Charcoal Burning

In Switzer­land, a film­mak­er who was fas­ci­nat­ed as a child by the char­coal piles close to his home decid­ed to make a film about char­coal burn­ing. In the Congo, a French doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er found a char­coal burner who under­takes this huge effort all on his own in order to feed his family. Both films were com­plet­ed in the same year. We were fas­ci­nat­ed by this coin­ci­dence, and it is the ideal start­ing point for a sub­ject that inspires so many fun­da­men­tal ideas.
Char­coal has been a source of energy for many cen­turies. Indus­tri­al­ly pro­duced char­coal still exists today, but the qual­i­ty is infe­ri­or, and eco­log­i­cal­ly con­tro­ver­sial. The sus­tain­abil­i­ty of this trade is a prob­lem. No one prof­its in the long term if the last trees are cut down in Africa to pro­duce char­coal. With­out doubt, char­coal burn­ing also pro­duces pol­lu­tants. On the other hand, it is an effi­cient and renew­able energy source up to a lim­it­ed degree.
Mean­while, bar­be­quing con­tin­ues to gain pop­u­lar­i­ty in Europe, along with new, rather lux­u­ri­ous ways of using char­coal – for exam­ple, in Japan­ese tea cer­e­monies. Char­coal burn­ers in Switzer­land are strug­gling to meet this increase in demand, pri­mar­i­ly because only a few people are will­ing to do this exhaust­ing work. How­ev­er, Robert Müller, the direc­tor of KÖHLERNÄCHTE, sees in char­coal burn­ing the intrin­sic value of indi­vid­ual work restored as clear­ly dis­tin­guished from work­ing con­di­tions of finan­cial cap­i­tal­ism (in ref­er­ence to Richard Sen­nett).
This process of exhaust­ing work can be wit­nessed in detail in both films. The con­di­tions in the Congo are espe­cial­ly dis­il­lu­sion­ing because the char­coal burner works alone, while in Switzer­land, sev­er­al fam­i­lies work togeth­er and sup­port each other. The oldest family mem­bers pass on their knowl­edge to the youngest. When watch­ing this pow­er­ful film, we feel the organ­ic and inter­con­nect­ing aspect of this trade that brings the forest and people togeth­er.

Köhlernächte

Robert Müller
Switzerland 2017 | 93 min | engl. subtitled
Fri, 31-May-19 10:00 PM
Q&A with: Robert Müller
In Switzer­land, tra­di­tion­al char­coal burn­ing is still a trade. Each summer, smoke rises out of the char­coal piles, or kilns. The pro­ce­dure takes five weeks. The metic­u­lous stack­ing of the … read more

Makala

Emmanuel Gras
France 2017 | 96 min | engl. subtitled
Fri, 31-May-19 07:30 PM
Emmanuel Gras says that the idea for his film was quite simple. Kab­wi­ta, his pro­tag­o­nist from Kol­wezi in the south of the Congo, makes a living from char­coal burn­ing. Nor­mal­ly, … read more