Heddy Honigmann, whose films were about loss and love, dies at 70

Heddy Honigmann, a Peruvian-born Dutch filmmaker whose humane, slow-paced documentaries – of Parisian street musicians, Peruvian taxi dr...

Heddy Honigmann, a Peruvian-born Dutch filmmaker whose humane, slow-paced documentaries – of Parisian street musicians, Peruvian taxi drivers, disabled people and their service dogs, Dutch peacekeepers and widows of men who had been murdered in a village near Sarajevo – were stories of loss, trauma and exile and the sustaining forces of art and love, died May 21 at her home in Amsterdam . She was 70 years old.

Her sister, Jannet Honigmann, who confirmed the death, said Ms Honigmann was suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis.

In Peru’s economic chaos of the 1990s, when the government nearly bankrupted the country and inflation soared, many members of the middle class began moonlighting as taxi drivers, putting a “Taxi” sticker on their dented Volkswagen Beetles or Nissans to signal that they were on call.

Ms Honigmann collected their stories in the 1995 film “Metal and Melancholy” in the back of more than a dozen taxis whose drivers included a teacher, a policeman, an actor and a Justice Department employee. She made more than 120 taxi rides to find her subjects.

The stories that unfolded included a devastating story of a man whose 5-year-old daughter had leukemia and who drove to pay for her medical care. When he tells Mrs. Honigmann that he encourages his daughter, whom he describes as a fighter, by telling her: “Life is hard, but beautiful”, it is a maxim for all of Mrs. Honigmann’s work.

In “The Underground Orchestra” (1999), musicians who stroll through the Paris metro – including a disc jockey from Zaire who escaped a forced labor camp and an Argentinian pianist whose torture at the hands of his government almost destroyed his hands – describe the refugee odysseys that brought them there. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it “An open celebration of human tenacity and life force that builds compelling personal vision in a casual and roundabout way.”

Despite stories of terrible trauma, the film celebrates the cultures these artists left behind – an ‘introduction to world music’, as Mr Holden put it, ‘with stunningly beautiful sounds’.

Cultural critic Wesley Morris, in his Times review of “Buddy”, Ms. Honigmann’s 2019 film about people with disabilities and their service dogs, called Ms. Honigmann a humanist who “listens to the ignored, sympathizes with the lonely and can ask questions so compelling that when her subjects give her a glance skeptical before trying to answer, she has to laugh, almost out of embarrassment.

But she was more of a gentle talker than an insistent questioner. There were no narrators in his films, no propulsive music or quick cuts to tell viewers how to experience what they were seeing. His step was almost languid; she allowed her subjects to tell their stories in their own way and at their own pace. And she hated the word “interview”.

“‘The interviews were for the subjects,’ she would say,” said Ester Gould, who was a co-writer, researcher and assistant producer on many of Ms Honigmann’s films. “‘I have conversations with people.'”

In an interview at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2002, Ms Honigmann said: “I think the only rule for me is that when I hear the stories, if they grab my attention, they will also grab the attention of the viewers.” She added: “I got lost in the conversations. And conversations, while interesting, are never boring.

She was primarily a documentarian, but she also made narrative films, including “Goodbye” (1995), about a doomed affair between a young preschool teacher and a married man.

In “O Amor Natural” (1997), Ms. Honigmann invited older Brazilians to read aloud the erotic poetry of Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, all of which had been published after his death in 1987 because he feared that not be considered pornographic. Ms. Honigmann’s readers took on their roles with enthusiasm and often told their own erotic stories. Graphic, sensual, tender and sometimes very funny, the film is a rumination on desire, memory and age.

Ms. Honigmann’s films have won awards at film festivals around the world and have been featured in retrospectives at the Walker Art Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Paris Film Festival, among others.

In 2013, she received the Living Legend Award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. Still, she is perhaps the most famous filmmaker Americans have never heard of, according to Karen Cooper, longtime director of the Film Forum in New York, which has premiered many of Ms. Honigmann’s films.

“As Americans, we live in a bubble in terms of filmmaking, because Hollywood is so dominant that documentary filmmakers don’t get the same kind of attention that narrative fiction films do,” Ms Cooper said in a statement. interview. “In this country, among documentary filmmakers, Heddy was a star. In Europe, she was a superstar. In the Netherlands, she is a national treasure.

Heddy Ena Honigmann Pach was born on October 1, 1951 in Lima, Peru. His parents were European Jewish refugees.

His father, Witold Honigmann Weiss, an artist and illustrator who created a popular comic strip, was born in Vienna and had been interned in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria before escaping in 1942, traveling to Peru via Russia and Italy. . His mother, Sarah Pach Miller, an actress and housewife, left Poland with her family for Peru in 1939. (In Peru it is customary to use both parents’ surnames. Heddy dropped the name of Pach as a filmmaker.)

Heddy studied biology and literature at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima. Her father wanted her to be a doctor. She initially wanted to be a poet – she loved Emily Dickinson – but decided film was a better medium for her. She left Peru to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome and did not return to her home country for almost two decades.

An early marriage in Lima with Gustavo Riofrio ended in divorce. In the 1970s she married Frans van de Staak, a Dutch filmmaker whom she had met in Rome, and the couple moved to Amsterdam; she became a Dutch citizen in 1978. Their marriage also ended in divorce.

Besides her sister, she is survived by her son, Stefan van de Staak; her husband, Henk Timmermans; and his son-in-law, Jaap Timmermans.

One of Ms. Honigmann’s most heartbreaking films was ‘Good Husband, Dear Son’ (2001), about women left behind in the village of Ahatovici, just outside Sarajevo, after Bosnian Serb forces murdered the men and burned down the place. in 1992. Ms. Honigmann captured the loss of the women by bringing out their memories of their loved ones and showing the photographs and personal effects the women had kept as keepsakes.

She says she has tried to show that the most terrible thing about the war is not the number of dead, which she describes as an abstraction: “The catastrophe is, for example, seeing that an entire city has lost all the craftsmen, that people who were in love have been separated forever, that children who loved to play football and loved music can no longer hear it.

“When you’re born to immigrants, you’re raised in melancholy,” Ms. Honigmann said in her 2002 speech at the Walker Center. “You hear stories of people leaving all the time. It’s in my movies. People are left behind, or they leave, or they lose their memory.

When Michael Tortorello, her interviewer, asked her what her life might have been like if she had stayed in Peru, she replied immediately: “I would have been a taxi driver.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Heddy Honigmann, whose films were about loss and love, dies at 70
Heddy Honigmann, whose films were about loss and love, dies at 70
Newsrust - US Top News
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