Recommended as one of the most unconventional and edgy film festivals, it was the definitive stimulus to visit the New Horizons International Film Festival for the first time this July.
As a first time visitor it is as easy to find your way around – the city centre, cinemas and hotels are all in closest walking distance, the new online ticketing system works surprisingly well and effective (even though it takes away from the spontaneous and last-minute changes to the schedule), the video library with big screens and calm atmosphere is the perfect addition to a tight schedule and overbooked screenings. The program slots are scheduled conveniently and are quite a blessing for cinephiles, not only eager to watch films non-stop but also to get some warm food into one’s stomach instead of sandwiches and chocolate bars for a change. The Cineplex ambience of the theatre adds a particular flair – watching arthouse, experimental films and animated short films are nothing one would see during the normal operation of a Cineplex. Why actually still not – especially if such a big and enthusiastic crowd of young (local or travelled there specifically) people account for the far biggest part of the audience – of fully booked screenings ever single day?
The festival’s International, Films on Art and Polish competition programs were the main focus of my four days short attendance. The vast and exciting retrospectives of Anja Breien, Bruno Dumont, Werner Nekes, Jack Smith, Terry Gilliam and Andrzej Munk had to be painfully dismissed, as well as the Red Westerns and Behind the Pink Curtain programs in favour of the arts competition films.
Two artistic highlights stuck out amongst the international competition films. One of those being Dharma Guns (F/Portugal 2010), a thriller-agent-Science Fiction film, by the French punk musician, author, director and artist F.J. Ossang. Ossang juggles confidently with a variety of references throughout pop-culture and film history, poetry and music and puts them together into a bold, exuberant and intriguing film. The story is about a fatal accident after which a visitor arrives in a militarist netherworld where he searches for a former intimate while getting embattled by the Dharma Guns rebels. A vast breadth of pop cultural and art historical references are assembled in this film, without ever being too much. Inter-titles are well put rhythmically to introduce chapters and add information to the plot, also referring to silent film history. It is the playfulness and tastefulness of the director in production design and location setting as well as in the sound composition which is arranged between a Lynch-esque ambience to heavy metal rock, that add up to a striking visual experience. The radiant black-and-white cinematography is executed by Gleb Teleshov. His imagery is pure and intuitive, making best use of the spatiality of the coastal lines and interiors – such as the take of a ship on the glistening sea, the horizon fading into pitch black because of the high contrasted and picturesque photography. The catchy and multi-layered images will be for sure memorised and serve as references to future viewing experiences.
Another real visual delight and innovation was The Gravedigger (HU 2010) by Hungarian cinematographer and director Sándor Kardos, which is based on Rainer Maria Rilke’s tale of the same name. Essential to both cinematography and story-telling is the use of a photo finish camera used at racing finish lines to record the exact final ranking. As the technique doesn’t recreate an image in its real time and space, it is also a challenge, at first, for the eyes to put the slow moving and blurred single images together into a coherent “moving picture”. But with time one gets used to the meditative rhythm and learns to appreciate the strict focus on the flowing image – that look like oil-painted tableaus transferred onto celluloid – and the concentration on the story and the narrator’ voice alike. One of Rilke’s lesser known tales is about death and loneliness. A stranger comes to town to take the job of the diseased gravedigger. The considerably younger girl, lonely, her mother being dead and estranged from her father, falls for the man and visits him everyday for long conversations about death. As the plague befalls the town almost nobody is spared. As such Kardos’s The Gravedigger is a visual experiment which is highly recommended to be seen.
Unconventional filmmaking as an intersection between cinema and art was a great treat in the Films on Art Competition with two especially interesting films, Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film by Pip Chodorov and Kids of Töday by Jérôme de Missolz, both an in-depth take on film and cultural movements of the film and music history of the 20th and 21st century.
In his very personal film essay Free Radicals (F 2010) Pip Chodorov assembled his friends and central pieces of the experimental film movement, in “a history of experimental film”. In a more conventional setting of a documentary Pip Chodorov presents the everything but conventional leading figures of the experimental and avant-garde film movement centred around New York filmmakers such as Hans Richter, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs and many more. Growing up with these artists and shooting films with his school friends from an early age (“images were everywhere”) Pip Chodorov starts his presentation of the “grass-roots movement” chronologically in the 1920ies up until now. He introduces the viewer to their visions (film, light and time based experiments) as well as financial and distribution struggles being isolated set between the art world and the mainstream film industry, the consequential development into the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and Anthology Film Archive up to the continuing work as a necessity and ecology of working and experimenting with the film material. In combination with interviews by Hans Richter, Robert Breer, Michael Snow, Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage and with precisely and exemplarily chosen film clips or even films in their entirety, one is presented with an intriguing variety of cinema – that has an eye-opening effect on the less skilled and expert viewer alike. Shoot film!
Kids of Töday (F 2011) by Jérôme de Missolz on the other hand is a documentary critic of post-punk, cold wave and növo revolution of the 1970-1980ies in Paris. It is an associative collage of super 8 concert footage, silent film clips from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene, youngsters partying in underground clubs, getting tattooed, hanging out and chatting at sunrise. This footage material is linked with lectures of an eccentric music critic, all dressed in black with a fur hat, whom the modern cyber-dandies listen to admiring, on search for further follow up and inspiration in the endless resources of the web. It is a story of pop culture, cultural references, teenage culture, emergence of trends and legends, the quest for alternative lifestyles and means of expression.
The New Horizons International Film Festival has proven that smaller sized film festivals such as itself, or the Transilvania International Film Festival for example, are the daring curators of unconventional, boundary pushing cinema, with a great sense for current waves in contemporary film and art and thus are the right and highly enjoyable places to make true cinematic discoveries that can only be made at festivals nowadays.
by Zsuzsanna Kiràly