Here Is Where Home Becomes a Movie
Yung Ma

The history of the home movie is relatively short. But how they are made has evolved rapidly with time, from film to tape and now digital. And thanks to modern technology, its popularity has been on the rise; we just need to take a look at various social media platforms, where there are millions of clips of babies’ first steps, dancing toddlers, and birthday celebrations available for streaming.

From the very beginning, it has never been my intention to tackle the history of the home movie or to unearth hidden treasures from attics around the world. Instead, I am interested in artists and filmmakers who employ various approaches to capture the utterly personal, and more often than not, touch upon something greater.

Since the home movie is a method numerous professionals as well as amateurs have explored, the selection for this programme is of course far from comprehensive. These selected films and videos, hailing from diverse geographies and eras, represent some of the best examples I have encountered in recent years. As a whole, they illustrate how (re)traced, (re)interpreted, (re)constructed, or (re)imagined personal histories can reflect our collective past and present, as well as our increasingly complex relationships to the world at large.

The programme opens with the documentary No Home Movie, Chantal Akerman’s last film, an intensely personal and intimate portrayal of the filmmaker’s mother, Natalia, a Holocaust survivor. The film is not a radical departure from the home movie genre; it records the last moments of Natalia’s life within her apartment. Akerman intercuts shots of mundane activities and a bourgeois interior with in-person and Skype conversations between her mother and herself. Slowly, a sense of melancholy seeps through, and it becomes painfully apparent that the filmmaker is desperate to capture (or reconstruct) her mother’s memories.

This theme continues through the short video 0116643225059 by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which is a visual ode to the artist’s mother. His other experimental short, Meteorites, layers real and surreal images to pay homage to the daily life of his hometown. Both Melchor Bacani III’s Minsan Isang Panahon (Once Upon a Time) and Class Picture by the Filipino artist collective Tito & Tita reappropriate old images of personal significance to evoke the impression of fading memory. While stylistically disparate, Yau Ching’s Is There Anything Specific You Want Me to Tell You About? and Video Letters 1-2 are both visual letters by a wanderer, attempting to reconnect with a distant place called home.

In Embracing, told mostly from the director’s first person viewpoint against a backdrop of a highly patriarchal culture, Naomi Kawase’s search for an autonomous identity is shadowed by her longing for her absent father. Meanwhile, Fiona Tan’s multicultural background serves as the basis of her documentary May You Live in Interesting Times. The film narrates her globe-trotting effort to map the stories and histories of her family, bringing forth a poignant tale that resonates with the shared reality of the diaspora. In Shape of a Right Statement, Wu Tsang performs a monologue re-enacting a speech by the American blogger Amanda Baggs, complicating the line between private and public. In Flora Lau’s Start from Zero, the act of imagining is pivotal. The film weaves together real and fictional histories, including a song by the late megastar Leslie Cheung, to present a nostalgic yet hopeful version of Hong Kong. 

La Ciénaga by Lucrecia Martel is a cinematic tour-de-force that hints at the familial tension brewing under a perfect façade. Kao Chung-li takes Chris Marker’s La Jetée as a point of departure for Belated Punctum: La Jetée 2, a moving image collage that draws links between personal history and historical events. Singing Chen’s feature film Bundled uses a found videotape of home movies to examine larger social issues, such as mental illness and homelessness. While in a decidedly more dramatic fashion, and perhaps as a commentary on the role of family in modern society, Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a disturbing (dis)utopia in Dogtooth. The history and contested sovereignty of a disputed state is illuminated through songs and music by Jumana Manna in her film A Magical Substance Flows into Me. Things take a much darker turn in Kim Kyung-mook’s Stateless Things where personal destinies clash violently in a deeply divided Korea.

It is important that this programme goes beyond the personal, covering different ground to position the home movie as a catalyst for new ideas. And the notion of home and family has evolved in tandem with advances in technology, which is why I selected John Akomfrah’s The Stuart Hall Project as the closing film. The work is a tribute to the life and achievements of the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall. It charts his existence in a world ravaged by conflicts as well as racial and cultural tension. I also believe it expands on the meaning of family: it is a film made by one friend for another, an intimate reflection of Hall through the eyes of someone close to him. To me, it is an ideal closing note that encapsulates the place of the home movie.