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Von Trier's 'Gesamt' Project Asks Emerging Filmmakers to Reinterpret Six Major Works

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by Beth Hanna
October 1, 2012 1:52 PM
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Paul Gauguin's "Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?"
Paul Gauguin's "Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?"

In August 2012, Danish enfant terrible director Lars von Trier posed a challenge to the aspiring filmmakers of the world: Reinterpret one or more of six classic works (James Joyce's novel "Ulysses," Paul Gauguin's painting "Where do you come from? Who are we? Where are we going?" and Sammy Davis Jr.'s step dance performance "Choreography" among them) into a film, video, still, piece of music or soundpiece. True to Trier's apocalyptic leanings as of late, the project is titled "GESAMT - Disaster 501: What Happened to Man."

Not a competition, the GESAMT project will take 400-plus submissions and work them into one exhibition at the Charlottenborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark, to run October 20 through December 30. Emerging artists from 52 countries including Colombia, Ukraine, Thailand, Brazil and Japan submitted pieces; the U.S. had the highest number of submissions.

The original uniting thread behind the exhibition was uplifting: to show man as a symbolic part of a larger community. But as the submissions poured in, it became apparent to Trier and artistic director Jenle Hallund that the artists reacted to the project's theme by creating works communicating loneliness and yearning, even taking on a dimension of disaster, hence the series title.

Of the six pieces participants could reinterpret (below), Gaugin's inspired the most reactions, with 127 testimonies.

  • James Joyce’s novel Ulysses
  • August Strindberg’s play The Father
  • Albert Speer’s monument Zeppelinfield in Nuremberg
  • the painting Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? by the French painter Paul Gauguin
  • the French composer César Franck's Sonate in A major
  • Sammy Davis Jr’s step dance performance Choreography
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