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On On Venom and Eternity

This year’s Experimenta Weekend begins with the screening of an incendiary film that, at the mid-point of the 20th Century, set out to be the turning point between film’s history and future. María Palacios Cruz discusses Isidore Isou’s Traité de bave et d’éternité (On Venom and Eternity).

“In true avant-garde fashion, it becomes something beyond itself. In as much as it is a formal exercise in filmmaking, it is a cinematic treatise on art, normalcy, society and culture”. (William E.B. Verrone)

The first and only film by Jean-Isidore Isou, poet and founder of the French Letterist movement, constitutes a plea for cinema to enter into its second aesthetic phase. It is the manifesto of this new film era, which he calls chiselling (“ciselant”) and discrepant. The film begins with a dedication to the great cinematographic masters (Griffith, Chaplin, Clair, Von Stroheim, Flaherty, Buñuel, Cocteau …), that “contributed something new and personal to the art of film”, and with the filmmaker’s humble wish that his work will equally contribute to the advancement of film as an art form. Isou believed that cinema had come to an impasse at the end of its period of expansion and development, describing this “amplique” phase as a centrifugal force which must now be replaced by a centripetal one. Turning film towards itself, to its own deconstruction, he felt that film must become its own subject of observation and reflection – film as the object of film, ontologically and aesthetically, as well as materially. For Isou, the “amplique” and “ciselant” phases follow one other in all artistic disciplines, from literature to painting to theatre. By the middle of the 20th Century, time had finally come for cinema to become a truly modernistic art form, and to undergo a revolution equivalent to that brought by jazz to music.

Traité de bave et d’éternité is divided into three chapters, all constructed following the principles of discrepant editing. Going beyond counterpoint editing, Isou seeks to fully dissociate sound and image, treating them as two “parallel columns” bearing no relation to one another. The first chapter introduces Daniel, the film’s hero and Isou’s alter ego. Daniel has just been to a screening of a Chaplin film and we hear an account of the heated debate that followed. This first chapter (“The Principle”) serves to announce the foundations and intentions of Isou’s manifesto, which in a mise en abîme will be put into practice during the two following chapters. In the meantime, we see shots of Isou walking around Bld St. Germain and neighbouring streets in the Quartier Latin. Our mind wants to bring some sense of coherence to the words we hear and the images we see, so we are tempted to imagine Daniel wandering in Paris after the film club debate. But during the second chapter (“The Development”) it becomes increasingly difficult to establish connections between the images (mostly found footage recovered from the rubbish bins of the Ministry of Defence) and the verbal account of Daniel’s romantic adventures with Eve, Denise and Mimi. The third chapter (“The Proof”) introduces Letterist poetry and brings an end to Eve and Daniel’s love story. The filmstrip is progressively scratched, drawn and manipulated, but unlike Lye or McLaren, Isou seeks no correspondence between the rhythms of the soundtrack and the scratches and etchings that cover the images.

“I want to separate the eye from its cinematic master: the eye”, says Daniel. With Traité – a film which demands to be heard rather than seen – Isou proposes a temporary disturbance of the hierarchy of our senses, sight becoming secondary to sound. Screening a work in progress version at the Cannes Festival in 1951, Isou didn’t bother showing any images for the second and third chapters, and only presented the soundtrack. Moving words instead of moving images. Nevertheless, the film was awarded the unofficial Prize of the Avant-Garde Spectators by a jury including Jean Cocteau, Curzio Malaparte and Raf Vallone.

The film’s image track underlines its emptiness and the destruction that cinema must undergo in order to be born again. For Daniel/Isou, “Vomiting up old masterpieces is the only way for us to manifest our originality, […] to create masterpieces of our own.” Isou makes use of the vomit – the venom – of commercial film production: abandoned, rejected, forgotten rushes found in the garbage, which are then subjected to scratching, bleaching and painting. The scratches create continuity between the disparate images of fishing, sport events, military parades, Paris … By destroying the filmstrip Isou intends to destroy the audience’s passivity, its desire of identification. He turns the spectators’ attention away from the image and onto the sound. He shows them that there is no longer nothing to see. Rejecting beauty in nature and art, Isou finds the possibility for a new beauty to emerge amid ugliness and putrefaction.

Traité would not be the preface to other film works that Isou conceived it to be, and remains his only completed film. A unique work, which announces in a quasi-premonitory way many of the preoccupations of the film avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, it remained largely unseen for many years. Stan Brakhage, who claimed to have been present at the North American premiere of the film in San Francisco in the 1950s, was deeply influenced by its vision, acknowledging its influence on all of his films. For him, Traité embraced the possibilities of the film medium, allowing a new feeling towards cinema to emerge.

María Palacios Cruz

Link to more info on ON VENOM AND ETERNITY here

ON VENOM AND ETERNITY screening :-

Friday 19 October 2012, at 6:30pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for ON VENOM AND ETERNITY here

I Am Micro

Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia comment on their collaboration I Am Micro.

Shot in the passages of an abandoned optics factory and centered on the activities of a low-budget film crew, I Am Micro is an experimental essay about filmmaking, the medium of film, and the spirit of making independent cinema.

I Am Micro is a heartfelt portrait of a filmmaker struggling to work outside industry economics. Kamal Swaroop’s poetic voice over not only describes his own experiences in experimental filmmaking but also serves as a window into a growing movement to resist commercial Indian cinema today.

Scenes were filmed on the sets of independent Indian filmmaker, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely (2012). Ahluwalia’s films emphasize the personal and artistic vision of film over its worth as a commercial product. His new cinematic style and fresh approach to storytelling prove Indian filmmakers don’t need the mainstream studios to produce successful films on their own terms.

With I Am Micro we wanted to make a film about the individual artist trying to make films in the world and often failing. It is ironic that by the time we ended up printing I Am Micro in 2012, the labs we were working in had shut down. More recently, ARRI, Panavision, and Aaton have stopped making film cameras. And yet we believe that there will always be filmmakers who will find a way, because for them, cinema is absolutely necessary, or important: it is essential cinema.

Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia

I Am Micro by Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia screens in the mixed programme WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS, alongside works by Nick Collins, Erin Espelie, Kevin Jerome Everson, David Gatten, Peter Milller, Ben Rivers and Robert Todd.

Link to more info on WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS here

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS screenings :-

Sunday 21 October 2012, at 7pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS here

 

Two Films by Beatrice Gibson

Agatha is an intimate account, filmed and narrated by Beatrice Gibson, of an expedition to a planet without speech and and the protagonist’s memories of the people he encountered there . The film starts with a description of the story as a ‘sexual reminiscence’ and the role of ‘Psychometric Suggestibility Counter Class AMM’ which the narrator feels unqualified for. Information is given about the planetary ‘system’ as an erratic soundtrack of string and wood instruments hums and strains away alongside. Tiny insects are detected amongst the flora. This polyphony of sensations provides counterpoint to the detailed narration which alludes to the locals’ nuanced forms of identity, perception and communication.

Gibson’s film is based on a dream recorded by Cornelius Cardew, the British composer who founded the Scratch Orchestra, an ensemble that famously privileged participants’ pure expression over their formal musical technique. Here, through the narrator’s psycho-sensual-geography, conventional understanding is gradually given up to an alternative logic, approaching an equivalence between movements and sounds: where walking is language and where Agatha’s ‘colour-changing’ are both forms of response and influence.

The Tiger’s Mind, another new film by Gibson showing in the Fly into the Mystery screening, uses Cardew’s 1967 text-based composition of the same title to structure the film. Six artists were invited to interpret the score through conversation. Exploring themes such as the meaning of interpretation and the capacity of text and image to activate thinking and participation, the group collaboratively formed the subject of their discussion, and the film, through its own production. Following the reflexive nature of her working process, as well as the film, Gibson finally returned the live score of the conversation to print for a forthcoming publication of the same name, which is being produced for Sternberg Press in collaboration with Will Holder.

Shama Khanna

Agatha and The Tiger’s Mind by Beatrice Gibson will be screened in the mixed programme FLY INTO THE MYSTERY, alongside works by Mary Helena Clark, Janie Geiser, Lewis Klahr and Laida Lertxundi.

Link to more info on FLY INTO THE MYSTERY here

FLY INTO THE MYSTERY screenings :-

Sunday 21 October 2012, at 9pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for ALTERED STATES here

Ben Russell’s Altered States

Ben Russell’s Altered States

“That’s the sun in my hands, man! Oh, it gives off an orange cloud of light that just flows right out over the sea! Wow!” – Peter Fonda as Paul Groves in The Trip (Roger Corman, 1967)

Cinema’s preoccupation with psychedelic drugs (be they acid or DMT or Mescaline or Ayahuasca or Peyote or _____) in the name of producing psychedelic effect is an admirable and time-honored project.  It is an admirable project but it is one that is ultimately destined to fail, inasmuch as the project privileges effect over document, inasmuch as as it tries to make the glassy-eyed subject’s headtrip web of multiple dimensions into our very own movie theater trip. After all, the manipulation of time and space, aka That Radical Alteration of the Unconscious Act of Perception That We Are Always-Already Engaged In, is located at the blindingly reflective crystal heart of cinema.  Cinema is its own realtime eye-and-ear melter, and to produce a film that merely emulates psychedelic experience (via the experience of psychedelics) is to impoverish it, to sell it the weakest dose possible.

After all, the transformation of three-dimensional space into two-dimensional space is one of the most profound perceptual illusions we experience on a regular basis, a monocular translation of binocular vision that, even when retrofitted with steroscopic lenses, is still fundamentally planar.  We simply do not experience the world the way that a camera does; glass-lensed optics are so ecstatically other than the visions our own lenses allow.  If we weren’t already so accustomed to misbelieving the depth inherent to flatness (a strategy that painters employed long before photo emulsion materialized), we would perpetually experience the perceptual strangeness of the 2-D image as if we were a 15-year old teenager tripping balls on LSD.  Those over-saturated colors, that picture plane constituted entirely of tiny dots – every image a Seurat, every BBC Planet Earth episode an exercise in hyper-experience.  We would get to see vision as a thing, we would re-learn to hear sounds as discrete events in time, sensations that had been molded and modeled and spread out to the 5.1 speakers around our heads.  Only psychedelics offer a parallel experience – and only the Yanamano Indians know that cinema was developed well before the Lumiere Brothers ever proposed its existence.

The sort of bodily dissociation that cinema (when given a chance) can produce rhymes with the drippy long-limbed messiness that accompanies every other foray into drug-induced altered states.  When the perceptual mode is foregrounded and the unconsciousness is consciously addressed, above all other things the attentive viewer finds herself to be startingly present.  Not unlike the spectres projected on the screen before her, she is made material through projection, enters into consciousness through reflection.  She finds herself in the light, literally – situated between projector and screen, her self suspended within and constituted by that ethereal body known as cinema.  This decidedly psychedelic state of the cinema address, carries at its center a fundamental call for self-regard – to be tuned-in is to find yourself in a peripheral world that, for an indefinite cinema-instant, constitutes your everyday.

Central to this experience of self is the experience of self-in-time.  The DMT user on a Businesssman’s Special knows precisely how elastic time is, how relative it is to perception.  Her 8-minute trip is your 8-minute experimental film – which is to say, the moviegoer is no different.  The unremitting forever of Warhol’s 8-hour Empire shares the same kind of temporal shock as an 8-hour acid trip – details become monuments when time is allowed to accumulate around them.  In the most brilliant of moments, we lose track of the film, of ourselves, of time altogether (though we are never more aware of time than in this now).  The legacy of Warhol and the relatively recent advent of slow cinema (see: Akerman, Alonso, Benning, Martin, Rivers) serves as testimony to this – time becomes markedly unfamiliar when recorded and re-presented, when we are asked to see the movement of the second hand as an object in of itself.  In looking at time we move out of time, become subject to the expansion and contraction of duration that Maya Deren (among so many others) was so fond of.  Indeed, cinema transfigures time in a fashion only known to us otherwise through dreams – where else do we experience the relativity of time firsthand?

The dreamer arrives at the appearance of wakefulness through the deepest of sleep, her brain producing time and space as a function of her own existence – and not vice versa, as occurs in her waking life.  Only in those hypnagogic moments, when she is breathing the air of both worlds and has one eye open in each, can she begin to truly experience a simulation of the sort of psychedelia that cinema offers up.  It is bodily but it is conscious, and its apparatus does not wear the veil of the dream-self or the drug-self that these others do.  Cinema is clear and visible – there is a screen, a projector, a room, a handful of speakers.  If we are lucky there is are constellations painted on the ceiling and a red curtain to cover the screen, there are other bodies around us.  The trip, when it unspools, is objectively happening around us, in front of us – it is not only produced perceptually inside us, as is the case elsewhere.  Here too, time is elastic, space is redefined, but in front of the silver screen the viewer is produced in such a way to be able to change her position, to alter the terms of her trip.  She is acted upon, she cannot change the path of the projection, but she can still locate herself within it – can find herself without it as well, outside of the theater, in the car-honk and street-glow of St. Everywhere.

Given the numerous limitations placed upon this particular instrument, it is nothing short of miraculous when cinema is consumed in its full psychedelic glory – when that flat image splinters itself from a planar existence outwards and those spatialized sounds relativize time in a heretofore unimagined space -  we are heralded anew.  The gift of presence, of patience, that viewers give to cinema is in fact an allowance for the trip to begin.  Cutting through the darkness, cinema expands and contracts, turning faces into whole geographies with a simple close-up, a quick edit.  When we swallow the drug of cinema, when we allow the effect that is particular to its own formula to act upon us, our state is altered inextricably.  Given this, and taking into account the radical fullness of the experience that cinema has to offer, we can see that to condemn cinema to the surface reflection of a drug user’s trip is to ask nothing at all.  Drugs, like dreams, are best met on their own terms, seen through their own eyes.  When cinema is viewed in like fashion, when it is given the freedom to be truly hallucinatory, when it is allowed to engage in the psychedelic function of Self, its own cinema-self is revealed to be truly phenomenal.  The traits particular to  cinema conspire together to occupy our sense of sensation, to change our relationship to time and space fundamentally – cinema is a trip, the sun in your hands.

Ben Russell

This article was originally published in “El espacio de las afecciones”, a reader edited by Eduardo Thomas to accompany the Injerto section of the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico (2012).

Ben Russell has three films in this year’s BFI London Film Festival. Austerity Measures screens in OCCUPY THE CINEMA at ICA Cinema 1 on Thursday 11 October 2011, at 8pm. Ponce de León and River Rites are included in RITES OF PASSAGE at BFI Southbank on Saturday 20 October 2010, at 9pm.

Link to book tickets for OCCUPY THE CINEMA here

Link to book tickets for RITES OF PASSAGE here

Peter Kubelka Speaks

One of the unmissable events of this year’s London Film Festival is the extraordinary presentation of Monument Film by Peter Kubelka. Here, the veteran filmmaker talks to Mark Webber about aspects of his new work and the relationship between the films Arnulf Rainer (1960) and Antiphon (2012).

What are your memories of the premiere of your film Arnulf Rainer in Vienna?

This was in May 1960, in a rented projection room that was crowded with an invited public, maybe 250 people, and after the first screening there were 12 people left. I lost many friends with that showing but I was very happy because I liked the film, and it was something I had never seen before on a big screen. I can clearly remember Arnulf Rainer sitting on the back of a chair, looking glum, but at least he was one of those remaining. He expected a colour documentary of him painting, because I had shot imagery with him, which I then threw away. That event resonates with me very much now that I think of what is coming with the premiere of Antiphon. It’s not to say that I don’t care about people’s reactions, but whatever happens is fine with me.

When and why did you begin to think about returning to Arnulf Rainer to make Antiphon?

Now that the so-called “end of film” has appeared on the horizon, it became clear that 2012 is the black year where everything is being eradicated. This is the Waterloo of cinema. I wondered what I should do and I had the strong urge to make another film. Then came this disgust with the overwhelming flood of colour images in which we live, an imagery that falsifies my worldview. For me, the digital image looks like a pre-established publicity film, completely clean, sterile and shining. I don’t want to contribute a new work to this kind of imagery because I would not know how to escape these inbuilt qualities. So I lost all desire to make a film with images. I already felt like this already when I made Unserer Afrikareise, so on purpose I shot it on Agfa and printed on Kodak to get away from the Kodak taste and the Agfa taste.

What I had almost forgotten is that I’d already been thinking about the possibilities that are now being explored in Monument Film when I first made Arnulf Rainer, because of the idea of balancing of the film. I feel Arnulf Rainer very different from what many critics call it, namely violent. I feel it contemplative … and ecstatic at the same time. Just as Arnulf Rainer and Antiphon have this relationship of yin and yang, so contemplation and ecstasy belong together. In the new work Monument Film, ecstasy and contemplation are both there for cinema, it’s a film I tailored, or measured, to the body of cinema.

There’s also aggression, and tranquillity. At the time of Arnulf Rainer, I said I wanted to wash away the shit that normally appears on the screens, and today with Monument, I say ‘may it fly in the face of the digital.’ There is an aggressive mood but also I use it as a structure in which I hang myself and contemplate what is going on. The cinema situation is very, very precious to me, so I made this to honour it and called it Monument. I celebrate it and also I believe in a new birth, I think it’s strong enough that it will survive. The decision to do Monument Film this way was practically decided by this historical situation, and by my age – I know it’s late and this is what I wanted to see.

Could you elaborate on why you think 2012 is a pivotal year?

All over the world cinemas are being changed from material film toward machinery that uses the digital system. In my opinion, this is not a smooth transition; it’s an aggressive takeover by a completely different medium. As I have outlined before, this different medium has a completely different future and goes in another direction. Its destruction of the cinema is only a step of its life in evolutionary terms; it will just erase this and then go on to other things. The Pathé company force the cinema owners to destroy the classic film projectors, they even have to show photographs to prove that they’ve done it – it’s like Grimms’ Fairy Tales where the hunter has to bring back the liver of the person who is killed. So this is not just the installation of new machinery, there is an active destruction of what was there before. The film labs are of course going out of business, and Kodak is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Arnulf Rainer was conceived and made before you were able to see it, and similarly this is now the case with Monument Film because of the complications of double projection. You recently had the first test screening in Vienna – how did it live up to your expectations?

You could compare it to a composer of music. The composer ‘hears’ the piece in his mind but when it’s eventually played by an ensemble, it’s different again. I imagined that when the films Arnulf Rainer and Antiphon would be projected one after the other, that Antiphon would trigger these image/sound memories and play with that. I also imagined how Antiphon would look and sound, seen separate from Arnulf Rainer, and that was already very fascinating. There is no other film that could open such a door – you have to work with only light and darkness in order to establish these forms. Then the side-by-side projection is absolutely overwhelming. Everybody knows when you sit in the 1st or 3rd or 20th row, you have a completely different experience, and during the test screening I was able to see the film from various positions in the room. The third projection in Monument brings the space alive from whichever position you see it, and it amplifies Arnulf Rainer – suddenly the form dominates the space in an incredible way.

The final variation has both films projected simultaneously on one screen in the centre. When you project through the film, white overrides black. If the projector on the left is darkened by the film but the other projector is clear, the light is dominant. So you have continuous light over the whole length of the film but of course the light is not always the same – as you will see – it’s incredible how strongly the structure comes out. In the installation on the wall, with two prints placed on top of eachother, black overrides. It’s interesting that just as you have a yin yang relationship between the projection of Arnulf Rainer and Antiphon, you have a yin yang situation between the projection and the installation.

Working without seeing the film started earlier with Adebar and Schwechater. These were also made by hand, and this situation is unique – that you can make a film without an editing table, without a cinema – you can take it in your hands and scissors and make it without machinery. This is something that is very near to sculpture or painting, there is a body contact that creates a different way of thinking. Adebar was made at a time when I had nothing else in my mind but cinema, I walked around with these pieces of film in my pockets – I would look at them and imagine what I would see on the screen.

Is this why the installation of the filmstrips on the wall is an essential element of Monument Film?

Very simply, just as the film projection is very beautiful, for me, so is the installation on the wall. The installation is not a theoretical point I want to make in defence of cinema … although it is also that because it shows that film is also valid as a three-dimensional object and does not absolutely need to go through the projector. I feel absolutely that my films have a valid life in this form.

 I first did this with Adebar in the 1950s. I was invited to a summer university in the Tyrol and when the film was projected, it broke. When I made the film from these elements, I already had this relationship of touching and looking through the strips, measuring the image and imagining the editing. Of course I always postulated that if a frame is removed from the film then the whole rhythm would break down. It’s like in a poem, you cannot take out a single word or a syllable or the rhythm collapses. So okay, the print was gone but then I took it out and pinned it onto wooden posts in the meadows. It was hanging there overnight and people would come to look at it, the film started to break in the weather and people took pieces home, it was a wonderful thing.

Peter Kubelka will present Monument Film in a unique lecture screening on Sunday 21 October 2012. A programme of Kubelka’s complete films will be shown on 11 October, followed by Martina Kudlácek’s epic portrait of the artist on 13 October.The Monument Film installation is in the BFI Southbank Atrium for the duration of the Festival. 

Link to more info on PETER KUBELKA here

MONUMENT FILM screening :-

Sunday 21 October 2012, at 2pm, BFI Southbank NFT1

Link to book tickets for MONUMENT FILM here

Between Here and Elsewhere: Films by Mati Diop

Mati Diop’s filmography resists easy categorization. The three short films she has made since graduating from Le Fresnoy in 2010 are, on the surface, as radically different in form and content as they could be from one another. Atlantiques (2009) is a quasi-documentary account of a failed sea odyssey to reach Europe from Eastern Africa. Big in Vietnam (2012) depicts a fictional film shoot in the surroundings of Marseille, where a highly unlikely mother-son duo are directing a Franco-Vietnamese adaptation of the 18th century epistolary drama Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. Snow Canon (2011) is a tale of teenage desire set against the backdrop of a holiday chalet in the wealthy French Alps.

Whereas both Atlantiques and Big in Vietnam  play with the tension and confusion between documentary and fictional narrative strategies, Snow Canon represents a complete passage into the land of fiction. Snow Canon (shot after Big in Vietnam but released before) also constitutes the transition from the intimacy and instinctiveness of the early work’s hand-held video camera to the aesthetics of a more conventional production with a professional crew including a cinematographer. Together these films form a hybrid trilogy. And yet, in spite of their apparent disparity, they suggest a very personal approach to cinematographic storytelling, at the same time that they reveal a series of constant preoccupations in Diop’s work.

An aborted film, an interrupted dream, an uncompleted babysitting visit … Mati Diop’s films are tales of failure and interruption. Unconsummated but not necessarily frustrating nor disappointing journeys. Even for Serigne, Atlantiques’ tragic hero, who will ultimately die chasing his dream – after being forced to return to Senegal one last time (and been given, without his knowledge, a chance of survival) he will not let the failure of his first attempt impede his goal and embarks on a second, fatal trip. Between the two journeys, Serigne shares a campfire with a group of friends. He has returned, but left a part of himself behind. In many ways he is already a ghost who forecasts his own fate. Sérigne is both present and absent, and absence is another theme that traverses all of Diop’s films. In Snow Canon the absence of Vanina’s friends and family (away attending a funeral) prompts the arrival of Mary Jane, the babysitter. Big in Vietnam is a story of disappearances, which for the female protagonist may yield new beginnings.

Overtaken by circumstances when the film’s Valmont vanishes and the shoot is interrupted, the director disappears herself, wandering aimlessly in the streets of Marseille. Is she looking for the actor? Or looking for herself? She winds up in an Asian karaoke bar where the diaspora meets to sing the painful absence of their distant loved ones. Their absence suggests an elsewhere, and Diop’s films often operate in the twilight zone between presence and absence, between the here and now and a geographical or psychological elsewhere. In fact, the relation to space and place in Diop’s work appears to belong in the realm of imagination: from the ocean that we never see in Atlantiques, to the fantasized mountain region in Snow Canon. Diop wrote Snow Canon based on a Norwegian novel, which she projected onto to the French Alps – an area she had never visited and would not see until the shooting of the film. Diop does not film the mountains as ‘landscape’ but as a mental projection of the film’s two protagonists, Vanina and Mary Jane. The landscape thus appears as a portrait of their internal emotions, as an introspection of their moods.

Diop is an actress herself (she appears in Simon Killer, also screening in this year’s London Film Festival) and believes that acting helps her become a better director. Attaching great importance to the development of her characters, she works closely with cast members, who are often non-professional (as she was when Claire Denis asked her to appear in 35 Shots of Rhum). Diop’s closeness to the actor’s métier conveys a sense of intimacy that traverses all her films. Hers is a warm cinema that dares to take formal risks and emotional challenges.

María Palacios Cruz

Mati Diop will be present to introduce her films in the festival.

Link to more info on MATI DIOP here

MATI DIOP screenings :-

Saturday 20 October 2012, at 7pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for MATI DIOP here

Preview: The Poor Stockinger

“I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘Utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.”

The words of E. P. Thompson from his 1963 book “The Making of the English Working Class” resonate through Luke Fowler’s feature length film documenting the post-war educational work of Thompson and his peers for the Workers Education Association (WEA) in the north of England. Thompson was aged just 24 when he was commissioned to teach literature and social history to adults in the industrial towns of the West Riding. Alongside other cultural materialsts such as Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart in the UK, and Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire further afield in Brasil, Fowler explores a historic moment in the history of formal education where the teacher was open to learning from the experiences of students in contrast to conventional teaching which prioritises objective understanding.

The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott contains found footage and newly photographed material. Key documents such as “Against University Standards” (1950) are narrated by the characterful voice of artist Cerith Wyn Evans.

As in his early films All Divided Selves (2011, about the work of radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing), and Pilgrimage from Scattered Points (2006, following the processes of Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra in the 1970s), Fowler suggests that seemingly utopian or marginal practices still have relevance today. By uncovering rarely seen footage and documents, Fowler reclaims the work of these determined practitioners from the criticism and ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’ they received in their day.

Shama Khanna

Link to more info on THE POOR STOCKINGER here

THE POOR STOCKINGER screenings :-

Wednesday 10 October 2012, at 6pm, ICA Cinema 1
Sunday 21 October 2012, at 4pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for THE POOR STOCKINGER here

Kevin Everson on Rita’s Larson’s Boy

Kevin Jerome Everson writes about the inspiration for his film Rita Larson’s Boy. Production stills courtesy Trilobite-Arts-DAC and Picture Palace Pictures. 

Growing up in the 1970s, one of my favorite sitcoms was “Sanford and Son”, which was based on the British show “Steptoe and Son”. It was about a widowed old man and his only son running an antique/junk business. The American version cast African Americans – the famous comedian Redd Foxx and theater actor Demond Wilson. It was set in Los Angeles, California, but the characters were transplanted from the Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri.

The son, Lamont (played by Wilson) had a best-friend called Rollo Larson played by dramatic actor Nathaniel Taylor. Taylor was from Columbus, Mississippi, the hometown of my parents. I’ve since wanted Mr. Taylor to do some stuff for me but I could never find him, his whereabouts are unknown. I also looked all over Los Angeles for an audition film for the part of Rollo Larson, but since I couldn’t find one I just decided to make my own. Madeleine Molyneaux was producing a film in Cleveland, Ohio, spring of 2011, and had auditioned a bunch of actors, so I decided to shoot the film there because I had local talent at my disposal.

Lately I’ve been making films that look as if someone found the footage, so I decided to shoot as if someone had found the original audition. The actors knew what was happening. I told some to read the script and others to memorize it. They were all hip to it. The film is actually in the original order of the actors who auditioned:  Jimmie Woody, Rayshawn Jackson, Issac Chester (below left), Brandon Xavier McSwain, Jason Walker, Marc Moore, Tyler Slaughter, Robert T. Stewart (pictured above), Johnathon Jackson and “Streets” (Johnathan Lee, below right).

Rita Larson’s Boy is part of “The Tombigbee Chronicles”, film series about people or objects from Columbus, Mississippi, but shot in the northern part of the USA.

Kevin Jerome Everson

Rita Larson’s Boy by Kevin Jerome Everson will be screened in the mixed programme WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS, alongside works by Nick Collins, Erin Espelie, David Gatten, Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia, Peter Milller, Ben Rivers and Robert Todd.

Link to more info on WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS here

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS screenings :-

Sunday 21 October 2012, at 7pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS here

Preview: Reconversão

Thom Andersen’s latest film Reconversão (Reconversion) surveys the work of architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. Although Andersen was invited specifically to make the film in Portugal on the occasion of the Vila do Conde festival’s 20th anniversary, his attentiveness to the Pritziker prize winning architect’s buildings and unbuilt projects is equal to the revered contemplation of his hometown in 2003’s Los Angeles Plays Itself.

Travelling around sites in northern Portugal, from the monumental sports stadium in Braga to Porto’s understated modernist subway network, the viewer begins to grasp Souto de Moura’s loyalty to the architectural history of the sites and buildings he is commissioned to develop. What is striking is his fascination with the afterlife of his work – the ruin – as a measure of the society evolving around it. The narrator reads a quotation by the architect’s frequent collaborator Álvaro Siza: “If the objects of the city are actual or potential ruins, if they are subject to changes in use and significance, if they succeed in time and space in going beyond their own destiny, then we can say the city is functional.”

Interestingly, during Reconversão, the camera records at a reduced rate, adjusting the viewer to the building’s sense of time, which inevitably outlasts our own.

Shama Khanna

Reconversão by Thom Andersen will be screened with Catalina Niculescu’s Along the Lines in the programme TWO ARCHITECTURE STUDIES.

Link to more info on TWO ARCHITECTURE STUDIES here

TWO ARCHITECTURE STUDIES screenings :-

Saturday 20 October 2012, at 4pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for TWO ARCHITECTURE STUDIES here

Mirza/Butler Interview

Shama Khanna talks to Karen Mirza and Brad Butler about their new work Deep State.

Could you explain how your collaboration with fantasy fiction author and activist China Miéville came about?

KM: Deep State is the first time we’ve worked with a writer; until now we had never brought anyone into our collaboration so closely. For me the relationship to non-fiction, fiction and semi-fiction was key. The script Brad and I wrote for our last film The Exception and the Rule utilises strong textual narrative devices, for example processes of appropriation, collage and translation of existing citations but not writing per se and we recognized that this was an area we had become interested in.

BB: With China, one of the things we asked him to do was to write from the position of images from an archive we had created over the last two years of participation in actions of civil disobedience and struggle. Personally I was very interested in how China might write through contemporary political events, because what I really like about his novels is that his complex political engagement is so intelligently woven through powerful aspects of the imagination and language.

KM: I read The City in the City in Cairo 2011 and I was captured by this wonderful concept of the condition of unseeing in the midst of seeing at the heart of the book. Between his Marxist position on International Law, and from the genre of weird fiction he works within, it was a compelling combination. We sat down together and found ‘Deep State’ was a common interest so from there we developed a treatment, which China developed into a script, and which Brad and I then turned into a screenplay.

The role of language – both spoken, and language enacted through body movements – seems to be at stake. Could you talk about the gestures of the ‘astronaut’ character, who also appeared in your recent work Hold Your Ground?

BB: Quite early on, China, Karen and myself talked about the relationship of the body to protest, and about languages of protest. In Egypt, particularly at that time, we were also struck by the way people started to organise themselves. We saw footage shot by our friends of female activists who would call people down from their balconies to join the gathering movement. There was something very particular about how they moved, it felt like something new …

KM: The female activists drew their slogans from other revolutionary moments in Egypt’s history merged with the verbal language of the present. You can see the movements of the women in early scenes of Deep State.

KM: We’ve also been practicing Augusto Baol’s concept of the Theatre of the Oppressed – articulating oppression, making images with one’s body, with collective bodies, and working from the body to speech.

BB: It became a major thread through Deep State. We often talk about this character that’s both struggling to speak as she’s attempting to teach. It’s very important in Deep State that she does actually fight for the other character; it isn’t just an abstract theoretical moment. For Hold Your Ground we were interested in the context of Canary Wharf (where it was shown) because it’s a pressure point – there’s an indefinite political injunction on any form of public assembly or protest. The strategy to have this character calling to the workers in the city to strike was a type of insurrection. She speaks four phonetic phrases reconstructed from Arabic meaning: ‘hold your ground’, ‘Egyptians’, ‘homeland’ (of the earth, of the Nile) and ‘strike’.

How do you think making a film contributes to the greater cause?

BB: I’m personally interested in introducing this term ‘Deep State’ into common language in the UK. We first heard the term ‘Derin Devlet’ in Turkey, and until you name something, even if it’s deep in your body you might not be able to see it, and work with it or against it.

KM: I think there’s a value in not just naming, knowing what to resist, but to also reach a point at which knowledge can actually become action.

BB: Karen and I started to say to each other that it’s not enough for us to make films, so for years we have been working across different platforms at once. We run a non-profit space (no.w.here) which we hold open for other people to come in and make work in the film lab, or to think through their practice without commercial pressures. Since 2007 we have also been working through The Museum of Non-Participation from which we think about our own political position and conditions of power. We don’t see ourselves as insiders/ outsiders, rather we believe we’re implicated in many of the structures we aim at.

You use footage from TV and film archives in Turkey and London, and the graphic images of police violence during recent street protests contrast with the fictional elements. In light of increasing clampdowns on protest and activism in general, why was it important to set the film in the future?

KM: Brad and I have a strong practice of working with non-fiction, a lot of our previous works have been about asking questions rather than telling stories. This is the first work where we’ve actually told a story. Quite early on with China we agreed on the character of a time traveling ‘riotanaut’. The story is being broadcast to us from 2083, a date chosen for its imaginable proximity to the now. Wanting to tell a contemporary tale about continuous struggles, an optimism about what we can be experienced from these different insurrectory moments in time. The film doesn’t have a directive ending, it is still open. We chose not to make a documentary, or to archive the occupy movement or the Egyptian revolution. We attempted to create an image that ‘acts’.

Deep State by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler will be screened in the mixed programme OCCUPY THE CINEMA, alongside Ken Jacobs’ amazing Seeking the Monkey King and Austerity Measures by Ben Russell and Guillame Cailleau.

Link to more info on OCCUPY THE CINEMA here

OCCUPY THE CINEMA screenings :-

Thursday 11 October 2012, at 8pm, ICA

Link to book tickets for OCCUPY THE CINEMA here

LFF 2012 Announced

The programme for the 56th BFI London Film Festival 2012 has now been announced, and full details of this year’s artists’ film and video programme are available on this site.

Over the next few weeks, new articles relating to this year’s programme will be added to the site, including previews, reviews and artists’ writings.

Robert Gardner & Correspondence

“Robert Fenz’s film Correspondence seems to me an original and quite fascinating way to bring to life the work of a fellow filmmaker while still maintaining the integrity of of his own work.”

Robert Gardner
Cambridge, September 12, 2011

Correspondence revisits the locations filmed by pioneering ethnographer Robert Gardner in his films Dead Birds (1964), Rivers of Sand (1974) and Forest of Bliss (1986). Following in the footsteps of the elder filmmaker by travelling to West Papua, Ethiopia and India several decades later, Fenz’s new images capture a contempoary view of these sites and the project raises questions on a form of documentary filmmaking that is now in decline. Correspondence screens in the programme ON THE ROAD WITH ROBERT FENZ.

Link to more info on ON THE ROAD WITH ROBERT FENZ here

ON THE ROAD WITH ROBERT FENZ screenings :-

Sunday 23 October 2011, at 9pm, BFI Southbank NFT3
Monday 24 October 2011, at 2pm, BFI Southbank NFT3

Link to book tickets for ON THE ROAD WITH ROBERT FENZ here



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