Birgit Hein

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Viva Birgit Hein by Caspar Stracke (Facebook, September 26, 2023)
Here is a free, downloadable .pdf for those of you interested to read about one of the most exciting key figures in feminist, structural, hard-core experimental European Avant Garde cinema. Thank you for this insane amount of brilliant work, Mike Hoolboom!

When it comes down to accurately reflecting on portions of history that one has experienced and contributed to, it is reasonable that the one who writes this down comes from the outside, assuming the position of an unbiased observer. Reflecting on the life and work of our dear friend, colleague and inspirational force Birgit Hein, it was my closest ally and co-pilot for life, Canadian filmmaker and writer Mike Hoolboom who became this person. For me it’s something very dear and special: One of my closest friends writes about the person that had the biggest influences on my (artistic) life.

From far away Toronto, Mike began to puzzle together the complex world of Birgit. With unadulterated passion, he re-watched every film, read every available article and conducted extensive research, without backing by any institution, let alone any funding. Having already interviewed her in the early 90s, and fascinated by her film and writings, he contacted a wide circle of Birgit’s friend and colleagues, mostly in Germany.

The result is a massive 350-page dossier of collected interviews, writings on and by Birgit, labor-of-love-commissioned articles on particular works of hers, as well as reprints of reviews and historic documents. All this in just over half a year (of working night and day) and also, as he writes in the introduction: “Everyone worked for free. As if we lived in a world where thoughts and art and pictures could be free.”

If you read his well-prepared questions in the interview you will witness an almost forensic approach in decoding this infinite web of relationships. Those of us who had been present and wrote about some of the big moments in Birgit’s life (i.e. XSCREEN bust, censorship, documenta, film production, marriage, professorship, festival premieres) created a kaleidoscope of different angles on the same events. I have now read half of it, but already learned so many details about this fascinating, multi-faceted person who was a dear friend (and my former professor in the late 80s) that I always assumed to know pretty well, but now I have learned so much more!

So many friends united with mutual resonating commentaries and rumination in a single publication. Matthias Müller, Marc Siegel, Laura Marks, Florian Wüst, Bjørn Melhus, Peter Zorn, Maija-Lene Rettig, Annette Brauerhoch, Alex Gerbaulet, Florian Krautkrämer, Nanna Heidenreich, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Daniel Kothenschulte, Steve Anker, Jürgen Brüning, Steve Reinke, and many others.

Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
The godmother of German experimental film is dead. Birgit Hein died at the age of 80, peacefully, while sleeping.

I met her at the European Media Arts Festival in Osnabrück at a precipitous moment. Every day hundreds poured across the East Berlin border amidst rumours the wall would be torn down soon. The Green Party sat on Berlin’s city council, vocal in its support of squat culture and its super-8 emporiums. The legendary trio Schmelz Dahin (melt away) had come to show their latest chemical outrage, though it would turn out to be their final work together. The Alte Kinder (Old Children) group was also dissolving. And through it all a larger-than-life figure ranged, touching and smiling, focusing the attention of everyone in the theatre, the centre of every scrum in the overcrowded bar next door where everyone fueled up between dizzying bouts of avant-gardism.

Birgit seemed to know everyone there. Quick to smile, to embrace her comrades and raise a glass, there was a charged aura about her that set her apart somehow. She had a man in her face, and a nose that looked like she had taken a few shots for the cause. She was the object of a thousand quick glances, as if the crowd needed to keep watch, because beside her formidable debating skills and reputation as an artist, there was something deeply fragile about her; it seemed as if she might crumble right before our eyes. I discovered only later that she had been part of a legendary couple that had helped kickstart underground film in Germany, and they had recently divorced, so this festival visit was part of a coming out display. She was on her own now, carrying the weight on her own capable shoulders.

This is a collection of love letters from friends and familiars. We needed to hear her voice again, so we rescued some Q&A’s, Randall, Duncan and Daniel kindly donated thoughtful interviews. Matthias and Michael sent materials and provided encouragement. Caspar started the ball rolling and helped with translations. Stefanie opened the vaults, Clint pitched in everywhere. cylixe found the old pictures. Nina and Çiğdem said yes. New writings abound and because the fringe remains an oral culture there are recordings of after-screening conversations. Everything was donated. Everyone worked for free. As if we lived in a world where thoughts and art and pictures could be free.

The hope was to gather a temporary community in these pages, to be able to hear from a few of the many she touched along the way. It is a wreath to lay beside her memory, which lives on in the words and teachings and movies that will continue to flow, and from which she might be felt as a stiff wind of clarity or an encouraging embrace. She is missed.

editor: Mike Hoolboom
Design and Type Setting: Kilby Smith-McGregor

Table of contents
13 Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
14 Establishing Shot by Marc Siegel
16 Exprmntl 4 in Knokke-le-Zoute, 1967

20 Underground Film: against commerce and the culture industry by XSCREEN Collective
25 Art communicates knowledge: an interview with Birgit Hein by Randall Halle
32 Xscreen 1968: Material Film Aesthetics and Radical Cinema Politics by Randall Halle
46 W + B’s Material Films by Marc Siegel
55 Network: Babeth Mondini-VanLoo on Jack Smith
57 On Structural Studies by Birgit Hein
60 Return to Reason by Birgit Hein
62 Dear Mike by Francesco Gagliardi
68 On Performance: Expanded Cinema Work in the 70s, Interview by Duncan White
Histories and Consent: an interview with Jürgen Brüning
75 After the Underground: an interview by Marc Siegel
80 Love Stinks by Yann Beauvais
82 People We Trust: Brett Story and Jason Fox interview
87 The Prolixity of the Not-True by Steve Reinke
90 Reflections: A Conversation with Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, Gertrud Koch and Heide Schlüpmann about sex and their film work
100 Kali-Filme by W + B Hein
101 Kali-Filme by Jim Hoberman
107 Kali-Filme Q&A with Birgit Hein and Daniel Kothenschulte
114 Radical: Steve Anker interview
118 Works of Young Europeans: Erotic Films by Women by Birgit and Wilhelm Hein
120 Birgit Hein interview by Gamma Bak
123 Head Cold by Gamma Bak
129 You Only Live Twice by Mike Hoolboom
132 Fearless: Nanna Heidenreich, Heike Klippel, Florian Krautkrämer interview
138 Die unheimlichen Frauen by Jean Perret
141 Birgit shooting Die unheimliche Frauen by Ulrike Zimmermann
143 Die Unheimlichen Frauen Berlinale premiere Q&A with Birgit Hein
150 Baby: Introduction by Florian Wüst
153 Stray Dogs by Annette Brauerhoch
160 Baby: Questions: an interview with Yann Beauvais
164 Ecstasy is Important by Brigitta Burger-Utzer
165 Unprotected: Annette Brauerhoch interview
173 Mayflies by Ruth Spitzer
176 Brief notes on Birgit Hein’s Eintagsfliegen by Matthias Müller
178 La Moderna Poesia by Randall Halle
181 Disco al final: Reading Birgit Hein’s La moderna poesia as a post-revolutionary road movie by Jutta Brendemühl
185 Everyone understands a Hitchcock film: Birgit Hein interview by Daniel Kothenschulte
189 Shanghai Light Impressions by Mike Hoolboom
192 This Life, This work: an Interview with Filmmaker Birgit Hein by Randall Halle and Reinhild Steingröver
201 War Pictures by Birgit Hein
204 Pictures of War by Clint Enns
211 Abstraker Film Q&A with Birgit Hein and Daniel Kothenschulte
222 Flotsam by Dirk DeBruyn
226 On Birgit Hein’s Abstrakter Film by Laura Marks
227 The Revolution will not be televised (but uploaded)
On found footage films about the Arab Spring by Florian Krautkrämer
231 Pocket Call: Alexandra Gelis and Jorge Lozano interview
233 Media and Revolution – A Conversation with Birgit Hein on Abstrakter Film by Florian Krautkrämer
239 Falling to Pixels by Matthias Müller
243 Transparent: Stefanie Schulte Strathaus interview
247 So far, so suspicious… Birgit Hein’s cinematic biography by Stefanie Schulte Strathaus

253 Remembering Birgit Hein: an interview with Matthias Müller
259 Alte Kinder by Thomas Thiel
263 The Letter: an interview with Maija-Lene Rettig
267 Radical: an interview with Peter Zorn
272 You had to drop your pants: an interview with Christophe Girardet
279 Introduction to Dialogue by Birgit Hein
284 Opened by Bjørn Melhus
285 Orientations: an interview with Michael Brynntrup
291 Self Portrait with Skull: Remarks on the films of Michael Brynntrup by Birgit Hein
295 Kunstmama: an interview with Kristian Petersen
298 Dear Birgit by Claudia Schillinger
301 BIRGIT #1 Meeting – Relating by Alex Gerbaulet
304 Margit by Birgit Hein
308 Before the Funeral: Caspar Stracke
315 For Birgit by Judith Stern
318 Impatient and hotheaded nonetheless by cylixe

324 Timeline by Ralf Sausmikat
326 Birgit by Malcolm Le Grice
328 Letter by Angela Haardt
330 Randall Halle memorial speech
333 Promises by Heather Frise
335 My Mother: an interview with Nina Hein
343 My grandmother: Çiğdem interview