By Mónica Delgado
In these days of health crisis, Crossroads film festival, organized by San Francisco Cinematheque, offers nine programs for free online viewing, grouped according to different thematic criteria or according to certain expressive motives, although many of them were raised to confront or resignify some common topics in this type of curatorship. This edition, led by filmmaker Steve Polta, promotes in its programs strategies of relation, correspondences or even absences, beyond the viewings themselves.
Unlike other exhibitions or festivals that have been developed in this context, the opportunities to watch experimental cinema have been diverse, although limited due to the impossibility of the usual screenings of works made on celluloid. However, these pandemic viewings manage to maintain this sense of community, opting for the sensitive experience from home.
In the eighth program, called Unknown subjects, “non-places” are proposed as a common thread. However, this concept acquires various nuances, it could even be said that it moves in the field of its paradox, in the impossibility of what Zygmung Bauman defined as Liquid Modernity, based on what was proposed by Marc Augé, “a space stripped of the symbolic expressions of identity, relationships and history”. Perhaps these “unknown subjects” emerge from irony, since each short film expresses a specific ubiquity, a particular mark in the spaces that are described. Perhaps the places acquire a overwhelming force, rather than a subjective view or the preponderance of a vision from a protagonist. In most cases, these sites, be it ruins, borders, deserts or houses, show a specific context, especially of a political or social nature. In any case, they are “symbolic expressions of identity”.
In Interior (2019), by American filmmaker Zack Parrinella, the opening short, explores this idea of “no-place” in a more explicit way as that elusive space from the urban experience. Through a frenzied shot from a convulsed camera, the filmmaker, member of the Black Hole Collective Film Lab, establishes a difference in the horizontal framing from the exit of the city, to a kind of “road movie” that goes from the city to the countryside, from the building to the desert, from cement to natural life. It is as if the very essence of the frame, which defines a window to the world, motivates Parrinella to explore this intention of marking the horizon, where the open field looks more stable, explorable and perceptible, although divided between these two components or states: soil, sky, water, clouds, reality and reflection.
Following the logic of the title, this interior appears from the clean, naked landscapes that become antagonists of the cities, that atrophy the register, as if the camera went crazy before this verticality of towers, buildings and cement. Cities as surfaces or layers that cover this intensity of lagoons, fields and fields.
In // \ /// \ //// \ (2019), the interdisciplinary artists Phillip Andrew Lewis and Michael Robinson divide the short into three parts, to describe precisely three spaces, which as a synecdoche, speak of three men, and where their widows are mentioned or cited outside shot, only in sound or from some texts on the images. The artists chose three figures who died on the same date, November 22, 1963: Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy, who are brought back from the dead with the voice-overs of their widows Laura Huxley, Joy Davidman, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, respectively. In this way, from the evocation of the wives (a poem, a conversation or a monologue) the registered places -an abandoned dam, a ruined bunker taken by storm by the undergrowth or some empty glass buildings- manage to symbolize a kind of legacy, only translatable in thoughtful auscultation, emphasized by a subtly noisy soundtrack.
This short, part of the ongoing collaboration project by Lewis and Robinson, called Our Hyddeous Strenkth, aims to give substance to these memories that ghostly emerge from these desolate places, but seen as places which are possibly seen as places of worship. How to give matter to memory through these inhospitable forts free of people? How to go in search of recovered time from these spaces that no longer refer to anything? It seems that for Lewis and Robinson this question could be answered from these relationships, which complete the voices as a mode of historical exhumation from space, in this different way of continuity.
Fabricated in the Actual Arctic (After Nanook) by Matthew Lax, is the work that interested me most of the selection, especially because it contains a type of irony very much in the key of mockumentary, starting from an “incident” in the context of the classic film by Robert Flaherty from 1922. Filmmaker and artist Lax concentrates on the investigation of a lost piece: a drawing made by an Eskimo during the filming of the famous documentary, a milestone in the history of cinema. Lax shows the drawing, which shows Flaherty and his miniature camera in drawing, in the middle of the immensity of the snow and the cold, to later keep track of it. After going back and forth with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), we discover that there’s a copy taken from an old book in the collections, but not the image itself. At the same time, the film shows how some pieces of Inuit art are preserved or exhibited due to the value given by some artistic and anthropological authorities. Why wasn’t this particular record preserved, that perhaps looks more real than Flaherty’s original gaze at life in Alaska? Lax ironizes from this oversight, to delve into some categories for the construction of these memories.
On the one hand, there’s a proposal to satirize on the borders established as canonical in the register of the real, on the exclusion of the gaze of the director or the intention to determine what works best in this search for realism, as opposed to the reduction of institutional validation (who decides what to preserve and under what conditions). And on the other hand, on the silencing of the subaltern’s voice, which does exist when the enunciator is changed, that is, under the eye of Flaherty. The Eskimo’s gaze was buried forever. By being out of the movie, his place in history disappears. There is only its echo or a photocopy stored in some filing cabinet.
Another important detail is the use of telecine in this short, which has the appearance of silent cinema, since the image recorded on photo chemical support is transferred to a TV format, like the same act of photocopying an Eskimo drawing, a resource that conceptualizes this exchange of support that affects the “aura” of the work. Lax also uses intertitles, and some shots that evoke the Flaherty style. At the end, there is an intertitle that talks about the artifice: Flaherty is going to build an igloo, in keeping with the famous scene in the film, only the difference is that here it becomes an evocation from the use of animation techniques. Anything goes to build meaning.
In Rio Grande Sun (2020), the filmmakers Courtney Fellion and Linda Scobie explore the materiality of the desert in contrast to testimonies of abuse and violence, which appear out of the field and from voices that recreate police reports. The intention of creating a difference between what is seen and what is said, is generating all kinds of parallel images, created by the verbal part of the short. Filmed in 35 mm, with a Devry Hank Crank camera “Lunch Box”, from the 1920s, the filmmakers describe landscapes, routes, characters in poetic halo transits through scenes with a bucolic appearance but immediately demystified by the stories of abuse or repulse one hears.
Due to the tone of the short, there is an evocation of a certain naturalism or local color that is found in some of Chick Strand’s works, or in Barbara Hammer’s travel “chronicles”. However, the purpose of the film is more theoretical, it’s guided by the verification of a formal precept, which implies the symbiosis between image and sound that causes visual layers and new meanings: images that never achieve independence from their verbal component. And perhaps because of this option, it is that the film is perceived more as an exercise to verify a thesis, to corroborate a formula, rather than an experience of interaction of the viewer with the space itself.
Eviction, Demolition (2019) by Karissa Hahn poses a farewell. A camera in hand explores an empty house, forcibly stripped naked, where a pianist manages to flood an atmosphere of nostalgia with melodies. The filmmaker explores in the materiality of celluloid (unlike previous works that concentrated on explorations from the digital world) the opportunity to define a space from this intimate cartography. Can you leave a house? Corners, windows, stairs, from looks that are in constant contemplation, from a voyeur observer, or the vision of a neighbor waiting for a fortuitous event in the streets of the neighborhood.
As a ghostly fable, Hahn conforms this rite of goodbye before the imminence of disappearance, as evoked by the title of the short. The filmmaker finds in this record the possibility of preservation, return, and the possibility of extending life in this way.
In this same way appears, Amuletos (2019) from Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, where rhythms are explored again, in visual trances that generate baroque abstractions, to symbolize the stable and indissoluble union between worlds of the living and the dead, which it is part of the traditions of Mexican culture. Objects that look revived or in a healing dance. Not only an effluvium of colors and textures, of skulls and flowers, of stones and seeds, but a total fusion of these amulets as protectors against bad luck, but at the same time fulfilling a vital purpose, beyond beliefs.
In a different aesthetic pole, Más paritaria menos yuta (in the photo that opens this article), by Brazilian Moira Lacowicz and Argentine Leonardo Zito, proposes the registry of spaces that reveal events of social crisis in Argentina. The title motto, which demands more freedom for social participation and less for repression (yuta: police estates), raises some relationships with the sense of citizenship, especially from the role of protest, which is revealed in a sound plane , which accompanies all the footage.
Filmed in 2018, entirely in Super 8 and home revealed, this short also raises a counterpart to the records of places that were protagonists of these social and worker struggles, which is revealed in the gaze on some characters, who seem to be on the fringes of this convulsed side, perhaps waiting. The sense of the political is built from the absences, from these characters who appear disenchanted, apparently imbued with a type of conformism or perhaps from the certainty that no matter how much protest there is, the situation will not change. Beyond the harangue, the short proposes conditions for the existence of these peers, citizen organizations for community life or perhaps their denial.
Perhaps the short We Love Me (2017) by Thai Naween Noppakun looks less in tune than his previous works, mainly due to the use of the appropriation technique and its collage style, and to a chaotic instinct that makes it difficult to guess its relationship with the “ no places ”of the other films in the section. There is a political and provocative desire to articulate scenes from different Thai productions, both to question the representation of the heroine and the meaning of melodrama, with the identification of a country in political and social transit, and with the filmmaker’s self, after a period of historical upheaval. Thus, Naween Noppakun proposes a way for the recovery of the self, by unveiling the layers, produced by cultural media and producers, that cover or disguise this alienation.
CROSSROADS: PROGRAM 8
Interior (USA, 2019) by Zack Parrinella
// \ /// \ //// \ (USA, 2019) by Phillip Andrew Lewis and Michael Robinson
Fabricated in the Actual Arctic (After Nanook) (USA, 2018) by Matthew Lax
Rio Grande Sun (USA, 2020) by Courtney Fellion and Linda Scobie
Eviction, Demolition (USA, 2019) by Karissa Hahn
Amuletos (Mexico, 2019) from Colectivo los ingrávidos
More Equal Less Yuta (2018) by Moira Lacowicz and Leonardo Zito
We Love Me (Thailand, 2017) by Naween Noppakun