Structured in parts, Phil Hoffman’s Kitchener-Berlin (1990) is a sprawling work that moves through time, space, and memory. In this elegy to family history, the filmmaker’s presence lies in dim re-photographed home movies and in archival photographs of Berlin, Ontario, a place that, like the substance of memory, has receded into the past. What remains are markers of personal and collective rituals of family, church, and society. Kitchener-Berlin is a film about relations – of families with each other and with the place in which they live, of cities with history, and of images to other images that move back and forth through time, doubling back upon each other to form superimposed layers of converging moments. Throughout, a bell tolls, summoning the return, time and time again, to ritual and memory.
This place, Kitchener - Berlin, is the space that lies between history and memory. There are literally and figuratively two Berlins, one in the past and one in the present; one here and one vanished. A blue sky spins, revealing a glimpse of the Berlin of the present (now past) – where one is becomes where one was, and, if not you, then others before you.
In the Berlin of Hoffman’s present, a steadicam effortlessly glides across pavement, across a history that lies within view and above ground. In the Berlin of Hoffman’s past, memories are found within the earth. Miners’ lamps move through the darkness, revealing the traces of past lives scrawled upon cave walls. The ghost figure of a woman in red is superimposed – a flickering remnant of a home movie. The anonymous woman moves through the cave, disappearing into the space that lies between history and memory, returning to Kitchener-Berlin.