Anna Abrahams

Title: 5 Walks hercynia silva
Directed by Anna Abrahams
Duration: 15:31
Format: 16:9
Image: Jan Frederik Groot
Sound: Sam Simons
Editor: Stella van Voorst van Beest
Sound design: Edwin Bakker
Assistant: Beek Groot
Producer in Poland: Darek Szendel
Assistant in Poland: Dorota Poleszak
Voices: Agnieszka Sadlakowska, Matt Hulse, André Graham, Dan Geesin
Language: English
Production date: 2008
Financial support: Netherlands Film Fund, Tristan Hilar Foundation
Financial support: Netherlands Film Fund, Tristan Hilar Foundation
Distribution and information:

5 Walks hercynia silva

The horror and grandeur of the last remnants of Northern European primary forest conjure up a history of hunting, fleeing and meetings with magical creatures. The first part of a series of films on the cultural meaning of landscape.

The forest itself is not threatening, mysterious, resplendent or idyllic. We are the ones that fill it with meaning using stories and images. Culture annexes nature by animating it.

Forest histories differ little from country to country and era to era. They are always stories about wandering, hunting, meetings with magical creatures, fertility cults and tree worship whereby desecration of the tree can only be put right with a sacrifice. He who knows nature’s laws will see wonderful places whilst roaming the forest. Those that don’t belong, will become hopelessly lost.

It is conspicuous how resilient landscape myths are. While the primeval forests dwindle away – only a few dozen square kilometres remain in Europe – the myth of the wild forest seems to have adapted itself. Motorways are our new forest paths with neon signs as the ignis fatus and drivers on the wrong side of the road as its fauns. The speed and strength of machines have taken the place of the wild beast. The chaos of the primeval forest and society’s order are two sides of the same leaf.


1. Hercynia Silva
In the northern region is the vast expanse of the Hercynian forest, untouched by the ages and coeval with the world, which surpasses all marvels by its almost immortal destiny.
Pliny, ‘Natural History’ (23-79 AD)

Hesitating to lead his legions into the north European forest, Caesar captured a barbarian to question him about it’s size : ‘It takes nine days’ march for someone to cross the Hercynian forest traveling light. Its size cannot be described more accurately. (…) No one can claim to have reached its furthest edge – despite journeying for sixty days – or to have heard where it begins.’
Caesar, ‘The Gallic War’ (53 BC)

2. Sacred Tree
Question 22: If someone is found guilty of peeling the bark of a young oak tree or beech tree, how high should the penalty be?
Answer: One should cut the intestines out of the culprit’s body and tie them to the tree and drive him around the trunk as long as necessary to bind it.
Wood Tribunal (Harenberg, 13 November 1720)

3. King of the Wood
In a sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana of the Wood, the Huntress, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword. He was a priest and a murderer, with the title of king; but surely no crowned head ever lay uneasier. Within the sanctuary grew a certain tree. Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off one of its boughs. This entitled him to fight the priest in single combat. If he slew him, he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood. He would then start his lonely watch, till he was himself slain by a stronger and craftier. Such was the rule of the sanctuary.
Diana Cult (Nemi, 150 AD)

4. Enchantment
Question: How did you change into wolves?
Answer: They simply entered the forest and threw off their normal clothes. They became wolves and roamed around as wolves and mangled the horses and other cattle that crossed their path. They often traveled with 20 or 30 together, roasting and gorging their meals on the road.
Question: Why did you become werewolves and walk to Hell?
Answer: The reason is that they carried out of hell what the sorcerers had brought in, like livestock, grains and other crops. And because he and the others were late last year and did not arrive at Hell in time, when the gates were still open, and therefore could not carry out the grains and buds the sorcerers had stolen, we had such a bad harvest. But this year he and the others were there on time and had done their duty.
Question: Do you want to die as a werewolf?
Answer: No. Before he dies he wants to teach it to someone else. He wants to do so as it happened to him. He must simply drink to a person’s health and whisper three times in the mug the words: ‘It will be with you like with me’ – and when this person takes the mug, he will have caught it and referred will be free.’
Trial against 86-year old Thiess (Jürgensburg, 1691)

5. Lost
This wildest beast is born in Lithuanian woods
And is well known for such an enormous body,
That when it bends down its defeated head, dying,
Three big men can place themselves right between its horns.
A Poem on Bison (Mikolaj Hussowski, 1523)

Anna Abrahams – cv and filmography

Anna Abrahams (Oslo, 1963) studied film and art history at the University of Amsterdam. Abrahams produces, directs and edits films concerning cultural and social subjects for the independent production foundation Rongwrong, which she founded with filmmaker Jan Frederik Groot in 1989. Abrahams has lectured at art academies in The Hague, Rotterdam, Tilburg, Maastricht, Utrecht and Amsterdam, and was author and editor for several magazines on film, television and architecture. She was (co-) author of a number of books (‘Warhol Films’, ‘mm2. Experimental Film in the Netherlands’) and is coördinator of distribution and curator for De Filmbank. She also curates the Paradocs section of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

selection of films

* Cadavre Exquis, 2004, 16mm, 36 min. Cadavre Exquis introduces five experimental filmmakers, thereby showing the different aspects of experimental cinema in the Netherlands. With Lonnie van Brummelen, Gerard Holthuis, Jeroen Eisinga, Joost Rekveld and Henri Plaat.
* Rowing (co-director Jan Frederik Groot), 2003, 35mm, 1 min. Animated film loop of a rower, made with a self made pinhole camera. The frozen images are timeless, the journey eternal. Made for an exhibition of our work in the science museum NEMO in Amsterdam.
* Resort (co-director Jan Frederik Groot), 2002, 16mm, 15 min. A series of film images of two centres for asylum seekers in the North of the Netherlands. There is no judgement. Dry images show life in the asylum seekers’ centers, where people spend most of their time waiting.
* Grave in the Tropics, 1998, 35mm, 45 min. A documentary whodunit that sketches relations between white plantation owners, the Dutch authorities and the black inhabitants of the rural districts of Curacao at the turn of the 20th century. Who killed the assistant manager of the ostrich farmer on the Choloma estate on the evening of Wednesday 27 August 1913, and why?
* Notes from the Underground, 1998, 16mm, 30 min. The film consists of a relay race of five studio visits of five Dutch independent filmmakers. Cyrus Frisch, Karel Doing, Frans Zwartjes and Victor Nieuwenhuys and Maartje Seyferth pass on the Bolex camera to each other.
* Sotsgorod. Cities for Utopia, 1995, 16mm, 92 min. This feature length documentary tells how the Soviet Union invited Western specialists during the Twenties and Thirties to co-operate on the design of completely new cities in the Urals and Siberia.


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