Humankind and City / City and Humankind

ANTHROPOLIS | Humankind and City / City and Humankind

As viewers, people occasionally find themselves connected to a film simply because of its filming location. While some are intrigued by rural landscapes of ominous mountains and dangerous waters, others love a city’s lights and its intricacies. Regardless, the location of a film is an integral mood-setter; it can either make it or break it. Would Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) and Midnight in Paris (2011) or Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) be the same films, if they were not set in Manhattan, Paris and Tokyo respectively?  After all, a place shapes people in the way that people shape a place. 

That’s the point Leiden Shorts communicates with its section titled “Anthropolis” as it continues its screening journey. Opening with Laila Pakalniņa’s The First Bridge (2020), the audience is given an opportunity to travel back in time. The short was shot on 35mm back in 1998. Its negative got lost, buried amongst other belongings, and somehow resurfaced after 21 years. Just like that, then, everyone takes a peek at Latvia back in the late 90s – it’s almost like retrieving collective memories that were never actually made. In this light, almost experiencing a common past, the screen is filled with black and white static shots which carry an added emotional layer. Pakalniņa’s camera presents the Krāslava bridge, standing over the river Daugava, from different angles and sides, in different seasons of the year. It’s almost as if the short is a documentation that actively records the bridge’s life. Cars driving by, footsteps, the wind, and rain – this is Latvia not staged, but lived.

There’s life in daylight and life in darkness, so a film can also be about the vibrancy of a place in the silence of darkness. Leo Bittencourt’s Vagalumes / Fireflies (2021) is emblematic of this particular atmosphere as it observes the lives of people who inhabit or visit Parque do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro. The park has a secret life of its own when the sun goes down. In love with this sanctuary that invites people who live in the margins to come out and breathe, Bittencourt gave life to an electrifying story. Homeless people taking a stroll, people cruising, animals and trees. For Bittencourt, all of them are pieces of a puzzle with unique identities, so diverse and welcoming, he calls them “fireflies that shine in the dark” at the park. From afar or up close, the camera lingers in the sensual atmosphere of the park, an effect that is passed onto the viewer to experience and carry within. When the credits start rolling, everyone can almost feel the Brazilian breeze against their skin; they’ve all become fireflies of the night. 

There are those, however, that have no freedom within the borders of their homeland and no refuge in a park at nightfall. Enock Carvalho and Matheus Farias’ Inabitável / Unliveable (2020) talks about human beings that though are official citizens of a city, unofficially and unfairly they’re walking, talking embodiment of Otherness. The short follows one of the many mothers in the world, Marilene (Luciana Souza), who’s looking for her missing daughter, Roberta (Eduarda Lemos). Marilene channels the detective within

and does all the police work the actual police would never do for Roberta or any other trans woman for that matter. As she follows Roberta, an eerie soundtrack accompanies Marilene from house to house and from alley to alley. There are no words for the unsettling feeling of walking around a city that doesn’t accept a parent’s child, so music takes over to translate this heaviness into a universal language of uneasiness and threat. There’s no escape in a city of hostility. There’s no room for walking alone at night.  

Friendlier places do exist, however, as familiar faces bid others good morning, and listen to their stories and/or news. Elsa Rosengren lives in Wrangelkiez, Berlin and she knows this is a neighborhood of love, so she directed a short documentary titled I Want to Return Return Return (2020). Her goal was to show the lives of people who live in Wrangelkiez right now since recently apartment buildings are being bought and renovated to upgrade their value, pushing away those with limited economic resources. The film is about community and there’s no denying it from the opening shot. People in their balconies listen to live music played by some men on the street, enjoying it together as a whole. In doing this, Rosengren immortalizes the sense of belonging these people are experiencing. It’s those grainy images that render the short a product that simultaneously exists both in the present and in the past. It transcends the bounds of time and so does the neighborhood of Wrangelkiez. Most significantly, instead of demonstrating how her protagonists differ in terms of generation, culture, gender etc., she decides to show how kind one can be merely by choice.  

Whether a film’s location is dangerous or safe, it’s meant to enrich the cinematic experience. Beautiful shots of a city. Tantalizing secrets, barely seen but surely in existence. Inexcusable violence spectators wish they never get to feel. Communities almost extinct promoting collective support. They’re all real stories. A city bears children and those children, later turning into adults, are these people whose stories Leiden Shorts shares in this section. Breaking down the title etymologically, a discovery is made. Anthropolis is composed of two Greek words: Anthropos + Polis = Person + City.  Forever intertwined in a codependent relationship, anthropos and polis have a common fate according to these shorts. Their coexistence is full of energy and life. That’s why the films selected are so atmospheric; they draw everyone in just like a city can do. But, while some individuals are held tightly in an embrace, feeling sheltered and loved, others are rejected and forsaken with no way out. In seeing this projected on a screen, perhaps the realization may eventually come that it’s everyone’s job to be the kind face in the corner instead of the cruel body of assault. 

Ioanna Micha is a freelance copywriter based in Athens, Greece. She watches films. She reads about films. She writes about films. Generally speaking, if the word film is in the equation, she’s in.