with the award-winning The Smell of Burning Ants during the festival week on 3 November. Read more