Jon Bang Carlsen: Dreaming Arizona

”Most of what follows is true, but reality and dreams are like conjoined twins, if one dies both will perish”, a text from, who else, Danish master Jon Bang Carlsen, a text he could have used already almost 50 years ago, when he made “Jenny” and started his personal and unique storytelling in film after film, a gift to Danish cinema. And yet he always renews himself, this time working gently and caring with teenagers, who live in a small town in Arizona, Winslow is the name; at the same time as he is keeping the sound and the image of some of his favorite narrative elements, in this case the freight trains – do you remember his film on his mother, “Livet vil leves” (1994) (“Life will be Lived”), the trains were there and the fascinating sound of them passing through the landscape. As in Winslow. The film, before the title comes up, starts with that sound, it is never silent in Winslow, these damn trains as one of the girls say.

Her name is Makenzie, who in the film is joined by Amber and Kristin (both Navajos), Sydney and Bryson. The five get together on the stage of the local cinema to do this “documentary fantasy played by real people” as Bang Carlsen puts it. On a stage in front of the silver screen, where dreams can be dreamt and realized through the wonderful cinema language. They get together with Makenzie, who sells popcorn in the cinema, as the one taking the floor to tell her story asking the others to do the same. And they do. It becomes “our” story, which is not a happy one. Makenzie’ s father left to live with Sydney’s mother, Bryson would like to meet his grandfather who lives as a homeless, Kristin suffers from her sister’s loss of a child, Taylor, Amber wants to leave mother and child to go to study journalism in Los Angeles… To put it briefly and to say that from there they and the director go on to perform a visual poetic trip or – using the title of one of Bang Carlsen’s previous works – “invent reality”.

And visually it is breathtaking beautiful, I was thinking, when I saw the film on the big screen in the theatre in Copenhagen. Estonian cameraman Erik Põllumaa is visualizing as his director wishes him to do; Bang Carlsen is a cinematic painter.

The yellow school bus is there, white horses, one of them in Makenzie’s story passing by in the street in front of the cinema, the Navajo landscapes familiar to Amber’s story, Bryson in the church: “I call for your help but there´s no answer”, Kristin and the others in front of a closed mine from where Taylor comes out on a white horse, Sydney and Makenzie arguing on the stage and in the swimming pool hugging each other, stories after stories are connected to the five protagonists and to the magic screen up there, where Rose appears… there is a story about her, who lived in Winslow in the sixties, no spoiler from me.

“We all got baggage, we are not alone in this battle called life”, says Makenzie, who has a conversation with Amber leaving the hard stories of their childhood that they all carry and have put into the film. … played by real people, oh they play so well. Authenticity!

Denmark, Estonia, Norway, 2022, 76 mins.

Still: cph:dox

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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