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PAST FUTURES

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by Johannes Gierlinger

grade: 7

Through numerous analogue films taken over the years and thanks also to copious use of archive footage and documents, Past Futures presents itself as a heartfelt and sincere documentary and is immediately striking for the strongly contemplative directorial approach adopted.

History and Remembrance

We are what we are mainly because of the past we have experienced. This is a fact. But how much is past remembered today? “The future will be illiterate not for those who cannot write, but for those who do not know photography,” said Hungarian painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy. And pictures to testify to what happened in the past are numerous, just as the documentary Past Futures, directed in 2021 by Johannes Gierlinger, shows us.

Demonstrations of all kinds are constantly taking place on the streets of Vienna, be they against racism, commemorating events of the past or celebrating May Day. In Past Futures, fragments of present and past make a deep and never predictable analysis of society, of dangerous ideas that have remained dormant for many years, but also – and above all – of the importance of memory, which can prevent dramatic events of the past from happening again.

There are numerous monuments and plaques commemorating those who, in past decades, died during certain revolutionary demonstrations. Yet, such monuments are often neglected. As if nothing had happened. A woman (Lara Sienczak) wanders the streets of the city, confides her reflections to a small portable tape recorder and, from time to time, questions passers-by. In the basement of the town hall, there are still busts of Adolf Hitler, while part of the Jewish cemetery – where a building named after Arthur Schnitzler has now been erected – was confiscated by the National Socialists.

Through numerous analogue films made over the years and thanks also to copious use of archive footage and documents, Past Futures presents itself as a heartfelt and sincere documentary and is immediately striking for the strongly contemplative directorial approach adopted. Lara Sienczak’s voice – together with that of Martin Hemmer, who seems to want to represent the director’s own point of view – accompanies us throughout the screening, giving the documentary the characteristics of a true stream of consciousness.

The director, for his part, has opted for a style devoid of any virtuosity, in which an apparently amateurish character makes everything even more direct. In order to fully render the message of Past Futures, nothing else is needed. And so, short clips, testimonies and archive footage present themselves to us almost like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that, all together, compose a great fresco of today’s society and of the past, in which, alongside a scarce memory, there are always those who are ready to fight for their rights, to shout their desire for justice, to remember the past in the perspective of a future so idyllic that it seems to us, today, almost a utopia.

Original title: Die vergangenen Zukünfte
Directed by: Johannes Gierlinger
Country/year: Austria / 2021
Running time: 98’
Genre: documentary
Cast: Lara Sienczak
Screenplay: Johannes Gierlinger
Cinematography: Johannes Gierlinger
Produced by: Subobscura Films

Info: the page of Past Futures on iMDb; the page of Past Futures on the website of the Subobscura Films; the page of Past Futures on the website of Johannes Gierlinger