Isn’t it a Beautiful World (Joseph Wilson, 2021)

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

The Ammodo Tiger Competition, a run of mid-length and short film program at IFFR, has focused its view in a particular experience of exploring new narratives in smaller formats. The experimental field in Rotterdam has been well represented with past winners such as Fox Maxy’s Maat Means Land (2020), Daïchi Saito’s Engram of Returning (2015), Observando el Cielo by Jeanne Liotta (2007)  or Dorian Jespers’ Sun Dog (2019), among many others. While we explore this first part of Ammodo’s competition, we began to find certain hidden surprises and other returning favorites.

So far, a personal favorite is Sara Cwynar’s Glass Life (2021), an impressive catalog of live collaging images based loosely in concepts explored in Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Cwynar’s impressive catalog of images, disposed in an infinite moving working table borrows from cut-ups, live recordings, animated gifs, emojis, self-portrait, 3D modeling and various other sources. It is, in itself, an impressive disposition of registers, as are the narrated quotes from different authors like Jacques Lacan, Maynard Keynes, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Elliot, Vilém Flusser, Euripides, Michel Foucault, among many others. Cwynar, a previous winner of Ammodo’s competition with Rose Gold (2017) toys with the idea of the role of images in postmodern times, swimming through a bank of carefully placed images that speak about power, the obsession of beauty, political turmoil, communication in the age of social media, the role of the spectator and her own image as a creator in the middle of this giant collage. Relentless in its narration, Cwynar’s images are a compendium of of late-stage capitalism latent presence in our condition of performers as individuals and collective. Glass Life connects with the idea of collective inherent transparency that has flooded our daily lives, the logical conclusion of Foucault’s biopolitics and the individual as a homo-performer and its role in neoliberal politics. What is particularly outstanding though, is this sense of playful development of Sara’s film, where the societal critique is placed in the liminal spaces of what seems to be a game of images.

Joseph Wilson creates a film/performance on queerness with Isn’t it a Beautiful World (2021). It’s a film where two ends meet: darkness and beauty seem to coexist to represent the inherent duality of the LGTBQIA+ community. His characters inhabit abandoned, desolate buildings or landscapes, performing pre-recorded confessionals of different origin, seemingly, proceeding from the own protagonists of the short film: queer performers Soroya, Harry & Kenya. Particularly interesting in this performative exercise is the separation of voice over and lip-synching, performed by the film protagonists. This layering of significants allows the characters in the film to recreate their own trauma by channeling a voice that is external to them, an outside voice which claims agency, but floats in the ether and it’s only grounded by the presence and performatic actions of their characters, by their testimonial re-enactment, or via the means of dancing. The sole presence of these characters is powerful enough in their corporeality and expressiveness, and their manifestation towards Wilson’s camera feels less like a talking-head reenactment and more like a symbolic manifestation of grieve, pain, recovery and love, de-romanticizing the idea of the sufferer and channeling its narrative through a visual journey which is partially rough (like the video textures of certain sequences) partly dream-like, but always evocative.

Polycephaly in D – Michael Robinson (2021)

Polycephaly in D (2021) follows the path that Michael Robinson has established as a creator with films such Light is Waiting (2007) or Onward Losseless Follows (2017). With heavy use of found-footage from different sources, Robinson recreates a post-apocalyptic tale of two lovers, which communicate through some sort of ether. There’s a feel of loss, both with the footage image of a world being depleted of itself, and in the narration of the two characters who appear to be in a crossroad, brought together by an earthquake. Thus begins a story where the un-idealized landscape of the soil/soul begins to unravel through the sometimes ironic use of images from different films, from different versions of popular movies like King-Kong, The Hunger Games, fauna documentary, and the usual overlapping of “cheap” visual effects and animation to represent the unraveling of disaster. And while most of the time, the use of humor/irony in Robinson films plays to a well executed effect, here it feels to lose it’s power to become pray of its campiness. However, it’s still an enjoyable exercise into the possibilities of what found footage represents for contemporary cinema, and it’s undeniable that Robinson has forged a very personal style, which serves on the capacity of images to restore its original power in different contexts.

Cesar Gananian and Casssiana Der Haroutiounian, both Brazilian filmmakers of Armenian descent, revisit the 2018 Armenian “velvet revolution” in Cantos de un Livro Sagrado (Chants From a Holy Book, 2021) through a series of chants: microcosm, self, home, society, and macrocosm, which connect the deeply personal to the universal. These threads that carry the weight of the revolution are seen by Gananian and Der Haroutionian through small vignettes, fables, that seems to thread the different dimensions of revolt: from the personal first clip of a woman developing photographs of the protests while a fable of a kid and its dog is being told off screen, to an observatory where the galaxies are being processed and observed. From the personal, to the universal, again, both filmmakers make good use of their heritage by connecting the carnival celebrations in Brazil with a particular caravan in memory of the protests in Armenia. The registry of the carnival as a celebration but also as a commemoration seems to serve the universal path that both Gananian and Der Haroutiounian trace for  Cantos de un Livro Sagrado, a universe in which individual and universal articulations come together to recreate a spirit of revolutionary activity present not only in Armenia, but as a seed all across humanity. Part documentary, part experimental film, these chants from a sacred book invoke the permeating spirit of revolt across time-space.

Ammodo Tiger Competition

Glass Life
Directed by Sara Cwynar

Isn’t it a Beautiful World
Directed, produced and edited by Joseph Wilson
Cast: Harry Whitfield, Kenya Sterling, Soroya Marchelle
Cinematography: Francis Lane, Jacob Schule Lewis
Music: Helen Noir

Polycephaly in D
Directed by Michael Robinson

Cantos de un Livro Sagrado
Directed by Cesar Gananian & Cassiana Der Haroutiounian