Back when Projections was still called “Views from the Avant-Garde,” the New York Film Festival described its program as a “yearly touchstone for experimental film.” Now neither of those terms—“avant-garde” and “experimental”—are quite broad enough to encompass all that goes on in there, so the festival is calling Projections “an international selection of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be.” This year’s edition, running from today through Monday (October 6 through 9), has been programmed by Dennis Lim and Aily Nash and, writing for Artforum, Tony Pipolo suggests that “[g]iven the current political climate, it’s not surprising that many works in this year’s Projections were selected in light of growing concerns about the expanding list of endangered species—not only of the racial, gender, ethnic, and environmental varieties, but democratic values and ethics.”
Our overview of this year’s Projections draws not only from pieces like Pipolo’s and Ela Bittencourt’s for frieze, but also from several written in the run-up to and during Toronto’s Wavelengths. Separated by just a few weeks, these two programs, taken together, offer a sort of annual check-up on “what the moving image can do and be.” Before moving on to the shorts programs, we begin with the features, and we already have entries up and running on Neïl Beloufa’s Occidental, Kevin Jerome Everson’s Tonsler Park, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Caniba, and Ben Russell’s Good Luck.
“Chinese artist Xu Bing has made a career out of appropriating and recontextualizing objects and cultural artifacts, while playing with a viewer’s sense of recognition of such materials,” writes Dan Schindel at the top of his interview for Hyperallergic. Dragonfly Eyes “tells a story of love and obsession through footage culled entirely from videos uploaded to Chinese streaming sites. While there are clips from vlogs and dashboard cameras, most of the images are from personal, consumer-bought surveillance cameras which stream 24/7. The result is an omniscient, omnipresent, voyeur’s eye view of the world.” But for Jay Weissberg, writing for Variety, Dragonfly Eyes is “little more than a soap opera reaching for social commentary.” For more varied opinions, see the entry at Critics Round Up.
Rosalind Nashashibi’s Vivian’s Garden, recently presented at documenta 14, is now on view at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull as part of the Turner Prize 2017 exhibition. “Nashashibi gives us a portrait of the relationship between a mother and daughter, Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild, in their rambling, ramshackle home and overgrown, snake-infested garden in Guatemala,” writes the Guardian’s Adrian Searle in his review of this year’s contenders. “We glimpse the daily comings and goings, their staff and numerous dogs, life behind a hefty gated entrance. Suter drags large canvases through the foliage. Her mother, in her wheelchair, glues together a collage by lamplight. The film is full of fractured glimpses, incomplete conversations, talk of departure and some violence in the past. Things hover that we can’t grasp. Nashashibi’s films are often extremely beautiful to look at, their slowness never a burden. For Vivian’s Garden alone, Nashashibi deserves to win.”
Vivian’s Garden is followed on Sunday by Electro-Pythagoras by Luke Fowler, whose “films form a kind of counter-history of modernity,” as Michael Sicinski argues in Cinema Scope. And “it’s important to understand Fowler’s work in the context of experimental cinema, since from a formal standpoint the films have more in common with the post-structural avant-garde than they do with conventional documentary or even the essay film. Each of Fowler’s films is characterized by meticulous construction through montage, usually a blend of archival footage and original footage.” Electro-Pythagoras is a portrait of Canadian electronic music pioneer Martin Bartlett.
Nick Pinkerton for Artforum: Narimane Mari’s Le fort des fous “is constructed as a triptych of similarly-sized sections—the first is set in an imagination of the colonial past in the filmmaker’s native Algeria; the second follows a wandering commune on Greece’s Kythira Island, poised somewhere between the present and a mythic past; the third is a documentary-style platform for contemporary revolutionists, including a Prosfygika castaway in contemporary Athens. The central part, oblique and distinguished by dynamic figures-in-a-landscape framings, was easily the most absorbing, though regardless of personal preference it’s hard to imagine a viewer who could value all three drastically different sections equally.”
“Language and articulation are in fact key aspects of Le fort des fous, which was in part commissioned by this summer’s documenta 14 exhibition, where it was presented as an installation before its festival premiere in Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present section,” writes Jordan Cronk for Cinema Scope. “As such, the film is at once an outgrowth of multiple linguistic idioms, narrative traditions, and textual reference points, as well as a product of its own creative impetus. If the film feels like everything and nothing in contemporary nonfiction, it seems entirely a result of its uniquely open and spontaneous evolution.”
Ela Bittencourt for Film Comment: “‘My film is about power and domination, but also about transgression,’ Mari said in Locarno. . . . ‘My movie isn’t violent, but our current political situation is.’”
“In its themes and approach, Zhou Tao's medium-length feature The Worldly Cave is a bit like a hypothetical piece of Jia Zhangke video art,” writes Michael Sicinski. “Like Jia's films, Zhou's piece is a meditation on the losses incurred in China's seemingly never-ending project of modernization. . . . What a viewer might notice if he or she is highly attentive, or very well travelled, is that only a small portion of The Worldly Cave is shot in China. According to the press notes, Zhou depicts scenes from the Incheon Sea, the Balearic island of Menorca, and the Sonoran Desert. Using creative geography, he combines everything into one dissolute spatial image of dislocation and hyper-modernity.”
Projections presents five newly restored films by Barbara Hammer, who, as Sean L. Malin notes at the top of his interview for Little White Lies, “has been an active/activated presence in American cinema for half a century.” The films include Women I Love (1976), “her masterpiece of diary and superimposition,” No No Nooky TV (1987), “a bawdy computerized bonanza with a War Games aesthetic, and the uproarious Audience , a metatexual black-and-white exercise in self-examination.”
Hammer: “I wanted to put a lesbian life on screen in the 20th century, and then moving into the 21st. That was always my goal when I began, which was when I was about 30 years old. I started making films on Super-8 mm film at 27, three years before I started on 16 mm. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to fill a void.”
“Race and human nature are front-and-center (and raucously mocked) in the must-see restorations of the films of Mike Henderson,” writes Tony Pipolo. “His 16 mm movies from the 1970s and ’80s, he insisted, were made for himself as a way of coming to terms with his experiences as a black man in America. Home movies or not, the eight presented in Projections radiate a genius and wit that belie their modesty. In Dufus (1970–73), we watch a makeshift ‘theater’ space as different figures emerge from a door marked to designate social stereotypes. Each one enters, does a turn, and exits, accompanied by Henderson’s laconic voiceover mimicking their unspoken thoughts. Hands down these are the funniest and most biting takes on character and race I’ve seen in a dog’s age.”
Phil Coldiron in the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail on the first film in the program is pretty great:
Benjamin Crotty likes muscles well enough, but he loves a man in and out of uniform, so he’s swiped seven short vignettes shot on 16mm by American soldiers in downtime during the Vietnam War—splashing in a river, taking communion, reading Christmas cards, and, as noted by its deadpan title, moving between locations via land, air, and sea—for Division Movement to Vungtau. Crotty and his co-director Bertrand Dezoteux intervene on this material by dubbing in a soundtrack, naturalistic in content, artificial in tone; applying the occasional iris to open or close a scene; and, most pointedly, sticking huge anthropomorphic CGI fruit into every shot, which sway and dance and giggle and chirp like they’re hopped up on their own sugar. In four minutes, the pair throw stink bombs into not only the boomer nostalgia that marks Vietnam as more than just another catastrophe in our idiot nation’s storied history of them, but also the micro and macro of the pathos-sodden tradition of the diary film and the ever expanding importance of the visual to America’s ongoing imperial follies (i.e., like so many drone coordinates, the soft celluloid impressions of “the first TV war” have been scanned into precisely quantified data available for CG mapping).
More from Michael Sicinski in the Notebook: “It’s the combination of Platoon and Bananas in Pajamas we never knew we wanted, and I feel like I’m being trolled.”
Jesse McLean herself on Wherever You Go, There We Are: “In this experimental travelogue, efforts to sound human and look natural go awry. The scenery is provided through photochromed vintage postcards, displaying not only scenic North American landscapes but also the rise of infrastructure and industry. Aspiring to look more realistic by adding color to a black and white image, the postcards (already a vulnerable method of correspondence caught between private and public) instead become documents of the fantastic. The road trip is narrated by an automated correspondent (all dialogue is taken from spam emails) who is seductive and mercurial, his entreaties becoming foreboding and obtuse, in a relentless effort to capture our attentions.”
Kevin Jerome Everson’s IFO receives an honorable mention in the entry on Tonsler Park.
Ela Bittencourt writes about Pia Borg’s Silica, “in which an unidentified traveler tours a land that in its bright colors, rocky terrain and vastness seems lifted straight out of Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas (1984) but is in fact South Australia, in order to revisit famous sci-fi movie locations. Delivered in a melodious voiceover, the story is a sly, humorous commentary on the gap between reality and imagination, and so cinema itself.”
“Hydrangeas have flourished in the Azores since the plant was introduced there,” writes Dan Schindel at Hyperallergic. “In the world of Jorge Jácome’s short, [Flores,] the flowers completely take over the islands, driving out most other life. This forms the backdrop for a horticulturally slanted take on the sci-fi ‘men on a mission’ genre, as two soldiers set out on an assignment in the petal-smothered wilderness. Jácome further twists expectations by turning their journey into a love story, taking the homoeroticism of military comradery to its furthest conclusion. Vivid lavender tones and flower-blanketed locations make this small short look more alien than most hundred-million-dollar blockbusters.”
The title of Peter Burr’s Pattern Language comes from “a term coined by architect Christopher Alexander to describe the existence of certain human ambitions through an index of structural patterns,” explained the International Film Festival Rotterdam at the beginning of this year. “In this film, highly organized and richly layered patterns move in accordance with audio frequencies and rhythms, towards the construction of an endlessly mutating labyrinth.”
G. Anthony Svatek’s .TV is “a deadly serious but wittily poised prophecy of environmental oblivion,” writes Tony Pipolo. “The title is the official domain extension given to Tuvalu, a group of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. . . . The acerbic punchline of Svatek’s work, as the voice intones, is that while Tuvalu itself has ‘vanished’—i.e., from the point of view of the future—internet and industry experts declared that the websites of the domain, .TV, were too valuable to be terminated and were therefore protected from the fate that met the islands and their inhabitants—assuring us of the ultimate triumph of capitalism.”
Here’s Belit Sağ’s disruption (2016):
Sky Hopinka’s Dislocation Blues, which “was shot at Standing Rock during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests,” notes Matthew Jeffrey Abrams, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Hopinka’s works are predicated on the interrelationship between language, identity, and cultural construction. He especially considers how language can, like a misbegotten phrase, fall short, sputter, or fray. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising to learn that Hopinka’s filmmaking career has coincided with several intense linguistic pursuits, namely his education in Chinuk Wawa, a revived creole trade-language once common in the Pacific Northwest, and Hočąk, the endangered, indigenous language of the Ho-Chunk people. Hopinka’s works often lay bare language’s generative power.”
“Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s riveting Rubber Coated Steel, which won the short-film award at the Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year, is a prime example of the artist who addresses political and social issues through a vigorous command of form,” writes Tony Pipolo. “Born in Jordan, the filmmaker has a remarkable gift for listening—a ‘private ear’ whose expertise not only defines his art but has led to his bearing witness when necessary.”
Of The Crack-Up, the festival writes that Jonathan Schwartz’s “poetic 16 mm work meditates on the sights and sounds of slowly crumbling glaciers, charting an interior dance between desperation and hope.”
José Sarmiento-Hinojosa for desistfilm on Saint Bathans Repetitions: “This ‘manipulation of time and space’ by Canadian artist Alexander Larose might just open a new way of interpreting the cinematic portrait, or the narrative possibilities of expanded cinema. . . . Juxtaposing layer after layer of film, the Canadian filmmaker makes undetectable transitions, as if space seems to evolve in itself constantly, melting and rearranging its atoms for the next layer.”
Nazli Dincel’s Shape of a Surface is “an extraordinary exercise in first-person cinema, filmed in 16 mm,” writes Tony Pipolo. “We first hear and then see the filmmaker’s sandaled feet via a high-angle shot from her handheld camera, as she ascends time-worn rocky steps, pausing at the top to raise the camera and pan across the area, revealing the remains of a Greek amphitheater (the Aphrodisias ruins in western Turkey). No sooner does this register than we hear the salat, one of the daily calls to prayer in the Muslim world. As if to compound the contrast, the filmmaker holds a mirror, alternately confusing or conflating shots of the site with its reflection. With such simple, hands-on means, she evokes not only a cultural divide but the bearing it has on consciousness, perception, and physical existence—in short with questions of identity and place.”
“The first half of [Jodie Mack’s] Wasteland No. 1 – Ardent, Verdant [image above] is a montage of close-ups of computer motherboards,” writes Dan Schindel. “The rapid editing makes the shifting configurations of nodes circuitry look like a rapid pan over a cityscape, the accreted dust lending it a vacant air, as if it’s a radioactive quarantine zone. The second half of the film depicts hills covered in poppies in bloom, the color contrast cranked to a maximum saturation. The result is like a study by way of speed-reading; we’re in and out in a few minutes, but the images of dueling landscapes are stamped on our minds regardless.” More from Michael Sicinski in the Notebook: “As the very short film concludes, we come to realize that Mack has sneakily pulled us into a dialectic. After all, not only are the natural forms digitally transformed. The digital components have their origin in natural resources, materials mined from the earth. We’re not supposed to think about that. But Mack insists, we are all components within the same vast wasteland.”
For Ela Bittencourt, Takashi Makino’s On Generation and Corruption is “a tangle of sounds in the darkness, and of loosely strewn colors on the screen, which emerge very slowly and dimly only about one fifth into this twenty-five-minute film, with the faintest suggestions of flora. This animated painting—with hints of Monet’s sumptuous Water Lilies—is more about ambiance and experiential, associative response, and comes closest to a video installation.”
According to the festival, Sara Magenheimer’s Art and Theft “explores the bounds of narrative and the illusion of received wisdom in the seven minutes and twenty-two seconds it takes to rob a house.”
At his own site, Jaakko Pallasvuo tells us that “Filter explores the ways in which nostalgia is experienced in the 21st century. . . . Integrating visual culture, music and performance, Filter examines the question of what is included and what excluded when memories are created.”
Semen is the Piss of Dreams was part of a show at Western Exhibitions in Chicago earlier this year: “Memories, fantasy and the desiring body have been central themes in the work of Steve Reinke since the 1980s. His videos typically take a diaristic or collage format, melding archival sources with a seemingly autobiographical narrative. Reinke is perhaps best known for The Hundred Videos, completed between 1989 and 1996; its underlying theme confronts the authority of filmmaking and the construction of the documentary genre.”
Wojciech Bąkowski’s “strangely personal, nostalgia-laced” Year “combines the Polish animator’s love of everyday domestic objects and geometric aesthetics with a flickering synth score out of an eighties urban crime film,” the festival tells us.
“In effect,” writes Paul Carey-Kent for frieze, Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT “is a collage on four levels: the surface calm of the visuals, the atmospheres generated by the ambient sounds, the themes explored by the writers cited and Prodger’s own notations. Though the latter are casual enough to seem unconnected, they speak to an underlying theme: how identity shifts with time. . . . As this latest, impressive expansion of her practice indicates, there seems no danger of Prodger being constrained by a fixed identity, however much she may ruminate on how she came to be who she is.”
“Although Tower XYZ explores themes like gentrification and social cleansing,” writes Ayo Akingbade in the Notebook, “I didn’t want to make a piece that was kitchen-sink style or a depressing social realist depiction of London because it is dry and super repetitive, found nearly everywhere in British TV and film. It was important the characters came from different backgrounds and traditions reflective of the multicultural society I live in.”
4:3’s Conor Bateman recently spoke with Fern Silva: “Like much of Silva’s ethnographically-focused work, [Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder] situates humanity as oppositional to nature, though here in particular the relationship is more ambiguous; as a group of artists depict the Hudson River region in upstate New York (though celebratory sketches, film, painting), an ominous force rising up from the water (think Creature from the Black Lagoon) stalks the suburban area around them.”
“The black activist poetry of the 1960s from Detroit’s Broadside Press is brought alive again by locals standing against the city’s now-depleted spaces,” writes Dan Schindel.
“Among the various poems recited, Margaret Walker’s ‘Harriet Tubman’ acts as the connective tissue in Ephraim Asili’s [Fluid Frontiers]. The thread is woven from Tubman’s legacy to that of the black radicals of the Civil Rights Movement to the activism still being done today. History, art, geography, and politics are unified.”
“Onward Lossless Follows is one of [Michael] Robinson’s most densely layered works to date,” writes Michael Sicinski, “and in it he takes the measure of desire in far more direct ways. Throughout the film, we hear the voice of an avuncular preacher explaining that we must put no faith in the stars. And yet, what we see before us is a constellation of meanings that cannot be spoken directly—the lust for shirtless men out a second story window, a wish to be spirited away by a seductress, even the longing to lose oneself entirely. In Onward, we are invited to suspend our judgment and, by extension, give ourselves over to the dangers of attenuated desires.”
And more from Michael Sicinski: “In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Franco, a new freedom and excitement overtook the Spanish nation, and nowhere could this be scene more clearly than in Madrid. A creative explosion known as La Movida Madrileña (‘the Madrid Movement’) displayed a new attitude in music, film, and literature. Among the key bands of this period was Zombies (not to be confused with the UK group of the same name), a hard charging post-punk outfit comparable in sound to Sparks or the B-52s. One of the members of Zombies, and a number of other bands of the era, was Tesa Arranz, a singer, painter, and poet. Aliens, the latest from [Luis López] Carrasco (El futuro), is a frantic, circuit-fried profile of Arranz, still going strong in her fifties.”
Barbs, Wastelands is “the stunning first film of Marta Mateus,” wrote Notebook editor Daniel Kasman in a dispatch from Cannes. “Following a lineage begun by America's cine-historiographer John Ford, more directly politicized and de-commercialized by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, and re-contextualized to Portugal’s social history in revolutionary digital aesthetics by Pedro Costa, Farpões, baldios confronts us with a provincial landscape populated by a people dangerously left adrift in a country that seems on the verge of forgetting its past.”
Once again, Michael Sicinski: “In his follow-up to All the Cities of the North, Dane Komljen adopts the short form. But Phantasiesätze (which takes its title from a text by Walter Benjamin) is quite possibly even richer than North in terms of the coordination of its moving parts. . . . If the first part of Phantasiesätze had the feel of Jan Němec’s anti-Communist classic The Report on the Party and the Guests, this second segment more closely resembles Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s recent masterwork Homo Sapiens. By the conclusion, however, Komljen has moved us somewhere beyond conventional reason, where the faculty of speech, so often an explanatory tool where images are concerned, is instead a kind of pipeline to the historical unconscious of this deeply haunted place. Komljen has identified a clearing in the woods where utopian dreams went to die.”
According to the festival, in Olivia Ciummo’s Missing In-Between the Physical Proper, a “prismatic collection of re-photographed images—of deserts and oceans, plants and animals—are disrupted and transformed by an array of color filters, soft synth accompaniment, and familiarly boorish messages lifted from the online world.”
The Irish Museum of Modern Art has recently presented Duncan Campbell’s The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy, “his first new work since winning the Turner Prize in 2014 and his first film based in the Republic of Ireland. Originating from research undertaken in the IFI Irish Film Archive, Campbell’s new film commission takes as a starting point a 1960’s UCLA anthropological film study of rural Kerry to investigate and reframe contemporary Ireland.”
Update, 10/30: At the Notebook, Almudena Escobar López writes about this year’s program, focusing on Jesse McLean’s Wherever You Go, There We Are, Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Filter, Anthony Svatek's .TV, Jodie Mack’s Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant, belit sağ’s Disruption, Kevin Jerome Everson’s IFO and Tonsler Park, Nazlı Dinçel’s Shape of a Surface, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Rubber Coated Steel, Sky Hopinka’s Dislocation Blues, Ephraim Asili’s Fluid Frontiers, and Dane Komljen’s Fantasy Sentences, which Komljen himself introduces in another entry.