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Expanded cinema: the curators' vision

Danni Zuvela, Joel Stern & Sally Golding


Frames from Wednesday Audience Film made at OFF 2004 Frames from Wednesday Audience Film made at OFF 2004
Otherfilm Festival (OFF) is a 4-day festival of expanded cinema, installation, sound ecology and Super8 workshops, and music/moving image performances. OnScreen asked the festival’s planners how and why the festival came into being.

JS We think it’s crucially important that avant-garde/experimental film be presented in a way that doesn’t alienate audiences. That can mean good contextualization, explanation of how the work fits historically, but it also means creating a comfortable, social atmosphere, avoiding the high-church seriousness and reverence that can make films seem ‘dead.’ People get scared off by the ‘difficult’ reputation of experimental film; they hear about all these exercises in duration or endurance, that they’re going to be drilled relentlessly. Okay, some films are challenging, but they can also be extraordinarily enjoyable and stimulating and sensual experiences, so we really want to bring that out in the festival. Coming from our different backgrounds, we’re also interested in all the areas of overlap between film art, sound art and the other visual arts, and want to exploit all the connections between those communities and cultures in the one event.

DZ We start from a point of view that sees ‘cinema’ differently, as something that’s open to re-imagining and crying out to be liberated from predetermined structures and experiences. I guess there is a lot of this kind of wonderfully breathless liberation rhetoric around expanded cinema; expanding the possibilities of film, liberating it from its industrially induced coma (where it has ‘contracted’), breaking the projector out of the bio box and freeing the audience’s minds...but it’s also more than that.

For me, a big part of the rationale for the festival is the current intense interest in new media art, which, in the case of new media installations, seems to occur in a kind of historical vacuum. Expanded cinema goes back at least as far as multiscreen experiments in the 1920s, if not further, yet there is still a prevailing impression, especially here in Australia, that video art has invented multiple screens/channels and immersive settings. Imagine the amazing art that people could produce if they had a better understanding of this history—particularly here in Australia where there was parallel development with the international avant-garde cinema! So much video art (it seems to me) has little interest in craft, in form, visual beauty and texture and the projected beam—expanded cinema is all about that.

SG For me, film needs special treatment now because it’s been so marginalised and dominated by industrial practices, and because it is such a beautiful and fragile medium. Since we began talking about the first OFF in August 2004, I’ve seen it as the perfect opportunity to create an environment which nourishes the production and exhibition of ‘other’ films, films that reject conventional forms in favour of investigating the relationships between film and art, film and music, film and photography etc.

This year we’ve been lucky enough to have the funds to invite more artists to participate and have some wonderful sound/image performances planned. We’re particularly thrilled to be able to invite Arthur and Corinne Cantrill to present some of their pioneering expanded cinema work and feel honoured that they will be performing and speaking to a lifetime’s achievement in the art of the film medium.

I have a particular admiration for the Cantrill’s work. Having taught photography, and now working in motion picture conservation, I have equipped myself with a direct focus on the tangibility of the film medium, as opposed to digital and analogue video processes. My own practice draws on the investigation of the mechanics of cinema, in this case the 16mm cinema camera (a Bolex subjected to relentless stop-frame shooting, double exposures and constant repair) to capture images that I am then free to experiment with at the processing stages, the production of negative and reversal images, and home devised contact printing (fumbling around in the dark with a splicer, a piece of glass, a torch). The film is edited with a massive amount of splicing tape and dust on a Steenbeck (16mm flat bed editing table which operates as a frame by frame magnifier). The films are then subjected to physical trauma through projection on multiple 16mm projectors with the help of manipulations and distortions of an array of lenses and prisms.

This approach opens up a dialogue with film in the tradition of a materialist investigation, and as a form of personal research into the vast tradition of expanded cinema (particularly the work of groups such as the London Filmmakers Co-op of the 60s and 70s). In this mode, the idea of physicality and technical processes dominates the approach to image production, taking precedence over the more conventional concerns to do with the function of cinema.

JS My own broad interests in music and film have developed simultaneously. But in terms of participation, I have been much more a part of experimental music culture, the DIY culture of obscure and artist-run record labels, free-improvisation gigs, half-broken electronic musical instruments, shoestring touring, and, eventually, hearing damage. I’ve enjoyed both the music and the social aspects of this scene, the way the ideas and the work circulate, first through networks of friends and organizers and then word of mouth. I didn’t realise that film art could circulate in that way. However, when I started to look more deeply at avant-garde film, I saw so many examples of dynamic, chaotic, and radical experimental film culture—in other times and places.

Showing avant-garde film to audiences from a noise or experimental sound background is an interesting part of it—people who aren’t from academic backgrounds, who haven’t necessarily studied experimental film or radical art, but who have an instinctive understanding of it because they have been making electronic feedback or guitar noise for years. They already have a framework, via sound, for this kind of radical aesthetic and they can appreciate it, because the textual and textural problems posed by music and films overlap. To these audiences, experimental music culture is a living thing, even in small towns, maybe because of the way it circulates online, whereas experimental film is a more historical thing mostly buried in archives or institutions.

SG The festival investigates and researches the history of film and photographic processes, finding the points of contact between this and current hybrid media. The workshops on Super 8, 16mm and film sound are part of recognizing the rich history of film art, providing a unique opportunity for the audience to become participants rather than passive observers. Last festival we had about 25 participants producing Wednesday Audience Film and it was a pretty special moment when it was projected.

DZ We focused on the participatory element and the benefit to the community in our pitch for funding for this festival, and it worked—there’s really nothing else like this around, certainly not in Australia (though in the UK, Europe and the US there is a massive project underway to recover film history before it’s lost for good). But it was difficult to get, because we’re not the right ‘sort’ of film for the AFC, being largely non-narrative (and including electronic forms), and as far as the Australia Council is concerned, it’s a film event and therefore under the AFC’s purview.

This is the ‘pointy end’ of the ontological or phenomenological problem for artists’ film, being hard to categorise neatly. I used to describe it as falling between the 2 stools of the art market and the film world. Then a good friend and fellow experimental film researcher reminded me that ‘stool’ is the technical term for ‘shit’...

Adrian Martin recently described avant-garde film as a “timebomb waiting to go off” so it’s not just a lunatic fringe of people who believe in this. At least, I think we’re not a lunatic fringe...

The progam includes guests Arthur and Corinne Cantrill (Melbourne); installation art by Natasha Anderson (Melbourne), Louise Curham (Sydney), Velvet Pesu (Brisbane); workshops and screenings involving Anthony Magen (Melbourne), Louise Curham (Sydney), Mark Williams (Wellington), Sally Golding (Brisbane); performance art by Pia Borg (Melbourne), Mark Harwood (Melbourne), Eve Gordon (Auckland), Sam Hamilton (Auckland) and, from Brisbane, dada-meinhof and Danni Zuvela, Sarah-Jane Woulahan, Abject Leader, Camilla Hannan & Van Sowerwine, Botborg, The Lost Domain, and Lloyd Barrett.


Otherfilm Festival, The Globe Theatre, Fortitude Valley, The Cube Galleria, Southbank, Brisbane, March 23-26, www.otherfilm.org

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 20

© Danni Zuvela & Joel Stern & Sally Golding; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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