26 February 2009

Guest Blogger: Rotterdam festival blog - jury and beyond, part two by George Clark

Phil Collins’ new film, zasto ne govorim srpski (na srpskom)/‘why I don’t speak Serbian (in Serbian) (UK/Kosova, 2008) originally made for the 55th Carnegie International, is a brilliant dissection of the politics of language in the former Yugoslavia. What starts as a theoretical enquiry in to the non-use of Serbian in Kosovo despite the fact that it was the main language for the generations brought up in Yugoslavia moves into an emotional register with a brilliant testimony Returning to footage Collin‘s short in Kosovo in 1999, the film is a brilliant examination of the politics of language and identity.

Various filmmakers made welcome returns to Rotterdam, including last years Tiger Award winner Ben Rivers with his beautifully crafted new film Origin of the Species (UK, 2008). Less productive in recent years the festival saw the welcome return of Joost Rekveld with #37 (Netherlands, 2009) his first film in many years and a suitably grand return from this master of abstract cinema.

With three programmes of shorts to watch each day interspersed with discussions with my fellow jurors there was little time for seeing many other works at the festival but I managed to take advantage of my gaps to catch up with Polish maverick director Jerzy Skolimowski - in particular his brilliant British films Deep End, The Shout and Moonlighting, all brilliant works in their own right and essential although overlook pieces of British cinema. As with fellow visiting filmmakers Antonioni and Polanski, Skolimoski perceives British culture in a way few of our own filmmakers rarely do - from the sexual politics that permeate a 70s public bath in Deep End (West Germany/UK, 1970), the paralyzing hospitality that fails to refuse even the most unwanted guest, in this instance a brilliant Alan Bates in The Shout (UK, 1978) and the petty hypocrisies of Thatcherite Britain seen in Moonlighting (UK, 1982), through the prism of polish workers in London in the early 80s, a remarkable picture of the experience of emigrant labour. His most recent film Four Nights With Anna (Poland, 2008), his first made in Poland in many years, is a remarkable near silent chamber piece about longing and reconciliation in a small village.

Other features I managed to catch included Austrian experimentalist Gustav Deutsch’s FILM IST. a girl & a gun (Austria, 2009) the third instalment of his FILM IST series reconceptualising archival footage, previously examining the use of film for science, fun fair and narrative. Here he looks at the role of violence and sex in the origins of cinema and collates amazing footage from around the world into powerful and ambiguous sequences. Unfortunately the flow is broken by intertitles largely drawn from ancient Greek poets and philosophers which at times gets in the way of the films own associative lyricism. The other feature that stood out for me was Lucrecia Martel’s La mujer sin cabeza / The Headless Woman (Argentina/Spain/France/Italy, 2008), an intense study of a woman suffering some sort of breakdown which goes totally unnoticed by those around here, reminiscing of work by Ingmar Bergman and Chantal Akerman. Highly ambiguous, the central performance by María Onetto is the blank centre of the film, propped up and kept in motion by those around her.

The festival also presented two exhibitions and a series of films specially commission for large outdoor screens dotted around the city. There was marked reduction in the number and scale of the exhibitions this year. The two main exhibitions were Haunted House presenting work from South East Asian artists and filmmakers in relation to ghosts, spirits and haunting by artists such as Lav Diaz (Philippines), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand) was curated by Gertjan Zuilhof and presented in the old photographic museum of Rotterdam, now relocated to the South of the city; and Aspect Ratio in the TENT. exhibition space, curated by Edwin Carrels, presented a range of work around the focal point of Ray and Charles Eames classic short film Powers of Ten (USA, 1977) which zooms out from a picnicking couple in a park into the cosmos and then reverses to zoom into a micro scale in the mans hand. A brilliant film and ideal focal point for a collection of work exploring scale, order and chaos by artists and filmmakers including Morgan Fisher, Simon Starling and Roman Ondák.

The reduction of the exhibition programme and dropping of the Artists in Focus section of the festival - all key distinguishing facets of the festival in the past - seems to be a strange development, particularly given the new directors background in the art world, as curator at Rotterdam‘s Witte de With gallery and director of Stichting Beeldende Kunst Middelburg (De Vleeshal). Anyway it is still to be seen what direction the festival takes and some trimming and refining of its direction is defiantly to be welcomed as the festival has been slightly adrift in recent years and has not always appeared to be on top of its own programme. The festivals great enthusiasm for cinema in all shapes and sizes lends the festival a slightly chaotic air which in turn is one of its many charms - so I’m looking forward to a new direction but hopefully not too much tidying up!

Amidst this vortex of films, people and events, the jury represented an island of calm. It was great getting to know the other jurors and trying to find common ground among the many films we all watched together. With three totally different perspectives both in terms of our interests but also culture, deciding on the final three films to award took us almost a whole day. After long discussions and re-watched various films we finally came to amicable decision of the three prize winners which we were all very happy with. The winners were:

  • Duncan Campbell for his extraordinary portrait/anti-portrait of Bernadette Devlin, Bernadette (UK, 2008)
  • Beatrice Gibson for her complex melding of music, recorded voice and social document in A Necessary Music (UK, 2008) and
  • Galina Myznikova and Sergey Provorov’s for their deadpan absurdist landscape film Despair (Russia, 2009).
It’s sort of strange seeing the three winners isolated from the context of the competition and the festival, but I cherish all three films for different reasons.

23 February 2009

Guest Blogger: Rotterdam festival blog - jury and beyond, part one by George Clark

After missing the film festival in Rotterdam last year, I was looking forward to attending again in 2009 any way I could. In the midst of figuring out how I was going to get there and where to stay I got an email inviting me to be on the jury for the Tiger Awards for Short Film. Surprised and flattered I quickly accepted before realising that I was committing myself to. The entire short film competition consists of 29 films each running anything up to 60 minutes long spread over nine individual programmes. As the first time I’d been invited to be on a jury and at Rotterdam, a festival I have attending since 2000, I was happy to watch whatever they had selected.

Competition programmes at festivals - which usually consist of a selection of titles from everything a festival shows - can often suffer from striving to be representative of all types of work produced, representing bad works at times seems to be part of this politically correct strategy! One of the most interesting things about festivals is their ability to champion and find a space for their own take on film culture, to create for a week or two a cinematic utopia where the wealth of moving image culture is not governed by the normal logistical and financial pressures of running a cinema. Often the specific character of a festival is best expressed through their special thematic strands or focuses on certain filmmakers or regions. In this regard Rotterdam is one of the most interesting festivals in the world, willing to change its format to reflect what its many programmes believe is important about moving image culture each year. Festival competition, as the most general part of a festival, can often be a stumbling block where the identity and direction of the festival is lost in a too broad selection of work, with films shoehorned into uncomfortable collections in order to fill out the required 90 minute.

Thankfully IFFR’s strong individualism and independent character permeated the nine competition programmes at this years festival - each was filled with striking, challenging works form a wide range of filmmakers. The festival presented each work individually often stopping between to talk to attending filmmakers which broke up the programmes and allowed each film to stand as an individual work. The competition consisted of works nominated by Rotterdam’s various programmers from all areas of the festival, presenting work from young to established filmmakers, from gallery artists to experimental filmmakers. On the jury with me was Tan Chui Mui, a celebrated Malaysian filmmaker whose first feature Love Conquers All (Malaysia, 2006) won a Tiger Award when it showed at Rotterdam in previous years and Maria Pallier who produces the amazing Spanish television programme Metropolis - which was recently celebrated with an exhibition at the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

In recent years with changes of director the festival has seemed to be unsure what direction to take. This edition marked the first under the confirmed leadership of Dutch director Rutger Wolfson who co-directed the festival last year on what was then a temporary basis. With time to prepare Rutger has shaped the festival with a new simplified structure of three sections which include features, shorts and performances and exhibitions under the banners Spectrum, Bright Future and Signals. Since 2005 the short film section has been lead by Peter van Hoof who has focused the short film screenings into the first half of the festival, successfully creating an intimate atmosphere within the broader festival - the Lantern and Venster venue acting as unofficial hub making it easy to bump into filmmakers, artists, curators, distributors and festival programmes for a beer or for a quick hello in the mad dash between screenings. The festival liberally defines short films as any work under 60 minutes in length - partly in response to the fact that the Tiger for feature films can be given to anything over 60 minutes - a clear sighted way to define ‘short’, a arbitrary category at the best of times and give room to filmmakers work rather than dictate what form it should take.

There were too many interesting films to go into in detail here but my particular favourites from the short competition included Deborah Stratman's O’er the land (USA, 2008) a brilliant study of American notions of freedom, the land and man’s relationship with machines. Constructed with brilliantly composed often static shots and intermittently narrated, the film builds an idiosyncratic portrait of America. At the other end of the spectrum was Jim Trainor’s virtuoso animation The Presentation Theme (USA, 2008) which builds a perverse narrative inspired by artefacts the ancient pre-Inca Peruvian culture, called the Moche. Beautifully drawn and made with sublime roughness, from the lazy animation to the over emphatic organ soundtrack and condescending but hypnotic narration. Block B by Chris Chong Chan Fui (Malaysia/Canada, 2008) consists of just two long takes of the same housing block in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, one in day time and one at night, the inhabitants visible as dots on the various walkways. The films power comes from its effortless orchestration of activity on the various floors of the tower block which our attention is subtly drawn to my the excellent sound design by Yasuhiro Morinaga. What at first appears to be a purely observed shot emerges as an intricately timed series of actions realised with an incredible attention to detail and more than a stop of good luck - especially in a magical moment when a shawl is dropped from one walkway only to land on a banister eight floors down.

To be continued...

20 February 2009

Matt Hulse in Cornwall

No, that's not a picture of Matt, but it does bear a fleeting resemblance. Matt is in Cornwall on a residency, editing a feature (no less) length film about a walk. A long walk. Check it out here: anormalboy.wordpress.com/

18 February 2009

Phantoms of Nabua - a new film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

We are very pleased to announce the premiere of a new film by Thai artist and filmmakers Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Phantoms of Nabua (2009, 9'45") was commissioned and made specifically for online and you can see it here

It is part of Primitive, a multi-platform project commissioned by Haus der Kunst Munich, FACT Liverpool, and Animate Projects. And produced by Illuminations Films London with Kick the Machine, Bangkok.

16 February 2009

The Films of Jeff Keen at the BFI

The work of British experimental artist Jeff Keen is being celebrated in a season at the BFI Southbank, London, from 17 to 27 February. Keen has been making experimental films over the last 40 years, experimenting with multi-screen presentations, visceral soundtracks and brutal animation techniques. For an idea of what you can expect, check out Keen's Marvo Movie, 1967, here.

11 February 2009

Guest Blogger: Stephen Irwin on Clermont-Ferrand

My Animate Projects film, The Black Dog’s Progress, was selected for the Lab Competition in this year’s Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival so I went along for a couple of days to see what goes on at a festival of this scale.

Two days definitely wasn’t enough time to see the huge amount of work on show. Luckily there isn’t much else to do in Clermont-Ferrand (other than the festival it’s also famous for being the home of the Michelin tire company), so I spent most of my time in the many screening rooms and cinemas and managed to squeeze in dozens of short films.

I mainly stuck to the Lab Competition after I’d been warned against the National Competition by a veteran of the festival who wasn’t too kind about the usual selection of French films each year. As it turned out I didn’t have time anyway. There was more than enough in the five Lab programmes and in the couple of other special programmes I fitted in.

For the most part I sought out animated films that I hadn’t seen yet or had only viewed on Vimeo/YouTube. It reminded me how rarely I watch short films with hundreds of other people in the cinema. Watching shorts has become a solitary experience and one that I have control over; if I don’t like something I can skip through it or move on to the next thing, and alternatively if I love it I can play it again and again.

I was particularly keen to see Muto by Blu on the big screen after watching it repeatedly on Vimeo and it didn’t disappoint (and it quite rightly went on the win the Grand Prix in the Lab Competition).

Other inspiring animations included Stand Up by Joseph Pierce which was uncomfortable to watch and contained some of the most beautifully animated ugly images I’ve seen in ages. The same programme also included Inukshuk by Camillevis Thery. Something so detailed and perfectly animated can only be appreciated fully when projected (and even better from a 35mm print).

Also memorable was Rabbit Punch by Kristian Andrews and Cartographie 9 – La Boule d’Or by Bruno Deville, a live-action film about a bowling club and a team of pensioners which I thought was a documentary but according to the programme notes is fiction.

The quality of the films in competition was extremely high (even the ones I didn’t like), and each programme was very well put together. I thought I saw themes running through each programme but Calmin Borel who works on the Lab Competition told me that they just make sure there is a good mixture of genre, subject matter and length. They construct a programme based on the idea that it might be the only one that particular audience will see.

What impressed me the most about the festival was the size of the audiences. I arrived towards the end of the festival and all the screenings were still selling out. You have to arrive in good time and queue for at least twenty minutes to ensure you get a seat. At a couple of screenings there were even some people who couldn’t get in and were turned away.

It was nice to see several hundred people queuing up in the Maison de la Culture on Saturday afternoon to get into the Lab 4 screening that included my film, and for it to play to a packed auditorium. Plus the quality of the projection and sound was perfect which was a relief. There is obviously a lot of time and money spent on organising the festival and making sure it runs smoothly. It was a great experience to be part of it in some small way and if I get the opportunity to go again it’ll definitely be for longer.


Image: Clermont-Ferrand, Stephen Irwin (click on the image to see it full-size)

Guest Blogger: Clermont-Ferrand travel diary by Tal Rosner

Hello! I've just come back from Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival and was asked to write a short blog entry about it - so - here we go.

This year was the first time I visited the Festival, an extremely well-organised week, with numerous screenings in multiple venues. I arrived on the 5th day so was only there for the last part of the festival. The 3 main competitive sections were the National (France), International and Labo (Lab). My AnimateTV 2008 film, Without You, was featured in one of the 5 Labo Programmes (L2), which were all screened daily (in different venues and different times). As a spectator, I focused on the Labo screenings, which are the place to see new experimental stuff from around the world.

I found a huge variety in the material that was chosen for Labo screenings: from hand-drawn, slightly more traditional animation, via crazy CGI stuff to documentaries with no animation at all. The lengths of the individual films also varied a lot in the programmes (from 3 to 30 minutes).

Leaving my favourite films aside for a minute (I’ll get to them later) - a question that kept on surfacing during my trip to the festival, and in over-dinner discussions with the lovely Jane and Lindy (who saved the day - thank you!) was - how do you define a film as 'experimental'? Is it the fact that you haven't seen anything like it before? And if so, doesn't the definition of 'experimental' become a subjective matter?

As all of us see things with reference to the different collection of things we've seen in the past - maybe something that looks 'experimental' to person A would actually be something that person B has seen many times before. Also - does 'experimental' necessarily mean experimental in technique (i.e. the way the images are drawn, photographed or manipulated - 'imagery'), or is there perhaps another level of experimentation, which is the grammar (i.e. the way thing are constructed on the timeline - 'form'). Perhaps I'm being biased to my own interests and agenda, but I felt there wasn't enough of the latter – to me it is mandatory.

All in all though, it was an extremely positive experience. The "Film Market" was also quite fun to go through. It felt like there was a huge amount of very keen people from around the globe and that they were all there together to keep things moving in good and right directions.

My favourites (and all things I personally haven't seen the like before!) were:

REISE ZUM WALD by Jorn Staeger (Germany). A very well-edited visual essay about the German myth of trees. Crazy journey from close ups to timelapse to satellite shots exploring one simple visual motif in an extremely elegant way.

MURO by Tião (Brazil). A short film with a poetic and sometimes violent sense of film grammar, cuts and juxtapositions between 'real' and more symbolic/surreal scenes (imagine Dali in Brazil circa 2008 - but on film).

by Michael Langan (US). Very hyped American short, might not be coherent throughout but very interesting structurally and includes a shot of man dancing a waltz with a car, which was unforgettable.

Thanks for reading

Image: Clermont-Ferrand, Tal Rosner. For more images visit our flickr

6 February 2009

transmediale 09 prize...

We are thrilled to report that Tantalum Memorial, by Graham Harwood, Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji, has deservedly won first prize at this year's transmediale festival in Berlin.

A "telephony-based memorial to the people who have died as a result of the “coltan wars” in the Congo", the installation was shown at the Science Museum in London last year. It is very powerful stuff.

We're also very pleased to be working with Richard on the Computer Baroque programme that we're showing as part of the Animation Breakdown weekend - and it looks likely that we'll be able to present some of the films online too later this year.

5 February 2009

Wysing now postponed

Just an update on the talk that Gary was supposed to be giving at the Wysing Arts Centre tonight: unfortunately we have had to postpone as there are major problems on the trains today and we can't get to Cambridge.

Sorry about that, but it will be rescheduled sometime soon.

4 February 2009

Animate Projects is animated at Wysing

Thursday 5 February, 6-8pm
Wysing Arts Centre, Bourn, CB23

As part of the public event series of Wysing Arts Contemporary: Animated, our very own co-Director, Gary Thomas, will be giving a talk on 5 February.

Animated is the first exhibition in the Wysing Arts Contemporary series. An exploration of the everyday by artists working and performing in vigorous and dynamic ways. The works explore notions of energy, movement, imagination and memory. The artists featured are: Jo Addison, Julie Brenot, Matt Cook, Sarah Evans, Simon Liddiment, Anne-Mie Melis, Alex Pearl and Simon Woolham, who made 3 short films for our Stop. Watch. art and ecology project last year.

Animated runs from 18 January to 1 March 2009.