40 years Kassel Dokfest – Replay Three programs and a media installation

Our journey back into Dokfest history took us through the media and paper archive in the festival office and also made a detour into the basement. Several thousand viewing DVDs and videotapes and just as many submission forms were stored there in boxes because no one had yet dared to throw them away. On the one hand, the film archive discourse of the last ten years has sensitized people to the fact that throwing away is a rather short-sighted solution to space problems in terms of cultural history. On the other hand, it is clear that preservation only makes sense if the infrastructure remains in place to continue using what is preserved, and if there is any interest in such use at all.

For once, Dokfest made an attempt to permanently archive a part of its own history and make it accessible. In 2008, under the project title “Mediaartbase”, four institutions came together that are closely linked to recent media art history and where relevant archives had been accumulated: the documenta Archive, the ZKM – Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, the European Media Art Festival (EMAF) in Osnabrück, and the Kassel Dokfest. With funding from the German Federal Cultural Foundation for the “Conservation of Mobile Cultural Assets” (KUR), selected parts of the respective archives were to be digitally processed and made publicly accessible (on the Internet). Although the project flourished, the cooperation petered out in the final phase. The public appearance remained piecemeal and in the end the archive portion of the Kassel Dokfest went online only temporarily.

The “Mediaartbase” project was based on the understanding that institutional archives should be valued as a public asset. At the same time, its course points to the difficulty of finding a consistent form for it, since media history is subject to constant technical change. As an element of 40 YEARS KASSEL DOKFEST – REPLAY interprets the installation LETZTER TRANSFER, which was conceptualized by Thorsten Wagner, and this ambitious but failed attempt to make festival history public in the form of a spatialization. 40 years of festival history also include thousands of submitted data storage devices and several generations of analog and digital playback devices, of which functioning copies are often only barely available. Meanwhile, we also know more about the longevity of the data carriers: some still contain data after 30 years, others are no longer even “detected” by the devices developed for them. LETZTER TRANSFER is an artistic-curatorial feedback on an archival situation.

Media history is therefore the history of technology. But not only. If you want to “do something” with a festival archive like that of the Kassel Dokfest, you have to define criteria that justify a selection. For this we looked at the thematic and content-related regulations of the film and video programs that were shown in Kassel over 40 years. These, too, were based on a selection, on regulations, on discussions, sometimes on compromises (for several years we were members of the short film selection committee of the Kassel Dokfest). We concentrated on the 1990s because, from today's perspective, they were a decade of radical upheavals in media history, but also in geopolitics. These developments have also been reflected in the Kassel festival programs.

Under the title IT FLICKERS, Program 1 recalls the last phase when traditional television was still the leading medium for audiovisual and linearly broadcasted content. It created shared media experiences and encouraged social discourse. At the same time, the quality of video technology was improving, so that the independent and artistic production of television images was also becoming more sophisticated. In addition, during a brief phase, the “(neo-)liberalization” of the medium of television raised hopes that it could become the scene of a counter-public. This was linked to the idea that the content that television broadcasted into households could be co-produced by consumers – before the Internet largely occupied our fantasies of the public sphere. Thus, while the emancipatory media project of open and non-commercial television is medially outdated, the background noise in the battle for media sovereignty is at least as loud in the age of the Internet.

A striking year, not only for the Kassel Dokfest, was 1989 – the upheavals in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the GDR, the exodus across the now open (and in Kassel very close) border. The upcoming events had already been noticeable in the festival programs of the years before, and the social and human consequences of the “reunification” of the two German states remained a central theme at the Kassel Dokfest for years to come. An important film project of this period was Thomas Heise’s trilogy about Halle-Neustadt, which began in 1992 and was completed in 2007. Heise countered the “Chronik der Wende” (Chronicle of the Reunification), which had become a television ritual, with a long-term observation in which the upheavals are understood as a conflict-ridden and protracted process. When the first part was published, Heise was accused of giving the wrong people a platform, because he did not interview sociologists and teachers about the background of right-wing violence and growing neo-Nazi structures, but neo-Nazis and those with a German-national mindset. 

The second part of this Neustadt chronicle, NEUSTADT (TRAFFIC JAM – THE STATE OF AFFAIRS), was screened at the Kassel Dokfest in 2000 and made it clear which value there was in Heise’s patient method. Thomas Heise will be a guest at the film’s re-screening and will discuss the continuing relevance of the questions that drove him at the time. Reading the festival programs of the 1990s also brought to mind the extent to which this decade was dominated by wars. The Gulf War, war and massacres in former Yugoslavia, the repeated flare-up of armed conflicts in Lebanon that had been going on since the mid-1970s. The “hot” wars that broke out on a global scale at the end of the “Cold War” countered the series of images of the “peaceful revolutions” in the East. It seemed striking to us how much these wars were linked to different image politics and how they dramatically changed our relationship to documentary image production. Since this in turn represented an acute challenge for film and video makers and thus also for the Kassel Dokfest, Program 3 (IMAGES. WARS.) is dedicated to this image-political legacy of the 1990s. Artist and curator Ala Younis, artistic director of the Akademie der Künste der Welt (Academy of the Arts of the World) in Cologne, will be attending.

Program 1
40 Years Kassel Dokfest – Replay: It flickers
kleines BALi | Do. 16.11. | 1 p.m.

Program 2
40 Years Kassel Dokfest – Replay: Neustadt (Traffic Jam – The State of Affairs)
kleines Bali | Fr. 17.11. | 3:30 p.m.

Program 3
40 Years Kassel Dokfest – Replay: Images. Wars.
kleines Bali | Sa. 18.11. | 1 p.m.

40 Years Kassel Dokfest – Letzter Transfer
Exhibition Monitoring, Südflügel