Life In Berlin: Notfilm

Oct 19, 2016

Ross Lipman's new documentary "Notfilm" recently screened in Berlin on the tenth edition of DOKU.Arts, an international festival dedicated to films on art.

“In earlier times he believed art has to be about life, and then later on he realized that art also can be about art. His film is a great introduction for what we do for ten years now,” says Andreas Lewin, speaking about Lipman.

Lewin is the founder of DOKU.Arts. The American made a feature length documentary on a 20 minute experimental short by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.

"In 1964, five years before receiving the Nobel Prize, Samuel Beckett made his only motion picture film, called simply 'Film,'" says Lipman. 

“Beckett’s script was just full of these strange cryptic notes and diagrams," Lipman continues. "It was, to say the least, not your standard screenplay. And it always stuck with me.”

Film still from "Notfilm."
Credit © Ross Lipman_ still from Notfilm

Lipman read Beckett’s screenplay as an undergraduate. Many years later working as a UCLA archivist, he was asked to restore Beckett’s film. During his research he became friends with Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press, who produced Beckett’s short.

“I was working on the reconstruction," says Lipman. "Barney also gave me audio tapes with Beckett in dialog with Boris Kaufman and Alan Schneider, it’s quite an historical document, because we have so little records of Beckett’s voice, so between all these wonderful pieces that I was requiring, I soon realized that I have a film.”

Lipman was intrigued by the amazing talents that worked on Beckett’s film. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman won the Oscar for "On the Waterfront." Theater director Alan Schneider staged the American premieres of Beckett’s plays. The main character in "Film" was portrayed by Buster Keaton, depicting a man who is afraid to be seen. Lipman’s "Notfilm" splits the difference between conventional documentary and movie essay. It follows the making of Beckett’s film, while continuing to explore the ideas it first proposed.

“A lot of the interesting parts of Beckett’s film for me are, where you see him wrestling with the medium, trying to interpret his ideas in a concrete form and that’s where Notfilm is able to use all the archival elements and pull them together. And you can see things that he tried that didn’t make it in the final film and how those relate to the ideas he tried to express. So it’s quite an exciting project for me and kept me busy for seven years.”