EnergaCamerimage, the international art of cinematography film festival, will honor visual arts pioneer Ulrike Ottinger with its Avant-Garde Achievements in Film Award during its 30th edition, which will take place Nov. 12-19 in Torun, Poland.
Ottinger, known for work that challenged audiences’ notions of visual arts, has stayed active for five decades across film, photography, theater, opera and exhibition. Born in 1942, she created her first art projects in her hometown of Konstanz, Germany, then in Paris, where, from 1962 to 1969, she studied and worked as an independent artist in various media, eventually focusing on cinema. After returning to East Germany, she founded the Visuell Film Club, presenting independent productions from around the world and contributing to the New German Cinema.
Ottinger, shown above in a self portrait, made her film debut in 1973 with “Laocoön & Sons,” in which she laid out her aesthetic outlook. In her next movie, “Madame X: An Absolute Ruler” (1977), she challenged masculine tropes – gaining international success and helping to underpin the formation of the feminist movement. It told the story of a group of women escaping the conveniences of bourgeois life to become part of all-female pirate crew.
“The Berlin Trilogy,” Ottinger’s three subsequent films, with their references to the expressionist cinema of the 1920s, mirrored the dark side of city life: “Ticket of No Return” (1979), a tale of alcohol addiction and eccentric behavior; “Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press” (1984), starring feminist French actress Delphine Seyrig as the diabolical Frau Mabuse in a variation of the story previously told by Fritz Lang; and “Freak Orlando” (1981), in which the director played with anti-capitalist notions and a character taken straight from the work of Virginia Woolf.
“Joan of Arc of Mongolia” (1989) was an emancipatory story of female identity wherein four heroines traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway are kidnapped by the titular princess and the boundaries between the masculine and the feminine are questioned. “The Twelve Chairs” (2004) explored a quasi-documentary style.
Anthropological themes dominate many of Ottinger’s documentary films, particularly the ones focused on Asia: “China – The Arts – The People” (1985), “Joan of Arc of Mongolia,” and “Taiga” (1992), an eight-hour epic on the life of nomads living in that country.
In “Countdown” (1990), a documentary depicting Berlin after the fall of its wall, the director portrayed the integration process between Western Europe and the East. Subsequent docs include “Southeast Passage” (2002); “Prater” (2007); “Under Snow” (2011); and “The Korean Wedding Chest” (2009). In her most recent and personal documentary, “Paris Calligrammes” (2020), Ottinger returned to the memories of her artistic life amid the social turmoil in the French capital in the 1960s.
Ottinger will be on hand at Camerimage to receive the award.