Review: Remapping the Origins (2018), by Johannes Gierlinger

The city of Bialystok, located in the North-Eastern part of Poland, today seems like a regular Polish provincial town, much affected by the sharp right turn towards populism of the national politics, but in the past it was quite a peculiar town that served as birthplace and home to many great people and ideas. For instance, both the inventor of Esperanto Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof and the pioneer of documentary and newsreel cinema Dziga Vertov were from Bialystok and the town was also a stronghold of anarchist wing of the International Workers Movement.

Also, the ethnic landscape of the city is, or at least was, very colourful, predominantly Jewish, but with significant Russian, German, Polish and even Tatar population, and its history was quite eventful due to its location near the borders between kingdoms and empires. The town was living through its golden age in the 19th century, before both the 1906 Pogrom and the Holocaust have hit its inhabitants heavily. Today it is a kind of place where state-sponsored right-wing groups would interrupt a theatre show if they find something un-Polish or un-Catholic in it.

The latest documentary Remapping the Origins by the Austrian filmmaker Johannes Gierlinger is, by the author’s own account given in his own narration, an attempt to see the past, the present and the future of a specific town in the form of a short film essay. Of course, the famous inhabitants and historical events are being put into a perspective, as are the terms and ideas of anti-fascism, urban development, cultural and artistic freedom, the necessity of resistance and social criticism, sometimes by Gierlinger himself, sometimes by the locals, usually young people, he interviews.

The final vision is as unique as it is fluid, so Remapping the Origins is, above all, quite a personal film. It is all legitimate, yet it also feels arbitrary, almost random. Finally, even the “short” label should be approached with caution: the running time clocks 42 minutes, so it is more of a mid-length, or featurette, a format that makes it almost ideal for a slot on the programme of some culture-leaning television channel.

Director: Johannes Gierlinger
Script: Johannes Gierlinger
Camera: Johannes Gierlinger
Editor: Johannes Gierlinger
Music: Frank Rottman, Moritz Nahold
Producer: Johannes Gierlinger