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Chamisso’s Shadow, Part 2: Chukotka and Wrangel Island

Ulrike Ottinger
Chamissos Schatten, Teil 2: Tschukotka und Wrangel-Insel
Germany, Austria, Switzerland 2016 / 345’

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 2, Story 1
Chukotka

Adelbert von Chamisso wrote that Chukotka is a very lonely region. Most of the area is located beyond the Arctic Circle, so the climate is extremely harsh. However, Ottinger does not focus exclusively on the difficulties of life on the peninsula. She also describes dog breeding and the region's culinary habits: drying fish or preparing seal meat for consumption. All of this has a ritual dimension, and the holiest thing here is water.

Part 2, Story 2
Chukotka and Wrangel Island

Described by Gogol, Chekhov, and Cook, these lands are a field of research and observation for the director. The scenes filmed by Ottinger, interspersed with old photographs and prints, sometimes with an ethnographic twist, reveal the habits of the population, such as folk dancing or curing reindeer hides. At times, they simply revel in the sound of the sea or the appearance of local foxes. The imprint of history can also be seen here, although in the form of radioactive waste disposal.

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