Chantal Akerman

® Kenneth Saunders

I met Chantal in a posh high school in brussels in 1965 where we were both up to no good. Neither of us felt at ease there, we would often skip school to go to the movies. We used to go downtown to very exciting places where we saw in a tiny theater, Pierrot le fou. We also used to go to the Belgian Film Archives (CINEMATEK) having 3 screenings a day.

As we were broken, we would hitchhike from Brussels to Paris to go to the theatre, which is the story of the film J’ai faim, j’ai froid. We attended the Knokke Experimental Film Festival where we watched films while lying on the floor and drinking milk. We were so astonished that there was no plot and we told each other that we wanted to make movies.

We enrolled in a film school by cheating on the entry exam. I was the one to cheat, Chantal helped me with the math, I was hopeless and still I am. We didn’t like film school, they wanted us to study physics, math, optics, and we just wanted to make pictures and write scripts.

Chantal went to Paris, and I stayed in Brussels. We would meet to make movies. Chantal made Saute ma ville – I was probably there, maybe for driving. Chantal made Je tu il elle – I was the one throwing artificial snow through the window.

When she went to NY, I went to see her. In News from Home her mother said “Marilyn will bring you money”. We crossed the country in an old truck with some runaway kids and hippies.

We wrote a script together and we went to see a hot producer. He was too busy at the time, and we were so impatient, so we created Paradise Films. Everything was easy then; we just need 200 US$ to start. It was in this joyful chaos that we made Jeanne Dielman. The story of our film merged with the story of our lives. We had fun, we travelled the world to go to festivals. We met amazing people who became partners and friends.

So movie images come back to my mind: we are waiting for Aurore Clément at the train station in Germany, the day before the start of Les Rendez-vous d’Anna. Aurore is stepping out of the train with a wonderful coat. To me it was the beginning of the film. And one of my favorite professional memories is when Chantal and I went chasing costumes for Histoires d’Amérique in the closet of old actors in NY.

We lived with great freedom, we felt carefree, we lived dangerously. Paradise Films had glorious heights and tremendous slows and we cared so much for it. I wouldn’t say that I produced Chantal’s films I simply wanted the films to be. We took a risk on each one of them.

With Chantal the process seems so obvious. For D’Est we drove from Brussels to Odessa. Sometimes we spent the whole day without filming. Then all a sudden she would say : “We are getting out” and she would direct a shot.  She used to say that she was lazy, but she has a huge energy and a phenomenal ability for hard work.

Even though it was a life story cut up in different movements with hellos and goodbyes, she had been my friend for fifty years and she still is.

Marilyn Watelet


Marilyn Watelet was born in Brussels. She started in Belgian television and founded the company Paradise Films with Chantal Akerman in the 1970s.

She worked as a stage manager, assistant director, production manager and producer on some thirty fiction and documentary films by Chantal Akerman and other filmmakers, while teaching at INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle) from 1992 onwards and making documentary films from 1994 onwards with Szymon Zaleski: Fin de Siglo (1994), École 27 (1996), Elian, l’enfant captif (2001), À toute épreuve (2004).

Since 2005, she has devoted herself to making radio documentaries. Marylin Watelet has been programming films at the Belgian Week in Havana since 2015. She is also an associate administrator of the Fondation Chantal Akerman.


Chantal Akerman, 4x 2', 1967, Belgium

These four short films were made by Chantal Akerman in the summer of 1967, in standard 8mm format, in black and white and without sound, as part of her entrance exams to the Institut Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle (INSAS) in Brussels, where she was admitted in 1967, and where she stayed for only a few months before abandoning her studies.

Chantal Akerman filmed La Foire de Midi in Brussels, which takes place every summer in the southern districts of the city, as well as the courtyard of the Hôtel de Clèves-Ravenstein, where by chance, 50 years later, the Chantal Akerman Foundation was created. On the Belgian coast, Marilyn Watelet — her childhood friend with whom she founded the production company Paradise Films in the 1970s — and her own mother Natalia Akerman, are the protagonists of a short fiction in two parts that takes place in the shops of the seaside resort.



Chantal Akerman, 13', 1968, Belgium
Written and directed by:Chantal Akerman
Restored by Cinémathèque royale de Belgique (Cinematek, Belgium) from the original camera negative (B&W, 35mm).

Suburbs of Brussels: a young lady in her apartment’s kitchen mops the floors, polishes her shoes, dances, cooks, drinks wine, then she duct-tapes the door, opens the gas and blows everything up – humming all along.



Chantal Akerman, 65', 1972, Belgium
Director: Chantal Akerman
Screenplay: Chantal Akerman
Cinematography: Babette Mangolte
Editing: Geneviève Luciani
Cast: Chantal Akerman
Production: Chantal Akerman

Akerman’s static camera seizes upon the head-on format to frame the entrance, certain corridor, the interior of the lift – to frame, fix in a frame, shots composed of lines, volumes and voids, objects of architectural fascination/documentation. Finally, there is a long tracking shot which sweeps across a landscape – not at ground level but where the tops of the buildings meet the sky.



Chantal Akerman, 11', 1972, Belgium
Director: Chantal Akerman
Editing: Geneviève Luciani
Photography: Babette Mangolte

Two 360° travelling shots describe the space of a room as a succession of still lifes: a chair, some fruit on a table, solitary, waiting objects. Glimpsed within these movements, one sole presence: a young women sitting on a bed. The third shot stops in mid-course, to reverse its movement and reframe the young woman who is eating an apple.



Chantal Akerman, 27', 1973, Belgium

Hanging Out Yonkers was originally intended as a commission for a social services agency dealing with the reintegration of young offenders and drug addicts in New York. The film was never finished so the only footage available is this 27-minute soundless reel.


LE 15/8

Chantal Akerman, 42', 1973, Belgium
Director: Chantal Akerman, Samy Szlingerbaum
Screenplay: Chantal Akerman, Samy Szlingerbaum
Cinematography: Chantal Akerman, Samy Szlingerbaum
Editing: Chantal Akerman, Samy Szlingerbaum
Cast: Chris Myllykoski
Production: Chantal Akerman

Mid-August in Paris (the title is a date: August 15) in a sunny, quiet apartment a young woman talks, thinks, reflects about herself, everyday life and little events in a long, uninterrupted monologue. The camera pictures her and her gestures in long, fixed shots moving around the rooms, the space, the light and shadows of a summer day.



Chantal Akerman, 90', 1974, Belgium-France
Director: Chantal Akerman
Screenplay: Chantal Akerman, Eric De Kuyper
Cinematography: Bénédicte Delesalle, Renelde Dupont, Charlotte Szlovak
Editing: Luc Freché
Sound: Samy Szlingerbaum, Gérard Rousseau
Production: Paradise Films
Cast: Chantal Akerman, Niels Arestrup, Claire Wauthier

A young girl leaves her town after a difficult love affair and takes refuge in a room in another town. Later she leaves this room, stops a truck on the side of the highway and spends most of the night with the truck driver, a man who could have been a friend.

At the end of the road, she finds, probably for a short time, the girl she really loves.

Je, tu, il, elle tells the story of the last three moments of a young girl’s adolescence, painfully approaching adulthood, and who will have to give up something of herself to conform to it.



Chantal Akerman, 201', 1975, Belgium
Director: Chantal Akerman
Screenplay: Chantal Akerman
Cinematography: Babette Mangolte, Bénédicte Delesalle
Editing: Patricia Canino
Sound: Benie Deswarte, Françoise Van Thienen, Alain Marchal
Producer: Evelyne Paul, Alain Dahan
Production: Paradise Films (Belgium), Unité Trois (France), Ministère de la Culture Française (Belgium)
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Yves Bical
Restored by Cinémathèque royale de Belgique.

We almost break into the daily household routine of a woman, of which is almost always hidden, stifled. We meet Jeanne for the first time although her story began long ago. Married at 20, birth of a son and a few years later the death of her husband. Jeanne has a perfectly organized life, meticulously ritualistic, which leaves no room for improvisation. The rhythm and rites of the immutable, an energy daily renewed whose effects are being daily wrecked. The apparent triviality of the action disappearing in favor of its abstraction. This work, played out in silent isolation with no sense of reality, which nevertheless seems as it must be accomplished, and which only appears as a piddling means of survival.



Chantal Akerman, 90', 1976, Belgium-France
Written and directed by:Chantal Akerman
Cinematography: Babette Mangolte
Editing: Francine Sandberg
Sound: Dominique Dalmasso, Larry Haas
Production: Paradise Films (Brussels), Unité trois (Paris), INA (Paris), ZDF (Mainz)
Restored by Cinémathèque royale de Belgique (Cinematek, Belgium).

News from Home comes through as « love letters » to the filmmaker in New York from her mother in Europe. This text paints an intimate picture of family life, with its catalogue of minor illnesses, domestic routines, betrothals and financial anxieties. The elegiac emotionalism of the text is counterpointed not only by the flat monotone of Akerman’s recitation but also by the images of Manhattan as an alien, urban ghost-town, its streets preternaturally empty.