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Talking Leaves
Shubigi Rao
2022
An unabridged journey into the banished book
Single channel, colour, 4+1 sound, 90 minutes

As a companion to the book, Talking Leaves is also presented within the paper maze, drawing on footage shot in Venice and Singapore, and from five years of filming across the world. The film weaves together the mytho-poetics of legendary libraries, half-truths, hearsay and contested narratives, forming a lyrical manuscript that is a lush celebration of the unquenchable human need to tell and share stories, and a haunting elegy to waning communities of print.

Partially filmed in Venice, a city that embodies a vital history of print and open access, the film depicts, among other stories, how books from a now-defunct archive of women partisans and genocide survivors are rescued. Those at the frontlines of saving books and libraries speak of smuggling volumes out of danger, preserving endangered languages and vanishing cultures, while sharing the sorrow of losing access to personal and collective pasts and histories.

Discussions about the historical connections of access to knowledge and political power with Italian professor of book history Mario Infelise are interwoven with conversations about the strategies of tyranny to silence and censor. Venetian librarian Ilenia Maschietto shares stories of banned books and her favourite books of resistance, while academic Marco Borghi explains how alternative archives can act as safeguards of democracy. The poet Bianca Tarozzi invites us into her library sharing the books that survived the devastating 2019 floods in Venice. Singaporean writer Melissa De Silva reads aloud from a book of idioms in Kristang, an endangered language of Melaka’s and Singapore’s Eurasian communities. Retired librarian Saralee Turner recites passages from Not Out of Hate by Myanmarese writer Ma Ma Lay, while another, who chooses anonymity, describes the threats to contemporary libraries and free knowledge. Through these stories, we see the book as an embodiment of collective thought, labour and readership, and we recognise the book as an intimate holder of humanity and community.