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Humanities Corridor presents regional tour of 'Halfmoon Files' film

October 07, 2009

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

“The Halfmoon Files”—a groundbreaking documentary about an Indian soldier whose voice is recorded in a World War I German P.O.W. camp—is the subject of a regional tour, Oct. 27-Nov. 1, by the Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor. The tour includes screenings at Syracuse University, Cornell University, the University of Rochester and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, all of which include a post-screening discussion with “Halfmoon” writer/director Philip Scheffner.

Events are free and open to the public. For more information about the tour, call the SU Humanities Center at (315) 443-7192.

“Halfmoon” makes its U.S. premiere in Ithaca on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. at Cornell Cinema (104 Willard Straight Hall). The event is co-sponsored by Cornell’s Institute for German Cultural Studies, the Department of German Studies and the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance.

The film then travels to Rochester on Wednesday, Oct. 28, for a 5 p.m. screening in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of the Rush Rhees Library. The event, followed by a blic reception, is sponsored by Rochester’s Film and Media Studies Program.

“Halfmoon” comes to SU on Thursday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium (Room 001) of the Life Sciences Complex.

The tour concludes with a two-day run at the Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Ave., Manhattan). Screenings are Saturday, Oct. 31, at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 1, at 5:15 p.m. Co-sponsors are the Goethe-Institut New York, as well as the Deutsches Haus and Department of Cinema Studies, both at New York University.

The Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor is an interdisciplinary partnership administered by the SU Humanities Center involving SU, Cornell and Rochester. The tour grew out of the corridor’s Visual Arts and Cultures Cluster.

“We are privileged to partner with our sister institutions in this special cinematic opportunity,” says Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, as well as founding director of the SU Humanities Center and principal investigator of the Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor. “Philip Scheffner is a pioneer, immersed in the avant-garde aesthetic. He is especially known for utilizing cutting-edge technology, notably experimental music and sound design, to address age-old issues and problems.” Scheffner is founding partner of Pong, a multimedia production company in Berlin.

Roger Hallas, assistant professor of English at SU, says the inspiration for the project occurred a few years ago, when Scheffner stumbled across an archive of old Shellac recordings in Berlin. The crackling voice of Mall Singh, the P.O.W. in question, was among hundreds of colonial soldiers uttered into a phonographic funnel some 90 years ago. “The recordings grew out of a unique experiment among German militaristic, scientific and entertainment communities,” explains Hallas, who organized the tour.

Scheffner describes the documentary as a kind of ghost story: “The people who are speaking are invisible, but their presence can be felt in the air. So to some extent, they appear as ghosts.” While Scheffner’s films typically eschew narration, “Halfmoon” is different: “I hope [the narration] somehow provokes the question of who’s speaking and who are the protagonists of the film,” he says.

Following its 2007 premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, the 87-minute piece garnered top honors at the Duisburg Documentary Film Festival (Germany), the Marseille Documentary Film Festival (France) and the Mar del Plata Film Fest (Argentina). It has since received additional honors and awards, as well as critical acclaim throughout Europe.

“’Halfmoon’ transforms a previously obscure episode in Indo-Germany history into a compelling meditation on the recorded voice, the archive and cultural memory,” says Hallas. “It will both fascinate and move students and scholars alike.”

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