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Chamisso’s Shadow, Part 1: Alaska and Aleutian Islands

Ulrike Ottinger
Chamissos Schatten, Teil 1: Alaska und Aleutische Inseln
Germany, Austria, Switzerland 2016 / 190’

In her latest film, shot in the far north in 2014, Ulrike Ottinger takes us to the region between America and Eurasia. She forces us to behold the waters of the Bering Sea and the volcanic land there, the flora, fauna, and people of a place where nationalities and cultures have mixed. We get to see what their present day looks like as contemplated by Ottinger's attentive lens, as well as their history, which has been determined by global economic and geopolitical interests. She gathered information from researchers such as Humboldt, Steller, and especially Adelbert von Chamisso, a German writer and botanist who traveled this area in 1815-1818 on board the Russian ship Rurik, a voyage he described in his diary. With the help of nature photos, interviews with local people, and her own original commentary, the director crafts a similar diary. Referring to Chamisso's concept of a person without a shadow, condemned to wander in search of an identity, she creates a monumental, nearly 12-hour artistic and ethnographic essay that combines historical accounts with a personal vision and reflections on just what travel really is in essence.

Part 1
Alaska and the Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian Islands, a chain of small islands forming an arc, extend from the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula to Kamchatka in the northern Pacific Ocean. Ottinger devotes the first chapter of Chamisso's Shadowto the island chain and to Alaska itself, which the archipelago is administratively a part of. She considers both the nature and customs of the local people: the ethnic and linguistic diversity cultivated by their religions, as well as their fishing industry and folk songs.

Adam Kruk

Ulrike Ottinger

Ulrike Ottinger is a German artist and director. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. She spent the 1960s painting and doing photography in Paris. In 1973, she founded her own production company in Berlin, where she has been living up until the present. She also made her first documentary in 1975, Laocoon & Sons, and she made her first full-length feature film in 1978, with the surreal Madame X: An Absolute Ruler, which featured a performance by underground icon Tabea Blumenschein from the group Die Tödliche Doris. In the 1980s, she was also involved in set design for stage plays, including for productions by Elfriede Jelinek, whose Farewell was presented again in 2000 on the stage of the Berliner Ensemble. Ottinger's original, interdisciplinary work consists of documentaries, feature films, and experimental films that can often be described as artistic forays into the territory that separates these forms. As opposed to conventional means of expression, Ottinger seeks prescriptions that differ from official arrangements and traditions, especially in Eastern cultures. Since making her eight-hour Taiga, she has consistently challenged viewers, including in terms of the length her films. Being at the same time the director, writer, producer, and cinematographer, her films are absolutely her original works in every sense.

Selected filmography

1978 Madame X - absolutna władczyni / Madame X - Eine absolute Herrscherin / Madame X: An Absolute Ruler

1984 Dorian Gray w zwierciadle prasy brukowej / Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse / Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press

1989 Mongolska Joanna D'Arc / Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia / Joan of Arc of Mongolia

2002 Südostpassage / Southeast Passage

2011 Pod śniegiem / Unter Schnee / Under Snow

2016 Cień Chamissa / Chamissos Schatten / Chamisso's Shadow

Cast & Crew

director Ulrike Ottinger
screenplay Ulrike Ottinger, Adelbert von Chamisso
cinematography Ulrike Ottinger
editing Bettina Blickwede
cast Hanns Zischler (głos/voice), Burghart Klaußner (głos/voice), Thomas Thieme (głos/voice), Ulrike Ottinger
producer Ulrike Ottinger, Udo Bremer, Jens Stubenrauch
production Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion, ZDF / 3sat, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Vita Aktiva
sales Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduction
language German, English, Russian
colouration colour