Over the last decade we have witnessed an incredible resurgence of interest in experimental cinema. A new generation of artists has emerged. Museums, cinematheques and festivals now have programmes and retrospectives of past and contemporary experimental films, and film and video installations are now part of the art gallery experience.
As a new artistic medium, cinema has permanently modified our vision of history and sense perceptions during the twentieth century, and experimental cinema has contributed significantly to this. Film experimentation is by tradition concerned with questions about film aesthetics, filmic language and the many uses of technology. By tackling these issues in an uncompromising way, subverting codes and schemes imposed by mainstream cinema, experimental cinema has doubtlessly influenced more conventional genres in cinema - in terms of cinematography editing and the use of special effects would be prime examples. Yet it would be wrong to reduce experimental cinema to a film-practice solely concerned with aestheticism and technical innovation. To get a thorough understanding of the extravagant energies of experimental cinema it is also important to adopt an historic perspective on it. Social, political and cultural changes have always had a great impact on artistic modes and practices, and inevitably this has also influenced film experimentation.
In this respect it is interesting to note that the history of experimental cinema is characterized by constant ups and downs, pauses and sudden boosts, disruptions and continuities. It is a cyclical history, as experimental cinema has always stood against commercial or business-oriented culture, but at the same time has regularly been recuperated and assimilated by it. What is experimental one day, therefore, may not be so considered the next day. Experimental cinema is above all a state of mind, as it can only be true to itself when motivated by personal choices and not by imposed trends or standardized canons. Artists and independent filmmakers have therefore repeatedly grouped together to counteract the limitations imposed by the film industry and the so-called dominant culture. This is why the history of experimental cinema is also one of movements, groups and collectives which have struggled to keep this freedom alive.
This collective aspect is an element which is very often underestimated. There is a tendency to think that experimental filmmakers are individualists who work alone, cut-off from any kind of social reality. In fact, laboratories and production and distribution places run in a collective way have always been key structures in terms of the support given to artists and filmmakers. These are also places - arising from particular social, political and cultural situations - which breathe life into an artistic platform and which allow for the existence of networks.
Having said this, it might then be interesting to contextualize the programmes which are going to be shown in this edition of the Independent Film Show by giving some brief background information for each one. This year four programmes come from France. This is the country in Europe where right now one can probably find one of the most lively platforms for experimental cinema. Since the early nineties a quite astonishing number of groups and collectives has emerged in various parts of France; some in fact have even existed since the seventies and eighties. Paris, inevitably, is the city where most of the associations are based as this is also where all the main film institutions are. Yet in terms of an experimental film network, the map that could be drawn is a much wider one and goes from the east to the west and from the north to the south of France. A wide range of activities are covered: screenings, the publishing of newsletters or art-zines, the practice of film laboratory, distribution, and so on. This is obviously fertile ground for creativity, and even the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie) has had to acknowledge it by recently accepting to adopt flexible funding criteria.
The two programmes brought by Christophe Bichon testify to the liveliness of the French situation. Having worked for Light Cone - one of the main distribution libraries for experimental cinema not only in Europe but in the world (Light Cone has just celebrated twenty-five years of existence) - for several years, Bichon is well-placed to give us an overview of recent French experimental cinema. He is also curator for the Scratch screenings, which are an important Parisian showcase for experimental cinema. The films he has chosen for the Independent Film Show constitute a sort of topography of some of the styles and approaches which have marked experimental filmmaking in France over recent years. Through the two compilations, Visions of reality and Motives and textures, Bichon also highlights two currents still very much alive in French experimental cinema: the attempt to personalize the experience of natural appearances and an inexhaustible interest in the intrinsic qualities of celluloid.
Goran Vejvoda and Background propose something very different. Vejvoda is a sound-artist, musician and video-maker who is also active in many other artistic fields. You will never find a complete biography of him (even if you google intensively!) as he resists any preconceived description about what he does or what he is. The same could be said about Background, a group with variable structures. Started by Vejvoda, together with other Paris-based artists as a reaction to predefined art environments, Background propose multi-disciplinary performances which could be seen as site-specific happenings. Film, video, music and choreography are some of the elements which are mixed during these events.
Old&New-Famous&Forgotten-Mix&Unknown is the first programme which Goran Vejvoda is going to propose to us. As the title says, this is a compilation of recent and older short films that Vejvoda has decided to pick at random from a collection of pieces he likes. By adopting a provocative method for curating this compilation, he raises questions about the difficulty of coping with the flow of information we are nowadays confronted with: considering the multitude of cultural offers we have access to, how can we still choose something?
The second programme, titled Mega Accumulation Indeterminacy, will be a performance by Background, with Goran Vejvoda, Florence Müller and Aurélie Lobin. Imagined specifically for the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo it will integrate some dance pieces and films by Goran Vejvoda and Florence de Montgolfier.
Holland is another country with a long tradition in film experimentation and a very energetic community of experimental filmmakers. In 2004 two major projects contributed to prove it: one was the launch of a book which finally provided documentation of Dutch experimental cinema from the sixties to today, the other was an impressive retrospective of Dutch experimental films at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Just one year earlier Filmbank was also created, a distribution house which has done a lot to give exposure to Dutch independent and experimental films. The programme Visual Music from the Netherlands, curated by Joost Rekveld, will give us a fascinating insight into Dutch abstract cinema. It will also be a startling continuation of the programme on abstract cinema Joost Rekveld brought to the Independent Film Show last year. The compilation, which includes films mainly from the seventies as well as recent ones, will focus on the relationship between film and music, and more precisely on how sound can be visualized. A second programme will be a partial retrospective of Joost Rekveld’s films. Being himself an incredibly skilled filmmaker, as well as a musician, he is certainly one of the main figures in contemporary abstract cinema. Inspired by studies on kinetics and Medieval and Renaissance optics, among other things, his work is a mesmerizing exploration of phenomena related to light propagation and diffraction. We will also have the chance to see one of his latest video-installations.
The final programme has been curated by Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. Experimental cinema has undergone a visible resurgence not only here in Europe but certainly also in the US, where film groups and collectives have been flourishing. Based in New York Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder have zealously dug into the archives of Colab (Collaborative Projects), one of the most radical art organizations which has ever existed in NY. Funded by a group of artists in 1977, it has certainly set a precedent for collective practices in art. Colab was a radical, non-hierarchical organization which wanted to facilitate the development, production and distribution of all sorts of artistic projects and which provided alternative exhibition spaces for emerging artists. Coleen Fitzgibbon was one of its key members, as well as an experimental film and video artist active within the structuralist film movement. Thanks to the meticulous work of Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder some of her films have recently been restored and we will have the rare opportunity to see them here at the Independent Film Show.
Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder are themselves filmmakers and performers, and they certainly are among some of the most active and interesting artists who have recently emerged from the NY scene. Their work, made individually or together, usually involves multiple projection set-ups and the use of various screen surfaces. By manipulating film projectors and light beam sources, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder create unexpected kinetic environments where the carefully chosen soundtracks add to the experience. For the last day of the festival they will be presenting one of their latest installations which is also partly a performance. Once more, the Independent Film Show is presenting a programme rich with films, installations and performances never programmed before in Italy. As it is a tradition now, there are also going to be many guests. Nights are certainly going to be long: be ready for it!