LET EACH ONE GO WHERE HE MAY (2009)
by Ben Russell
Grand Prize Winner of the 2010 Pamplona Punto de Vista Film Festival
International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award for Best Film of the 2010 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Best International Feature Film of the 2010 DOCLISBOA International Film Festival
Torino International Film Festival 2010 Cult Award—True Stories in Cinema
Grand Prix du Long Métrage Documentaire 2010, Festival International du Film de Belfort
Prix RED (Réseau d'Echange et d'Expérimentation) 2010, Festival International du Film de Belfort
Included among a selection of 40 films to represent 40 years of Steadicam at the Film Society of the Lincoln Centre
Nearly wordless and shot in 10-minute takes, this experimental ethnographic film by Chicagoan Ben Russell accompanies two South American descendants of African slaves on a kind of pilgrimage, from the developed north of Suriname, a former Dutch colony, to inland jungles that buffer old tribal villages. A Steadicam records the young brothers as they travel by bus, by boat, and on foot; gridlocked urban traffic gives way to a remote mining site, then trees falling in a rainforest, before they arrive at a hamlet of the Maroon tribe to dance in an archaic ritual masquerade. The hypnotic effect is completed by the final shot, in which the brothers head home via canoe, the receding sound of their oars leaving behind only the mythic image of man as journeyer. 135 min.
Andrea Gronval, Chicago Reader
A reflection on the history of Surinamese migrants and slaves by one of the most prominent experimental film makers of our time, in thirteen takes each lasting ten minutes. He follows two brothers from the outskirts of Paramaribo via forest paths, goldmines and rivers to a Marron village.
'This is how we’ve heard it: during slavery, there was hardly anything to eat. They would whip you until your ass was burning, then they would give you a bit of plain rice in a bowl. And the gods said, they said that this is no way for human beings to live. The gods would help them. "Let each one go where he may." So they ran.'
This text from Lantifaya Masiakiiki is the starting point for the full-length-film debut by Ben Russell, one of the most prominent experimental film makers of our time. The film can be regarded as the culmination of his work: from his often ethnographically inspired short film oeuvre to the period when in the 1990s he was first active as a development worker in Bendekonde in Saramacca, Surinam.
Let Each One Go Where He May is made up of thirteen takes of ten minutes each. Two brothers (Benjen and Monie Pansa) are followed with a 16mm Steadicam, an athletic and aesthetic tour de force by cameraman Chris Fawcett. From the outer suburbs of Paramaribo, along forest paths and marketplaces, past illegal goldmines to the jungle and on a motorboat along the river to a Maroon village, where they take part in the most exciting rituals still performed by these descendants of slaves who once fled the Dutch colonial rulers. The result is a reflection on the history of forced migration and a profound investigation into the cultural characteristics of looking and showing.
International Flim Festival Rotterdam
Ben Russell’s newest film, Let Each One Go Where He May, is the culmination not only of certain aims and tendencies within the filmmaker’s own impressive body of work. It actually represents the culmination of a particular tendency—or energy—that has been at work for a long time within experimental cinema, but has never been its main thrust and has often been misunderstood. A personal film, a documentary, an ethnography, and a piece of international art cinema, Let Each One Go Where He May is a film that, if we follow it on its path, will take us somewhere far from where we began. In its most basic terms. Let Each One consists of 13 unbroken ten-minute takes, ten of which Russell and cinematographer Chris Fawcett conducted in 16mm with a Steadicam rig. The other three are stationary. The film takes place in Suriname, centring on two Saramaccaner Maroon brothers, Monie and Benjen Pansa, as they journey from the outskirts of Paramarimbo along a path their ancestors blazed 300 years ago while fleeing their Dutch slavemasters. The film’s title comes from an episode in Surinamese oral history in which the Gods arrive to release the slaves. Russell’s adoption of this injunction as the film’s title, while utterly natural and charged with a politicized poetry, becomes less and less obvious the more time one spends in the film’s company.
Throughout Let Each One, Russell and his performers (including the camera itself—Fawcett’s work is some of the most graceful, athletic operation since Tilman Büttner’s in Russian Ark ) continually mine these paradoxes, between unobtrusive observation and clear choreography, between freedom and determination. And, when examined once more within a socio-cultural framework, Russell’s procedures take on an even more nuanced rhetorical character. For it’s one thing to note that “certain types of avant-garde films” plunk the camera down and let ‘er rip. It’s another matter altogether to suggest that, in purely formal terms, Russell’s mode of determined mobility with the Pansa brothers complicates our notions of realism, particularly in the realm of the so-called ethnographic. But when we watch each of the 13 shots in Let Each One, there is a common denominator that joins nearly all of them. That is labour.
Cinema-Scope Review by Michael Sicinski
Fortuitous bookings bring two remarkable American films standing at the crossroads of avant-garde cinema and sensory ethnography to the Bay Area this week: Sweetgrass and Let Each One Go Where He May. Both works adapt effective strategies to work against the slide toward unexamined realism endemic to their troubled genres (the wildlife film and standard anthropological ethnography). First and foremost among them is a coherent program of intense artfulness. One can immediately point to Ernst Karel's sound design (Sweetgrass) and Chris Fawcett's 16mm Steadicam cinematography (Let Each One) as virtuoso performances opening the films to beauty and doubt, an unlikely ethnographic tandem.
San Francisco Bay Guardian
The boys are on a pilgrimage from the north of Suriname to the jungles of the country. In the various stories we watch them travel on foot (a lot), by bus and by boat. They walk through jungle, through a city and by a remote mine. Their ultimate destination is a small village where they are to participate in a ritual event.
If there is a hero here it is Chris Fawcett the cameraman. To achieve what he did with a Steadicam is pretty bloody amazing. Would have had to have been an almost athletic feat if you ask me.
Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
Cast: Benjen & Monie Pansa, Saramaccan brothers from Bendekonde, Suriname
Director: Ben Russell, Filmmaker, Dimeshow
Camera: Chris Fawcett, Steadicam Cinematographer, Steadivision
Sound: Brigid McCaffrey, Experimental Filmmaker