Screening and Q&A of Exergue – On documenta 14 by Dimitris Athiridis

The first chapter of Dimitris Athiridis’ 848-minute documentary Exergue – On documenta 14 was screened on Friday March 8th, at the John Cassavetes theater. The documentary recently premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival and follows Adam Szymczyk, the artistic director and his curatorial team for two years as they work on documenta 14. 

Orestis Andreadakis, the artistic director of the Festival, introduced the film, after welcoming the audience, by stating: “Most of you, if not all, you may know the story of the 14th documenta, which took place seven years ago in Athens and Kassel. Exergue – On documenta 14, which documents the preparation for its hosting, is the second longest film in the history of cinema. We are very happy to present it", he noted and invited Dimitris Athiridis, the director, on stage. 

Mr. Athiridis, after thanking the festival as well as the audience, said humorously: "If I knew I would be second in the list I would try to make a film of a longer duration.” He pointed out that the film tells “a story unfolding in 14 chapters. You can see it as a series.” Mr. Andreadakis, for his part, noted that “it is a film that raises wonderful questions.”

In the Q&A that followed the screening, Dimitris Athiridis, when asked on how the film was made and what the filming process was, replied: “I was always with Adam Szymczyk. There was no studio; I was on my own only with my camera and sound. I usually film in small rooms, we didn't shoot, we were just observing. This process had to be a little more discreet. I followed Adam's team on my own and gradually integrated into it, they accepted me as a member. In the end they didn't pay much attention to me. I was just there. I followed them, just as an anthropologist follows a tribe in the Amazon.”

Asked on how the idea of the film came about, Mr. Athiridis said: “I usually work with stories dealing with a character having the desire to do something. This led me to follow Adam on his journey, which became my own one too. My intention wasn't to make a film about documenta 14, it just happened. I met Adam here in Thessaloniki by coincidence, at a tavern in Aristotelous. Then I found out that he wanted to host this big exhibition. I found him interesting as a person, and so was his project. I asked him to follow him and he accepted. That's how we started.”

When asked on whether it is about a reconstruction in the film, Mr. Athiridis explained that “Documenta is like the Olympic Games of art. We have many participants from all over the world. What you see in the lens is my subjective gaze. I tell this story and just let my protagonists do the talking. It is obviously a reconstruction. ‘It's a fabrication; you just wish it was real’ as Frank Wiseman said.”

The director commented on the long duration of the documentary: “The original plan was to make a two-hour film. I couldn’t go to a sponsor or producer and tell them I have this idea of making a 14-hour film. The production model frowns upon any idea of this sort. Observational documentary is a risk. You move on and you don't know what's going to happen. I could have easily started filming and within a month Ι could have been told ‘you can't be here’. I didn't think that I would end up with such a load of material. Adam wouldn't stop even for a minute. He travelled all the time. Also, his team began to grow gradually, as soon as the artists joined us. When we started editing, we were delighted but horrified too by the idea of producing twenty minutes of film every day. And we didn't know how to deal with it. I talked to my producers, they saw the material – seven hours at the time – and they believed in it. They thought it was worth telling the story during this time.”

Mr. Athiridis, asked on how he felt about the central character of his documentary, said: “In order to be able to work together and tolerate each other, a relationship had to be built. Not necessarily every friendly one, but a relationship based on trust and respect. I never called him on the phone. He had so much to deal with. I was informed about his schedule by the secretariat and always kept my distance. This distance is elliptical. There are times you are closer, other times you’re further away. But I tried to keep my own perspective and not get carried away by his narrative."

He then added: “Adam saw the film twice. The first time was two years ago. I always do this with my protagonists when the film is ready so I know they are satisfied with the result. He also saw it two weeks ago at the Berlinale Film Festival in its official premiere. Reviews were positive. Even though the program was exhausting in Berlin, as the film was screened in two parts, that is, in two seven-hour screenings – a proper day’s work for those who watched it," Dimitris Athiridis joked about it.

Asked on whether it is about a political film, he replied: “Everything is political. However, it will not raise political reactions as we’re invisible to politicians, so there is nothing for them to comment on”.

The film explores the historic version of the world’s most important art exhibition, first held in 2017 in Kassel, Germany, and Athens, the core of the economic crisis that had hit Europe at the time. Through the passion of its protagonists, the beauty and power of art, as well as the unprecedented recording access, the narrative, divided into fourteen chapters, observes documenta 14’s dramatic trajectory and captures a reflection on the functions of contemporary art and its institutions in an ever-changing global landscape. The documentary will be screened at the 26th TDF in chapters until March 14th.