By Ivonne Sheen

The online streaming of Oberhausen’s Film Festival is organized chronically. Different programs are shared everyday, which will be online only for 48 hours. This method contributes to a constant rhythm of viewing, closer to the regular dynamics during Film Festivals. In this way, the audiences are more able to catch most of the Film Festival along its duration. This online version goes through 13-18 May.

The International Competition’s Program II showed films which think around societies, colonialism and cultural transformations in time. This program opened with Chinese film I Am the People I (2019) directed by visual artist Li Xiaofei, part of his series Assembly Line which represents and discusses the mechanics and systems of production. The project and also this short film gathers diverse interviews to artists, poets, scholars and workers of factories around the world, who reflect about the processes of creation, our current ways of socializing and production.

The film’s narrative is quite enigmatic and builds a disrupted rhythm which also reveals a mechanism in filmmaking, as a process. There are recurrent moments with a  breve lack of sound, creating a sense of “error”, but in its repetition it becomes into a formal movement such as a composition or a mechanical cycle. The atmosphere is an oneiric one in which time and space are suspended with outstanding shots of workers, one railroad worker rest with his duty body meanwhile a railroad suddenly covers the screen and another fills repeatedly pillows with feathers. The film’s colors are of a gray and brown palette which homogenizes our perspectives about these contexts and the interviewees. I Am the People I seems to be part of an ontological research about humanity inserted in the social sphere originated in industrial production.

Extrañas Criaturas (Chile, 2019) by Cristina Sitja and Cristobal León, is another film which approaches industrial transformations but focused in their ecological impact in the Ecosystem. The animated short film is based in the story book for children of the same name and by the same authors, and is also part of the Children and Youth Films Competition. The narrative is quite simple and essentially visual, as a story book for children. There’s no voice over, so there’s also an invitation to the intimate act of reading. The story tells the adventures of a group of animals which live in the Forest and lose their homes because the trees were cut by humans, their new neighbors. They try to adapt into a new life without trees, but they can’t, so they began an adventurous funny and friendly fight to recover their land. As in children’s books the story is a morale fabe with a positive end.

The film’s technique reveals its process of making, first the filmmakers shot the film as stop motion with puppets, then they printed all the film and color it irregularly by hand and then finally animated all the images. An artisan animation which manifest a resistance of industrial expertise and also recalls the first techniques of colouring in film, such as Melies’ techniques. Even though Cristobal León’s work usually relates to more obscure stories, this film still keeps a political point of view which also manifests in his fascinating artisan animation.

In O Jardim Fantástico (Brazil, 2020) by Fábio Baldo and Tico Dias, there’s also a magic and sacred forest as a protagonist of the story. We met a teacher which practices Ayahuasca ceremonies with her students, she is indigenous and feels a deep sorrow due to the lose of her ancestral relatives. She seems to be lost in her feelings and thoughts, but a curious child connects strongly with Ayahuasca and the Forest’s spirits guiding her into a more seminal state, in which the innocence and imagination of childhood turns on a sacred light that has been snatched from indigenous peoples.

The film is shot in few scenarios, among them the forest is where the main character’s soul and memory remains. The film doesn’t mean to represent the experience when drinking Ayahuasca, but approaches lightly the sociopolitical contexts around ancestral sacred traditions in our contemporary context.

The most experimental short film of the program was Los Ingrávidos’ Dresden Codex (2019), in which we are submerged in a deep ocean view affected digitally, evoking a photochemical or alchemical process but with digital materia. The title is a reference to the maya’s manuscript which is now under custody and study of the Saxon State Library in Dresde, Germany. The text is composed by different books which are mainly focused in astronomical knowledge. As a contradiction to its reference, Los ingrávidos compose a contemporary sort of codex  manifested in the film’s sound art composition, which also strengthens their anti colonial statement.

There’s a feminine voice, similar to the ones of the virtual systems such as Siri or the google translator, which gives us instructions and thinks around behavior and will, speaking fluently in dominant colonial languages such as english, french, german and spanish. The versatile fluency makes it hard to differentiate each language from another and intensify the sensation of virtuality.

The disintegrating colorful image also manifests itself as a radical comparison to the masterful maya’s glyphs, which show a deep awareness of our surroundings on Earth and beyond it. Dresden Codex is part of a new recurrent digital explorations from the mexican collective which seem to be transferring their political and acute statements to questions our digital awareness and actual condition.

Another film which reflects on the transformation and appropriations of ancient cultural practices in a contemporary context is Fergus Carmichael’s A Thin Place (UK, 2019) which is shot during the course from sunset to sunrise during 2019’s summer solstice in Glastonbury Tor. This documentary film interweave an observational anthropological testimony of 2019’s english society with a sensorial approach to the astronomical and light phenomena of summer solstice, the year’s longest day. Additionally to the changing of season, solstices are also new periods for communitarian practices in ancestral cultures, since each season is related to specific activities regarding the weather conditions.

This portrait of people expecting for the solstice in an ancient sacred place works as an opposite allegory to ancestral social organization. Since Carmichael aims to question the divides in his country which also happened with its separation from the European Union during that time. The film approaches an energy union in between the participants, whose bodies are close to each other, shadowed and lighted by the same sun, as a communitarian rite. Nevertheless, it also reveals a spiritual touristic practice that people look for, since they come from contexts in which life is quite disconnected to those practices. In this manner, A Thin Place is an organic ethnographical film that questions the sense of community in contemporary societies and regarding our political systems, also creating a comparison to ancestral organizations which have disappeared in time, but whose some sacred places still remain and reminds us of their harmonious way of life.

Title: I Am the People_I
Director: Li Xiaofei
China, 2019, 25’00’’

Title: Extrañas Criaturas
Directors: Cristina Sitja and Cristobal León
Chile,  2019, 15’00”

Title: O Jardim Fantástico
Directors: Fábio Baldo and Tico Dias
Brazil,  2020, 20’30”

Title: Dresden Codex
Directors: Colectivo los ingrávidos
Mexico, 2019, 04’59”

Title: A Thin Place
Director: Fergus Carmichael
UK, 2019,  12’16’’