“Razzle Dazzle continues some of my stroboscopic studies of fabrics and light,” the filmmaker Jodie Mack writes by email about two recent works. “It marks my first time working with items associated with the material production of cheap glamour and desire (more of those coming) and borrows from light patterns of fireflies that I encountered daily this summer on an abandoned railroad trail. In contrast, my film Blanket Statement #2 examines just one object—a quilt—while investigating direct sound (with the images shot onto super 16mm film making the sounds themselves). The result begins as a rhythmic exercise but soon explodes into a cacophonous contrapuntal noise parade.”
Both Razzle Dazzle and Blanket Statement #2 will screen this Saturday in New York within Projections, a weekend-long sidebar of the New York Film Festival. Projections occupies the place formerly held by Views from the Avant-Garde following Views programmer Mark McElhatten’s departure. Its inaugural lineup presents around sixty-three films (a combination of features and shorts, almost all of them new works) dispersed among thirteen feature-length programs. One can call the Projections films experimental, avant-garde, form-breaking or simply playful.
“The weekend has reduced its number of programs while expanding its purview,” Aily Nash, one of Projections’s three programmers (along with Dennis Lim and Gavin Smith), writes by email. “We looked for new artists to bring into the mix, including international filmmakers from various moving image traditions, approaches and exhibition contexts. Their work will show alongside strong recent films by Views regulars.”
The newcomers include names such as Wojciech Bakowski, Joana Pimenta, Laure Provost, Hito Steyerl, Phillip Warnell and Tinne Zinner. The regulars include Jodie Mack along with artists whose names are familiar to past Views audiences, such as Stephanie Barber, Kevin Jerome Everson (who directed or co-directed three Projections films), the late Harun Farocki (present with his wonderful final feature, Sauerbruch Hutton Architects, which screens Friday), Jacqueline Goss, Ken Jacobs, Shambhavi Kaul, Jean-Paul Kelly, Jennifer Reeves, Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, Sylvia Schedelbauer and Deborah Stratman. In some cases the filmmakers will even offer new entries in film series whose previous installments screened at Views.
One example is Jim Finn, whose video work Zinoviev’s Tube: Tape 2 of the Inner Trotsky Child series will screen in Projections on Saturday. Like the preceding Encounters with Your Inner Trotsky Child and Finn’s earlier features such as The Juche Idea (2008) and La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo (2007), Zinoviev’s Tube presents recent political history within a retro aesthetic: In this case, the look and feel of a pleasurably fuzzy VHS recording.
“Inner Trotsky Child was a Communist self-help group that in the early 1990s applied New Age tropes to Bolshevik figures,” Finn explains. “The movement’s leaders attempted to radicalize the personal fulfillment and self-help scenes with the goal of achieving a twenty-first-century revolution of the mind. In Zinoviev’s Tube, series narrator Lois Severin—a former Trotskyite turned suburban housewife—is back to advise and comfort post-Berlin Wall leftists dealing with life in the Prime Material Plane of Corporate Capitalism. While the Inner Trotsky Child videos can each stand alone, together they reveal this movement’s elaborate cosmography.”
Projections renders an elaborate cosmography of film styles. Some of the works unfold on celluloid, others on video; some primarily use found footage and materials, while others give imagery shot by the filmmakers; some of them work largely with gray and black palettes, while others burst with myriad bright colors, occasionally in 3-D. Each film presents its own enclosed space that renders the world afresh through an artist’s imagination.
“I often save collected materials for long periods of time before finding ways to use them,” writes Lewis Klahr, director of this year’s The Occidental Hotel (screening Sunday) as well as several earlier brilliant collage-based works, including 2011’s feature-length The Pettifogger. “More often than not, my collage films use images of mid twentieth-century America. The Occidental Hotel differs in depicting a Europe of more recent vintage. Two summers ago, I had an associational flash that the photos I shot in Berlin and Copenhagen in 1996 during my honeymoon could be fruitfully juxtaposed with Mexican comic book figures that I began collecting in 1990. Although the juxtaposition of photos and drawings in the film is stark and frictive, ultimately it gets at how public space is inhabited and shared in centralized walking cities.”
Many of Projections’s films fruitfully use juxtapositions—between different kinds of images, as well as between different registers of images and sounds. In Spaniard Mónica Savirón’s Broken Tongue (screening Sunday), 160 years’ worth of New York Times headlines flash onscreen in visual accompaniment to a spoken-word performance by the poet Tracie Morris, who offers multiple energetic variations on the phrase, “It all started when we were brought here as slaves from Africa.”
“I like to think that Tracie Morris’ performance is Broken Tongue‘s voice, and that the film’s images are like drums punctuating and underlining her as if they, too, were music,” Mónica Savirón writes by email. “The images follow the sound, emulating or breaking its rhythm. In her delivery of her poem ‘Afrika,’ Morris turns the human voice towards reinforcement and critical thinking at once by breaking down language in order to push words to their limits. My challenge was to do with images what she does with sound.”
Sound serves as a field of play for many of Projections’s filmmakers, who call to viewers with it in ways that excite the imagination. Fern Silva’s Wayward Fronds (screening Friday) combines verdant landscape imagery with richly heightened natural sounds of chirping birds and insects, bubbling water and galloping horses, which together help give a sense of an expanding ecosystem.
“I’m interested in subverting expectations associated with genre filmmaking and here I wanted to make a dramatized historical nature film about the Florida Everglades,” writes Silva. “I thought about the potential eco-flourishing that could occur if state legislature dispersed funds to restore the Everglades to the point of engulfing human civilization. I imagine Wayward Fronds as traveling from the 1600s—the era of Spanish conquistadors and Ponce de Leon’s supposed fountain of youth held up by 2x4s—into the twentieth century and beyond, a future time inhabited by exotic animals and plants alike.”
Projections arrives with a number of films that can be seen as speculative fictions. These works create possible registers of overlapping time periods, even sometimes calling attention to the in-flux nature of their own materials.
“To me, the avant-garde should never fit with tradition, which means that I have to keep fighting to find new ideas, techniques and philosophies,” writes Takashi Makino, the director of one of Projections’s most soothingly beautiful films, called 2012, a 3-D array of different colors and textures that screens on Sunday. “In the year 2012, I thought that we had reached the end of film culture. I made only one film that year, in two halves: The first consisting of 15 minutes of celluloid and the second presenting 15 minutes of digital matter. I combined them to try to find out what will happen to the culture of cinema in the future.”
Makino’s efforts reflect how, for cinema, artistic crises can bring both challenges and comforts. Some Projections films show this by fluidly harnessing tools from different eras of filmmaking to create richly present results. The program containing 2012 also contains Janie Geiser’s The Hummingbird Wars, an indelible assemblage of colorful plants, cutout depictions of human figures and animals, and Japanese Gagaku music that places a seemingly distant, unknown past in motion before us, reflecting what happens whenever we watch an older film.
Geiser writes by email, “The Hummingbird Wars relates to recent work of mine that centers on childhood and violence, but it does so from an adult perspective. Its initial idea came from a book I found containing eight richly printed painted plates of early 20th-century stage actors preparing for roles with face makeup that resembled war paint. These images cycle throughout my film. To me they represent something about theater, about performance, about taking on roles that can belong to any epoch and the artificiality of doing so; and about how performers inhabit emotional essences within stories of freedom, power, loss and love that remain timeless, even as the surrounding world passes through dramatic change.”
Aaron Cutler keeps a film criticism website, The Moviegoer.