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A Tribute to Margarethe von Trotta

Posted: 03/11/2010

Von Trotta  
Robert and Peg Boyers (right) met up with Margarethe von Trotta (left) at the Miami International Film Festival  

Considered a pioneer and an icon of international feminist cinema since the 1970s, Margarethe von Trotta ranks among the world’s most important filmmakers. Skidmore awarded her an honorary degree in 2007 and the current issue of Salmagundi includes an extensive special feature on her work.

Salmagundi editor-in-chief Robert Boyers discovered von Trotta’s work nearly 30 years ago with the release of Marianne and Juliane, the story of two sisters who fight for a better world in very different ways—one as a feminist journalist and activist, the other as a terrorist member of the notorious Baader Meinhof gang. That film—for which von Trotta won the Venice Film Festival award as Best Director-- solidified von Trotta’s position as a director of the New German Cinema, and prompted Boyers to include her among the great directors whose work he explores in English 217, the course in film he has taught for forty years at Skidmore.

“As a great artist, she has taught us how to feel and not abandon our capacity to think,” Boyers observes in his preface to Salmagundi’s feature on von Trotta, who has received numerous international awards for such films as Rosenstrasse, Sheer Madness, Sisters, Rosa Luxemburg, and most recently, Vision.

“It is our hope,” he continued, that this issue of Salmagundi will “enlarge her American following and inspire others here to devote new festivals to her work and to introduce her films to a new generation of students and filmgoers.”

Boyers himself organized a conference on von Trotta’s work at Skidmore in 1985 and a six-film von Trotta film festival on the campus in 2007. Moreover, he and his wife, Peg, Salmagundi’s executive editor, organized a series of screenings and panel discussions with von Trotta in December in conjunction with the publication of Salmagundi’s special issue. So it was fitting that both were on hand Wednesday night at the International Miami Film Festival when von Trotta was awarded the Career Achievement Tribute Award and her new film, Vision, was screened. Vision tells the remarkable story of Hildegard of Bingen – the 12th century Benedictine abbess, author, composer, scientist and philosopher who, in defying the church’s sexist norms, influenced events that led ultimately to the Renaissance.

The Life Time Achievement Award and Tribute took place last night at Miami’s Gusman Theater, an ornately Moorish movie palace, built in 1926, its blue painted ceiling alive with stars and drifting clouds. The evening opened with a 15-minute video tour of great moments in von Trotta’s career, including clips from films she directed and footage from Coup de Grace, a film directed by Volker Schlöndorff, in which von Trotta played the lead role. Next, Barbara Sukowa, von Trotta’s lead actress in five films and a participant in the 2007 Skidmore College conference on von Trotta, took the stage and spoke eloquently about the rare experience of working with a director who had also been an actress and von Trotta’s sensitivity to actors and their ideas about their roles. Later, von Trotta confirmed that she regards actors as full collaborators and described changes she had made in a script in response to Sukowa’s suggestions.

It was Sukowa who presented the Life Time Achievement Award to her favorite director. In her acceptance remarks, Von Trotta spoke of her progression from actress to assistant director to solo director of her own films, and noted that the festival’s recognition of her followed only by days the awarding of an Oscar for best director to a woman. (In fact, von Trotta was also celebrated in the U.S. last fall for her most recent film, VISION, which was featured at the Telluride Film Festival.)

A short on-stage Q&A with von Trotta followed the presentation, and that in turn was followed by the showing of Vision on the enormous Gusman Theatre screen. The auditorium was packed and, in the end, the audience erupted in applause.

The finale? As audience members filed out of the theatre into the capacious reception area, many stopped to purchase one of the hundreds of copies of the Salmagundi special issue on von Trotta on display. And thus did Skidmore’s own quarterly magazine -- which contains a DVD of a von Trotta feature film called The Other Woman otherwise unavailable in the U.S. -- play its role in the Miami Film Festival tribute.

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Salmagundi’s feature on Margarethe von Trotta includes contributions by ten Skidmore faculty, including Robert Boyers, Peg Boyers, Susan Kress, Mary Stange, Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, Patricia Rubio, Gautam Dasgupta, Susannah Mintz, John Anzalone, and Regina Janes. To order a copy, click here.