By Pablo Gamba

Program 3 of Crossroads experimental film festival, “Take this as some kind of signal”, presented nine short films by Jodie Mack, Bruno Valera, Colectivo los Ingrávidos, Callum Walter, Im Youngzoo and other filmmakers, grouped around the subject of communication and other topics, such as science fiction and plants. The latter are challenging creatures for cinema because their own movement is limited, almost exclusively, to when they grow, flourish or bear fruit. Becoming a vegetable is a particular type of terror for modern man, exploited in both versions of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958 and 1978), but plants have also been a recurring theme of experimental cinema, from Glimpse of the Garden (1957) by Marie Menken, to the Arboretum Cycle (2018), by Nathaniel Dorsky, to give two examples.

The best-made film of the program, in terms of the irony of the “movement” and even the “drama” of the plants in a metric cinema – a cinema of the frame and not of the shot -, is the second short, without sound, from the Wasteland series by  Jodie Mack, entitled Hardy, Hearty (2019) –on the first, Ardent, verdant (2017), José Sarmiento Hinojosa wrote a piece on this website–. The beginning seems frankly humorous, which is always appreciated in experimental cinema, with the use of ice as a possible metaphor for the “frozen” image and of a plant with roots pulled out of the ground that makes one think of “uprooting”. which accompanies, in the introductory text, a quote from Bambi, not the Disney movie (1942) but the novel by Felix Salten (1923).

The “story” arises here from the meeting of the metric and the material, in a collage of flickering movement that questions the frames that deceive the viewer with the false illusion of a movement analogous to the natural one in hegemonic animation. The “story” also follows the rhythm of nature, going from a “winter” to a “spring” blossoming. In any case, it is about investigating how far one can go in making a film of plants that transform, which does not stop recalling the unanswered questions about what is called “life” and its relationship with it. movement, and the question of how what is has to cease to be in order to change.

Corteza neon (2019), by Varela, is another of the pieces that stands out in the program. Here, the Mexican filmmaker brings together various fragments filmed in 16 mm and Super 8, in a montage in which the contemporary tradition of metric cinema is combined with the ideas of the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s with regard to rhythm based on duration of the shots, the amplitude of the field, the angulation, the color contrasts and the movement with which each shot is filmed, whether they come from the sun, rain or vegetation.

But the interest that this short film can arouse is not limited to its formal characteristics, as it seems to be the case with the other, shorter film by Varela included in the program, cada vuelta que da una cosa enrollada alrededor de otra (2019), which also gives the impression of being like a signpost on the road to corteza neón. The film discussed here is also a poetic documentary about indigenous resistance in Mexico, which includes sound fragments of the salute of the Zapatista Liberation Army march in 2001 when it arrived in the state of Oaxaca. It is a film that uses a counterpoint technique reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s in Notes Towards an African Orestes (1970), and which is to superimpose on the images a psychedelic science fiction narrative that seems to have no relationship with the political issue until the mention of “ant people” appears in the story and the first people are seen on the screen.

There is a problem with using subtitles to tell that story. Although the idea seems to be for the viewer to “listen” to them with their mental voice and thus become a participant in what is told, while the voice of the Zapatista speaker does sound, the insertion of letters is an element that does not leave to distract the eye from the images, especially in a film like this, in which carefully following the speed of editing can be a challenge. The accumulation of so many resources is also problematic. It leads us to think of an experimental “pastiche”, which would be an expression of a postmodern skepticism regarding the current capacity of cinema to make real discoveries and chooses the path of remix, as if seeking, at least, novel combinations of the known. The choice to produce in abundance seems to follow from this attitude, as perhaps also happens in the Colectivo los Ingrávidos. This program included another of her numerous political pieces by this group, Tear Gas (2019), which was already commented on by Mónica Delgado in Desistfilm.

Among the films collected in this program, there is also a short that clearly falls within the genre of science fiction.  Meridian (2019), by Callum Walter, whose protagonist is an exploration vehicle that seems to carry out, on Earth, a mission analogous to that of those sent to other planets by earthlings. What makes this work relevant is the work with the subjective point of view of the device, which reverses the question about what is being seen and leads to wondering what kind of thing it is looking at, given that it moves through the surface, like a vehicle on wheels, but it can also fly.

The most important thing is that the main source of information about this invisible observer is the effects it causes on its surroundings, either the disturbance of the waters by what seems to be the engine that allows it to fly or, simply, what it is capable of shining with its directional light. Meridian thus becomes more than an entertaining story, to raise questions about the illusion of “transparency” in observation documentary and news television. But it does so within the framework of a genre film, which limits the scope of these questions.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the video Starry Starry (2017), by the Korean artist Im Youngzoo. It is the ironic work that most clearly falls within the concept of “signals” –the title of the program was taken from a subtitle of this piece–, with references to Morse code, to the Apollo 13 broadcasts and, in counterpoint to that and other references to outer space, a text to aid meditation that talks about the eyes, nose and mouth. The question of messages is problematized by the materiality that is manifested in glitch and other types of distortion, and also in the loop, which brings up issues dealt with by cybernetics, for example. But, perhaps, the most profound irony is that which emerges from the fact that Starry Starry is a work conceived for exhibition in galleries and, therefore, it does not cease to have an absolutely clear meaning and purpose in a circuit of another type: that of art.

The program also included Angular Momentum (2019), by Michael Betancourt, an abstract video made with the photographic technique of cyanotype, combined with digital techniques to join the images; the videodance Sacred Geometry (2018), by the actress and dancer Anna Cecilia Seaward, and It Was Summer When (2019), from the series Into the Midst of Things, by Gloria Chung. But it is not possible to expand on them in this brief review.

Crossroads 2020: program 3

Wasteland # 2: Hardy, Hearty
Realization: Jodie Mack
United States, 2019, 7 min.

every turn that one thing turns wrapped around another
Realization: Bruno Varela
Mexico, 2019, 3 min.

Neon bark
Realization: Bruno Varela
Mexico, 2019, 14 min.

Tear Gas
Realization: Collective Los Ingrávidos
Mexico, 2019, 2 min.

Angular Momentum
Direction: Michael Betancourt
Music: Jean-Philippe Feiss
United States, 2019, 5 min.

Sacred Geometry
Direction and interpretation: Anna Cecilia Seaward
Music: Cad Goddeu
United States-Hungary, 2019, 4 min.

Direction, photography, editing, sound and music: Callum Walter
Production: Zack Barner, Rose Dickson
Interpretation: Gail Walter
United States, 2019, 16 min.

Starry starry
Realization: Im Youngzoo
South Korea, 2017, 11 min.

It Was Summer When
Realization: Gloria Chung
United States, 2019, 1 min.