Ghosts of the Past

Where has the past gone to now?

GHOSTS OF THE PAST | Step Into the River

The moment the lights come back on and the walls of the theatre return to sight often seems to be instantly followed by an immediate longing for what has just faded out. As a feeling that we’ve had to miss for many months under lockdown, this loss was a pleasure to finally experience again when the cinemas reopened their doors. Such nostalgia for cinematic worlds seems to be deeply ingrained in cinephilia, lost to the viewers until the projector runs the films again. In the early days, cinema could not avoid this inherent representation of a past, gone yet captured on celluloid. In the era of digital cinema, phenomena such as live news channels, gaming streams and video calls have thoroughly shaken up this previous relation of cinema as deeply rooted in an inescapable and nostalgic past.

Despite the fact that Leiden Shorts cannot show any analogue films, they have nonetheless made a selection that captures or resembles different pasts. The films show an enormous range of possibilities of how the present is shaped and steered by the past. The past, then, does not only exist as a trace of what has gone before, but also as a force that is pushing a gargantuan flow of images, sounds and data forward towards an uncertain future. It becomes an anchor in our chaotic and overwhelming ‘live’ moments, that keeps the people experiencing the here and now, grounded in where they have come from and carves the optional paths to where they may go.

In the program Ghosts of the Past, five films are presented that deal with their own problematic pasts from various corners of the world and the film industry (while they all secretly share a French connection…). In their engagements with the ghosts of the past, the selection tries to address the ways cinema manipulates the flow of time and how it can intertwine divergent and far-off temporalities. They also impose a particular experience of time, proposed in the works themselves, onto their audience. As the selection shows, animation can also function as a very suitable vehicle for such subjective experiences of memories, time and trauma. Altogether, the films only give a glimpse of the myriad of ways the past lingers in the present but, respectfully give room to their audiences to find their own connections with the unknown pasts they could only experience through cinema.

Some of the films leave it to the viewers themselves to fill in the blanks that the past has carved into the present.

Others give their viewers subtle hints on how present lives have been affected by previous events that have fundamentally given shape to the world we are experiencing.

A few of them offer us a glimpse of the intimate bond we can have with cherished memories, which we do not merely experience with our eyes and ears but feel it in our bones.

And then, the lights turn back on.

Mitchell van Vuren; recently graduated Media student; independent filmmaker; huge film snob. Spellbound by: Pulp Fiction, Endless Poetry and A Fistful of Dollars. General state of the spotless mind: Rebel without a Cause and In the Mood for Love.