BERLINALE 2020’S FORUM EXPANDED: RECOVERY, EQUINOX, THE PHANTOM MENACE

This entry was posted on March 9th, 2020

By Mónica Delgado

In program 9 of this edition of Forum Expanded, three short films were shown that could confront a current panorama of conceptual proposals from their peculiarities. From a variety of supports and aesthetics, they keep a tradition not only with the so-called “structural cinema” but also between them, creating a sort of correspondence among the works. What could have in common a  black and white 16 mm short film which describes a bureaucratic process from the perspective of the body, or a camera-less work in 70mm that only has one apparent field of color variations? Or the digital baroque proposal of Graeme Arnfield?

This selection, made by the team of Forum Expanded in this 70th edition of Berlinale, shows an antagonistic example over the selection of another program that grouped certain Latin American works, seemingly made with just a territorial criteria. Here, the challenge looks bigger and more stimulating, specially when including a work which celebrates somehow the existence of spaces like these, like the one with Margaret Honda, and which confirms the independence of this particular section.

In Kevin Jerome Everson’s Recovery, the fixed camera in a close shot, (almost a close-up) becomes the sole testimony of a process of evaluation of some conditions for aspiring pilots of the United States Air Force. What the filmmaker recovers isn’t only the procedure that implies that the suitors are in a constant circular movement, but are also crossed by a technology of control. Indications, positions, regulations for the corporeal, yes, but also the compliance of a demand, without a complain. Jerome Everson, like in some works by Harun Farocki, slowly disarms the scenes in this sensation of the fixed shot, fragmented in editing, breaking the idea of the circular. This is how Jerome Everson dismantles this structure, from the cuts which break and give an eternal loop sensation in this evaluation.

In the post-screening talk, Jerome Everson indicated that Recovery belongs to an interest of making films about African American people in the military service, in this case, the United States Air Force. He said: “It’s about the materiality of this, I use 16 mm a lot, and then for me it’s all about the camera, the lenses, the magazines and film stocks. And the whole idea of this particular event lasted the length of a 32 meter or 44 ft magazine, so the whole thing becomes self-contained on the infrastructure. I make films like an abstract painter, where for me, I want the content to be self-referential, so the timing of the speech, the length of the film it’s all based in its own self.”

In Margaret Honda’s Equinox, a process of intervention on celluloid is materialized by the artist. It’s quite imperceptible, and, as the title of the work signals, reveals the progression of an entrance and exit of light. First of all, Equinox seems to be about the impossibility of complete darkness, working with different modulations of light, of its calibration which refers to a bucolic imaginary of dawn or the change of a season, which also talks about the actions or basic resources of cinema as an agent of materiality.

Equinox, conceived in 2013 as a complimentary piece of Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, a previous work by Honda, starts from a uniform shot in black that slowly veers to gray and then to white, like a climax that then starts a return to darkness, showing a final part with more clarity. This color film, was made exposing a 70 mm celluloid reel to color lights in an optical printer.

In the post-screening talk, Margaret Honda indicated that all her films are made thinking about basic theory, utilizing the available theory in different developing materials, optical printers and laboratories: “What I think of infrastructure in terms of my work, I do really think about all the people who are involved, the timers who are involved in helping me execute the word, people who are at the lab, the projectionists. It’s what I call an ecosystem, which is really vital to the work, especially 70 mm film, really all analog film at this point. If there’s one element that is missing, a piece of equipment, or more likely, the people who really know what they’re doing, it’s actually quite fragile in that sense. In a very basic sense of how the films get made and definitely working in this infrastructure, and really just trying to take the best advantage of that, not necessarily building something else, but really utilizing what’s there to begin with.”

While the Graeme Arnfield’s short, The Phantom Menace, starts from this popular Star Wars imaginary to slowly deconstruct it from a fiction of digital archaeology, a language created by NASA artifacts about the penetration of cosmic intergalactic rays which entered our atmosphere and affected certain bodies. Through the stroboscopic effect, the film utilizes certain low-res scientific visualizations to “speculate about the role of the workforce in a post-apocalyptic future”. Airplanes crashes, computers don’t work well, and elections go haywire: “the prequel of the future” as the film text indicates.

English artist Graeme Arnfield said that this film was made as part of an investigation process about cosmic radiation, to see how far could someone go with this kind of “tentacles” and the forms technology will influence in the bodies and social media: “A kind of particular thing that was interesting to me at the time was the way it only can be noticed in this kind of effort, in this kind of exit, with radiation it can only be noticed when the damage is already done, or something’s crashed, in this invisible highly charged force. So it’s about kind of always about the way the structure crashes can be managed and also produced in the film. One of those initial starting points was an interview with a technician at a super computer laboratory of sorts who said that it wasn’t a job to kind of stop cosmic radiation from crashing this computers, but to manage and produce the crashes themselves and then kind of imagining and talking about this idea of massive body of labor whose job is to investigate this data, trying to see if it’s been affected by this kind of possible physics and ideas.”