Where do a film’s colors come from? Or, as the chatty voiceover (a fictitious CEO of Kodak) cheerfully asks at the beginning: »Who is Lili?«
From the very beginning of van. Dienderen’s LILI, it is suggested that the name in the title refers to a procedure which has been observed over decades in the dark recesses of film studios. It is a method employed to ensure a consistent color tone throughout the production. At the beginning of a regular production, the camera is measured by placing a ›China Girl‹ with an affixed color table before the lens. The aim is to establish a skin tone that is smooth, and above all as white as Chinese porcelain.
From here, a camera style which plays with the conventions of documentary film – shaky shots, hasty zooms, out-of-focus images – escorts us into a studio situation where one of these ›China Girls‹ is going about her daily work. She is the perfect cliché – white, blond, blue-eyed. She sits smiling, posing for the camera before carrying out more menial tasks around the studio.
The commentary suggests that this is Lili, whereas in fact, she is merely an actress who embodies the stereotype. By staging authenticity in this manner, van. Dienderen’s film reproduces the artificiality inherent in the film making process, according to which what is supposed to appear natural in the finished film is in fact carefully constructed in advance. Not least, the method brought with it a serious gesture of exclusion. The practice of taking a white skin type as a reference point resulted in the distortion of other skin tones. This illustrates how a practice carried out before making a film establishes a norm, and how the supposed objectivity of the technical apparatus is invisibly shaped to fit prevailing ideologies.
(Sebastian Hammerschmidt, catalogue Videonale 2017)
Director: An van. Dienderen
Produced by: Elektrischer Schnellseher, coproduced by Contour 7, argos, VAF (Flemish film fund), School of arts
Lili: Maaike Neuville
Director of Photography: Léo Lefèvre
Sound: Laszlo Umbreit
Editing assistant: Kenneth Michiels
Assistant camera: Artur Castro Freire
Production: Natalie Gielen, Steven Op de Beeck, Lieze Eneman, Christina Stuhlberger
Manager Maaike: Marie Van Innis by Talent Agency Innis
Set photographer: Lisa Spilliaert
Colour Grading: Loup Brenta for Stempel
Credits titles: Mario Debaene