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Patricia Plattner (1953 - 2016)

Patricia Plattner

A preference for light

One day, or was it a night, in her early thirties, Patricia Plattner decided to make movies. She started up a production company called Light Night, a symbol of her artistic vision of light: meaning both bright and subtle. There are no nightmares in the work of this filmmaker. Misfortune for her is simply part of life, like joy and friendship. She says she loves day as well as night. Let’s add that she expresses her own preference for gentle lightness. From the start, Patricia Plattner has felt that she is not one to teach people lessons or make examples; she is not out to impress or intimidate. The light she infusesinto her fictional and documentary work is intended to guide, tenderly and delicately. She prefersstories with a happy end – should they really need an ending at all. She prefers to document what is encouraging rather than depressing. She believes that an hour and a half of film is more usefulif it brightens rather than darkens the audience's mood. “I have no need to be against. I needto be for.” Light Night, both bright and subtle.

A rainbow of desires

Her aesthetic position grew up with her. As a teenager – she was born on the 22nd of January 1953 – Patricia Plattner saw herself as a theatre director or an architect. Making movies, in the days of Antonioni, was merely a dream. A girl like her would tremble at the magic of The Red Desert or Profession: Reporter, yet that she would ever be behind the camera…? In Switzerland there was not even a film school. The Tanner and Goretta from the Group of 5 had gone to London to study. She would have had to leave... No doubt the time had not yet come for the passionate traveller she was to become. As a filmmaker, Patricia Plattner, who describes herself as a “firmly rooted nomad”, was also committed to travelling and discovering other worlds. At first, Patricia dedicated herself to art history and painting at Geneva Fine Arts School. Painting, then, was already more than painting: photography, performances, installations, conceptual art and video were all beginning to find their way. A year of travelling around the world, a grant in Vancouver, Canada, and there she was, holding a video camera, learning about moving images in the context of contemporary art. Then, for a few years, in Carouge, Geneva, where she still lives, she cut and stuck texts and photographs, devoting herself to graphic design with the studios she had launched in 1979 with artist friends (Les Studios Lolos).

Rhymes, pastels and sketches

Her first experience of cinema was soon to come. A friend of hers was shooting a film and she was taken on as Jill of all trades: scenery, location and office work, production and catering. She got a glimpse of what filmmaking is about: professionalism, learning to cope, human and financial management and, above all, if things go well, art too. Discovering that she had the makings of a director, she decided to make her own film. This was The Queen of Spades (1986), a short black-and-white film, a wink to Satyajit Ray’s Music Room, which brought her into the profession. “A promising sample of her qualities as a filmmaker”, commented one Geneva newspaper on seeing these twenty minutes about the life of a Russian prince exiled on the banks of lake Léman, whose death turned the life of an unemployed man upside down. The wheel is turning. Three years passed until her first full-length film. An unexpected meeting with French-Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, a symbolic financial contribution to The Cannibals (Manoel de Oliveira, 1988) and a collaboration was settled. Co-productions followed such as Abraham's Valley (Manoel de Oliveira, 1993), Modern Life (Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, 2000) or That Day (Raul Ruiz, 2003). And here she comes with Piano Panier or In Search of the Equator (1989): low budget, shot in Portugal, professional actors, a subtle, connivent cameraman, Matthias Kaelin, who was to remain her loyal accomplice; a talented editor, Loredana Cristelli and an emerging style: light, leisurely scenes in the lives of two young girls faced with love and uncertainty – with no moral ending. Life as it is, simple ordinary life, between bursts of emotion. Light, light, no burden!

Light and music from real life

Patricia Plattner is not trying to seduce or bamboozle anyone: presence and action are what matters. This is the fantastic challenge on which she has founded her work. She has grasped the possibilities offered by cinema – narrative, image, sound, attentive listening, actors’ direction, editing – to stimulate whatever exists or whatever is created by an artist. Whether in documentary or fiction, her position is that of the author of a reality, both the one she encounters and the one she invents. As an author with a light touch, she won’t force her point. Amongst all the documentaries she has made, three masterful portraits illustrate her skills. With Nicolas Bouvier, (The Owl and the Whale, 1993), she remains at a distance behind the poet, a fragile man whom she allows to unveil himself through a long conversation, respecting his silences. They were close. From him, through her desire for restraint, she received this overwhelming story of a writer's torment as he seeks words to tell his truth. With Herbert von Karajan, (Maestro, Maestro, 1999), she faces the opposite challenge: to set aside the noise that surrounds the director, to ignore his riotous celebrity and do justice to the power of the musician, the toil and vision of a man whose gift had been veiled by his reputation of wealth and fulfilment. He had died ten years before, so that archives and witnesses alone spoke for him. Some spoke well of him, and others did not. There were choices to be made. “I am here for the better”, says Patricia Plattner. Light takes precedence over darkness. With Made in India (1998), the filmmaker has chosen to shine her light on the Untouchables of India who have formed themselves into a trade union. This certainly was a political and moral choice, but it was also a characteristic one: Nicolas Bouvier was able to lighten his night through his words and images. So why should these women from India not lighten their own darkness by joining forces to demand dignity and fair treatment? It was a different situation, and a different method, but the same need to emerge from a tunnel. “Inconsolable, but joyful”, says Patricia, who always lives in hope, wherever her cinematographic journeys around the planet take her.

Joëlle Kuntz

Ela Bhatt, founder and first general secretary of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), wrote on September 8, 2016m upon hearing of Patricia's death:

Dear Dan,

Oh Ma ! It is very sad to read this news. I have never forgotten dear Patricia, slim and pretty, long hair, eyes smiling, kind. She made the film on SEWA when SEWA was quite young and fresh in its spirits that I have never seen in SEWA after that. The tall woman Bhachiben of a desert village sitting and working on an embroidery piece, and s.l.o.w.l.y standing up to her full height, that first shot of her film, has been a strong message of a woman's dignity standing up. Then, I had a good time together in Paris on the occasion of premier show of the SEWA film in a cinema house. We met again in Geneva in your home and that was the day when this film of ours was shown in a public theatre in Geneva and the President of the country viz Switzerland* was buying the ticket standing in a line. Unbelievable for an Indian ! Dan, do you remember that ? And, While arriving at a restaurant for a dinner that evening we passed from a shop, rather a beauty parlour for pet dogs, that I had seen for the first time, and then we argued over animals' rights, half the time while eating (and not worker's' rights, for a change !). Do you remember ?

I was not aware of her ailment, so this was a shocking news for me.

Pray, may God rest her soul in peace !

* Ruth Dreifuss

Made in India paints the portrait of SEWA, an association of self-employed female workers which comprises no less than 211'124 members in 1998. Based in the heart of India, at Ahmedabad, SEWA federates, organizes and educates women of the lowest castes, inspired by the political, economic and moralmodel advocated by Gandhi. To say that this is no small task, given Indian society’s apriorism, compartmentalization and economic difficulties, would be an understatement. In order to illustrate what a daunting job it is, Patricia Plattner accompanies Martha, Ranbai, Geeta, Badrunnisha, Shakri and above all Rami on their daily rounds: with the support of the association, each plays her role in educating embroiderers, collecting and selling natural rubber, and carrying out the programmes of cleaning up urban areas and reforesting rural areas. It is seen how mentalities and activities are thus slowly but surely reformed. Others featured in the film are Ela R. Bhatt, the association’s founder, and Mirai Chattarjee, Reema Nanavaly and others in charge of running and developing the association’s bank, university, insurance and so on, structures which play a vital part in its activity. The film also deals with the questions – or criticisms – aimed at the enterprise concerning the inclusion of women belonging to the upper classes, the admission of men, and so on. Patricia Plattner remains in the background and allows her superb images to tell the story of an unfolding new world.

Bertrand Bacqué (in catalogue of "Visions du réel", International Film Festival, Nyon, 1998)