NIGHT SCHOOL, Erkka Nissinen Finland, 2007, 12min 50sec

What goes on during those long Finnish nights? One film, shown in the “Unnatural Resources” section of films, all from Finland, might provide an answer. Night School certainly earns the title “offbeat”, and then some. This excursion into disconnected imagery had the audience sitting forward in their seats again with their eyes wide open. It begins with cold interior shots reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001, with a young man standing before a Star Trek-like octagonal portal. We are soon on the soft shoulder of a out-of-town stretch of road and see a scantily clad young woman who appears to be hitchhiking and then dragged lifeless from the scene by a man. The mood has gone from alienating to disturbing, but quickly switches to bewildering when an animated toy-like panda shows up in the same shot. An animated panda? Why? Before the now highly attuned audience can figure this out, a stumbling chef appears in the same night scene, emerging from behind a bush. What to make of it? Then we are back to the cold interior with its machine-like hum in the background, and the initial figure intones “Hello to me, hello to you,” and further words centring around talk of an “institution” strung together in a bizarre half-speech, half-melody accompanied by sign language. Then the chef, (animated) panda and the girl from the highway scene appear side by side in the space behind the aforementioned portal, moving in stiff unison. Where can you go from here? Well, of course to a completely white living room, where the young man from the first scene, devoid of emotion, tells the panda, sitting next to it on a couch, “I think you are really hot” and “I have these feelings for you” and more, to the squeaky-voiced protests of the panda, who nonetheless turns up with the young man in a bedroom, obviously contemplating whether to have intercourse or not. This scene has the feel of another Kubrick work, the uncomfortable bedroom scenes of Eyes Wide Shut. The panda says, “I’m leaving you” and soon the same young man (who is in fact the filmmaker) is shown as the girl (or transvestite) from earlier being urinated on by two chefs, talking all the while. Soon, she is under a table and performing fellatio on one of three chefs, all of whom have been speaking robotically in unison, the word “ping-pong” coming up most often. In the end, the “girl” is standing up and smoking a cigarette, trying to speak with semen dripping out of her mouth in copious amounts. Is there a message here anywhere? “Exercises for assimilation into a total institution,” according to the filmmaker. The question might be, does there need to be? What Erkka Nissinen achieves here is the disjointed logic of dreams, coupled with a highly unusual sense of humour which won’t likely be forgotten too quickly by any viewer. Only a cartoon oddity called Sealab Uh-Oh ever left me with such an odd aftertaste. The surprise submission certainly turned out to be “that film” of the evening, whatever the intention might have been. Worth a watch, certainly. You’ll never see pandas in the same light again.

Kenton Turk

In dem am Montag von André Werner kuratierten Block Secret Codes, wurde die Videoarbeit Duets (2009) von Gast-Kuratorin Catherine Forster präsentiert.

In diesem sehr abstrakt gehaltenem Video wird die Gegensätzlichkeit von persönlichem Rückzug und aktionistischem Handeln, zwischen Passivität und Aktivität thematisiert. Zu sehen bekommt man in dem Video Nahaufnahmen einer Wasseroberfläche, die mit einer Großzahl an unterschiedlich großen oder kleinen Luftblasen versetzt ist. Durch Wellenbewegungen geraten die Luftblasen in ein dynamisches Durcheinander, von dem eine beruhigende Wirkung ausgeht. Die Distanz der Kamera zur Wasseroberfläche variiert von Zeit zu Zeit und lässt dem Betrachter dabei Gelegenheit sich mit dem zuvor gesehenem Bild eines Fischschwanzes, gefilmt durch die Außenwand eines Aquariums, zu beschäftigen. Die thematische Auseinandersetzung mit dem Motiv des Wassers entstammt aus der von Catherine Forster beschriebenen Allegorie des Wassers als Rückzugsmedium. Verständlich wird das, wenn man bedenkt, was passiert, wenn man mit dem Körper unter Wasser taucht. Die Geräusche der Umwelt verblassen, die Gesetze der Schwerkraft werden ausgeschaltet. Es scheinen für den Moment keine Bindungen, keine Verpflichtungen zu existieren. Gleichzeitig jedoch kann das Wasser auch als Gefängnis verstanden werden, als Bedrohung. Innerhalb dieses Zwiespalts versucht Forster ihrer Beklemmnis gegenüber dem Entscheiden Ausdruck zu verleihen. Rückzug oder Wagnis? Sicherheit oder Freiheit?

Diese Unentscheidbarkeit oder Mehrdeutigkeit spiegelt sich in der Wahl des ausgesuchten Materials wider. Jedoch wird dem Versuch, Ausgeglichenheit innerhalb dieser Ambivalenz zu suchen, Rechnung getragen, wenn man die Gelassenheit des Videos bedenkt.

Von Martin Tscholl

Directors Lounge “MUSEEK No 2” Programme

IMAGE: Still from Lindsey J. Testolin’s “Love in October”

The second Directors Lounge music programme offered a full array of stunning visual charms with videos, such as the more mainstream “House of Cards–  made for Radiohead by James Frost using 3D plotting techniques instead of cameras- to the practically DIY-looking “Fireworks” by Jon Leone for indie favorites Animal Collective.

Also featured was the video for the song “Florian” by CocoRosie animated by Andrew Gibbs as well as a haunting piece for the Icelandic band MÚM’s song “Will the Summer make good for our sins?”

On the lighter side were videos from such lighter Japanese acts as Lullatone with their self-made video “Bedroom Bossa Band” and K+ME for the band Starskee’s song “My Way”.

– Paul J. Thomas

Berlin Directors Lounge: Opening night, February 11, 2010

The opening night of the 6th annual Berlin Directors Lounge provided a well rounded overview of what the 10-day long series has to offer in terms of theme and style. Ranging from the most abstract experimental films to the most light-hearted and even hilarious shorts this roundup of films undoubtedly kept the audience on the edge of their seats not only during the films but also in between as they awaited to see what was to come next.

Works of note which stood out were the “Found People Movement”, a film by Pablo Useros in which people are seen descending a staircase (of a train station?) in slow motion, first looking down at the last few steps the audience then gets a close look at their faces as the unwitting actors reach level ground and look up to get their bearings. What is remarkable about this is the film’s ability to capture completely normal people in an otherwise everyday situation and spin it into a captivating urban mini-opera of sorts –with the help of an accompanying soundtrack.

Neil Needleman’s autobiographic letter to his father about becoming a filmmaker is a sharply bittersweet reflection in which the director recalls his father’s harsh criticism of the director’s choice to buy his first camera through subtitle text on the screen, all the while the audience sees the father in spasms, unconscious on his deathbed. This video was later followed up by what seemed to be another heart-wrenchingly raw an honest (work of fiction?) by the filmmaker called “Meeskeit: Uglier than ugly”, in which a woman describes the strategic placement of her entire family’s likenesses (and their torrid personal histories) in the paintings of her ugly shut-in cousin, who recently committed suicide and willed all of her artwork to the narrator.

Some of the most entertaining pieces of the evening were set to pop music. Antoine Hilaire’s hyper-self conscious video “Cross the Fader” (to the song “Crossfader” by the band phony pony) is nothing but text which describes the song not only musically (with notes) but also dissects the music at each beat and transition in terms of rock-pop history and what might be going through the head of the musician, crowd, or music critic as the power-pop song drives on.

A surprising and terribly fun pop follow up came in the form of Make the Girl Dance’s “Baby Baby Baby”, a music video in which four women take turns walking naked through the streets of paris, their private parts blacked-out with the text of the song superimposed onto the rectangles as passers-by whip around to ogle the gorgeous women as they saunter by in their birthday suits.

Pablo Wendel’s Terracotta Warrior was a particularly humorous film capture’s one performance artist’s 15 minutes of fame as he sneaks in to stand amongst China’s thousands of clay soldiers. The authorities – never having faced such a situation before – simply do not know what to do with the man, and although they attempt to maintain professionalism one can also tell that they are working hard to repress their own laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation. The artist, who all along maintains his stiff clay soldier pose, is until finally hauled away horizontally by a team of the uniformed Chinese guardsmen.

Of the animated pieces that caught my eye, “HAIRS” by Milos Tomic, a film which makes hairs of all sizes spin and dance like one has never seen before.

On of the audience’s favorites, however, was also an animated film – the very simple but effective comedy of errors, Bob Log III’s “Electric Fence Story” by Sebastian Wolf & Tinka Stock . I will not bother to describe this 3-minute masterpiece, which was also included in Friday’s “Cornucopia” programme, but I’d highly recommend that you catch it online.

– Paul J. Thomas

Gestern Abend wurde der erste Block Tomorrow, Night and Day des von Klaus W. Eisenlohrs kuratierten Urban Research Program innerhalb der Directors Lounge präsentiert. Die Auswahl zeigte Arbeiten von internationalen Künstlern, die sich in diesem Block in Form von experimentellen, animierten als auch fiktiven Formaten der Auseinandersetzung mit dem urbanen, öffentlichen Raum widmen.

Das Video von Anders Weberg Elsewhereness:Yokohama (2008) aus der gleichnamigen Reihe, befasste sich mit urbaner Entfremdung, was sich ganz offensichtlich in der Form des präsentierten Videos widerspiegelt. So sieht man in der 7 Minuten langen Arbeit übereinandergelegte, abstrahierte Aufnahmen der Stadt Yokohama. Die mit starkem Kontrast verfremdeten Bilder werden von einer elektronischen, sphärischen Musikkomposition begleitet, was der Arbeit eine hypnotische Qualität verleiht. Das Thema der Entfremdung wird konzeptuell von der Abwesenheit des Künstlers verstärkt, wenn man bedenkt, dass das Rohmaterial der verfremdeten Bilder aus dem Internet recherchiert worden ist und sich der Künstler nie in Yokohama aufgehalten hat. Die manipulierten Aufnahmen werden dadurch zu einer surrealen Reise durch eine entfremdete Landschaft, die auf der Grundlage der kulturellen Vorannahmen und Stereotypen des Künstlers über den Ort basiert. Der Ort bleibt hierbei belanglos, da das Fremde überall zu finden ist. Die einzigen Anzeichen, dass man sich in einer asiatischen Großstadt wiederfindet, sind japanische Schriftzeichen. Die gezeigte Arbeit von Weberg geht von einer anonymen, mechanisierten Zivilisation aus, die mit Hilfe digitaler Medien aus der Distanz erkundet wird. Entfremdung und Abwesenheit werden dabei als Mittel verwendet um die Wahrnehmung des Fremden, dass hier nicht verstanden werden kann und will, erfahrbar zu machen.

Von Martin Tscholl

Zur Eröffnung der diesjährigen Directors Lounge wurde gestern Abend ein Querschnitt des Programms der nächsten zehn Tage präsentiert. In der alten Brauerei Pfefferwerk im Prenzlauer Berg startete die Directors Lounge zum 6. Mal, parallel zur 60. Berlinale. Unterteilt in drei Blöcke, wurde eine Vorauswahl der kommenden Tage präsentiert. Neben den gezeigten Film- und Videoarbeiten, konnte man in den Nebenbereichen der angenehm gestalteten Lounge verschiedene Videoinstallationen betrachten.

Der von Klaus W. Eisenlohr kuratierte Block des Urban Research Program gab einen Vorgeschmack auf die kommenden Tage: Neun Filme und Videos wurden in diesem Block gezeigt, die vor allem die subjektive Erfahrung und Erkundung des großstädtischen Raumes zum Thema haben. In diesem Programmblock, der sich durch eine gesunde Kombination aus dokumentarischen und experimentellen Formaten auszeichnete, beeindruckte vor allem die Arbeit von Pablo Useros „Decent“ aus der Reihe Found People Movements: In dieser Arbeit werden Passanten einer Treppe im öffentlichen Raum gefilmt. Der Filmer nimmt hierbei eine observierende Position ein und zeigt Menschen, die in einer durch Blütenregen mystisch anmutenden Szenerie eine breite Treppe hinuntergehen. Die an das Innenleben einer Schneekugel erinnernde Situation verstärkt den mystischen Charakter des in Zeitlupe laufenden Videos. Das in vertikaler Ausrichtung präsentierte 16:9 Format, erinnert durch diese Anordnung an die Malerei der Renaissance. Dieser Eindruck wird durch die auditive Dimension verstärkt. So hört man zu den Bildern der herabsteigenden Menschen eine Arie, die den filmischen Ausdruck bekräftigt. Durch die vertikale Ausrichtung des Formats gerät der Mensch in seiner Ganzheit in den Fokus des Bildes, wird ins Zentrum der filmischen Reflexion gebracht. Das nebensächliche, scheinbar belanglose Hinuntersteigen der Treppe gerät in einen Moment, der den urbanen Alltag aus einer ästhetischen Perspektive wiedergibt.

Die Arbeit „This is a Political Film“ von Pablo Useros aus der Reihe Found People Movements ist am Freitag, den 19.02., in dem Block Urban Interference um 18 Uhr in der Directors Lounge zu sehen.

von Martin Tscholl

Arthur Tuoto BR Disforme

Neil Needleman US Visions of Wasted Time

It’s impossible to look back at 1985, the year my father died, without feeling bitter about our relationship. To his consternation, I became interested in art, classical music, and shooting/editing moving pictures. These were useless things that didn’t fit into my father’s very practical notion of life. But I am what I am, and I shot what I shot. And I’m still shooting. And I guess I’m still a little bitter. Neil Needleman

The Super 8 camera opens up with a 1985 shot of a beggar/homeless type crouched on a city sidewalk slowly keeling over this way and that, falling into sleep or a stupor while subtitles reveal that the filmmaker has always liked filming wasted time. Next we are in the hospital and camera is turned on the filmmaker’s father, recently pronounced brain-dead, but twitching involuntarily. It’s a macabre sight, all right. It seems dad always thought his son’s filmmaking ventures were a waste of time, and as it is years later still turned on subjects like a man with a sign on his chest staring blankly as pedestrians pass on both sides and a setting sun, the subtitles, directed at dad, aver “It’s still my time to waste, and my world to envision.” A stripped-down piece that makes you think of your time being up, and what you choose to do with it before.

Visions of Wasted Time will be screened as part of Secret Codes | DL mix II Mon 15th 8 pm

stock`n`wolf / Tinka Stock & Sèbastien Wolf DE   Bob Log`s III Electric Fence

This was a funny little bit about one night’s misadventure while “cow-tipping”: pushing over sleeping cows to witness their bovine reaction. The voice narrating is casual and goofy in a charming way, and the tale of getting out of a car drunk in the country at night and walking straight into an electrified fence not once but twice to the imagined guffaws of the cows had the audience laughing out loud, too. Did I mention the story was told with stop motion animation and plasticine figures? An entertaining piece.

Bob Log`s III Electric Fence on screen Sun 14th 8 pm in Stars from Video Palace | Spunk Seipel

Neil  Needleman US Meeskeit

A real gem of a story, the uncut diamond variety, was Meeskeit, identified as Yiddish for “uglier than ugly”. The story, told in English as we look at a series of paintings, concerns the woman narrating off-camera, whose sister had a hidden ability, revealed when she left to her a series of paintings in her suicide note. Black humour is mixed with a truly heart-rending tale that reveals itself while we look at the paintings, all containing faces of various relatives in situations she decided to put them in for one reason or another: Uncle Simon romancing his aldulterous wife Rita, who he in reality murdered, along with her lover; “mental case” recluse Schlomo pictured in high society; mother and her bitter rival sister portrayed placidly side by side; the thieving servant toting bibles; Jewish-turned-Christian Uncle Morris as Christ himself in crucifixion. Most poignant is the painting of the two sisters, favourably reproduced as winning beauty queens, and the subsequent revelation of sketches depicting them in the incestuous affair they had, as untouched, unwanted virgin spinsters seeking some kind of love somewhere, after which they spent thirty years with uneasy eye contact. All to be sold to pay for desperately needed chemotherapy, except the sketches of the affair, to be thrown out when the living Meeskeit passes on. All told in a few minutes that are penetrating and hard or impossible to forget.

Meeskeitis part of  stories | DL mix IV, Thurs 18th 10 pm

Arthur Tuoto BR Disforme

This bit of shadowplay is not completely uninteresting to watch, but it hardly seems to have a point. If only meant to be a visual pleasure, then enough time wasn’t given to hypnotize us. Someone plays with their fingers and we see only their shadow, spindle-like against a cold white background. A foot is briefly thrown in for good measure. An insistent drone underpins it. What was the intention?

Judge for yourself: Disforme screened in cornucopia | DL mix I, Fri 12th 10 pm

Kenton Turk

It occurred to me as I sat watching highlights from the 2009 Directors Lounge, that what experimental film can do better than any other form is capture moments. Feature length narrative films work tirelessly to make their leading actors and leading actresses convincing as genuine characters. But once an actor or an actress reaches a certain height of celebrity, is it ever possible to separate them from their celebrity on screen? If Angelina Jolie picks apples in a film about an apple farm, can we ever not see her as Angelina Jolie? I think the answer is no.

Sometimes experimental films feel like one of those manic moments you have at 2 a.m. where you bolt out of bed and race to write something down or film something or call a collaborator and rattle off an idea. There’s a breathless sense of excitement to experimental films. There’s an obvious joy for the audience in seeing someones idea executed perfectly on screen.

Barbara Rosenthal – I Got The World In The Palm Of My Hand

Barbara Rosenthal’s short film, I Got The World In The Palm Of My Hand (1988) definitely has this energy to it. In the film Rosenthal reads a newspaper article about the psychic Joan Quigley, who more or less ran the Reagan administration during the last years of his presidency. The punchline to the article is a quote from Quigley herself arguing with the depiction of her in the media and announcing emphatically that she is a “serious political astrologer.” Rosenthal can be seen on screen with a globe cupped between her hands. The immediacy of the image and the rapid-fire way Rosenthal reads the article give the film a breathless quality. It’s as if Rosenthal wants to get the idea out as quickly as possible before the moment is gone and the impulse subsides.

Christroph Kopac’s Zucker (2005).

Another film that shares Rosenthal’s, “don’t let a good idea get away from you” quality is Katharina Hein and Christroph Kopac’s Zucker (2005). In this film, Kopac is the subject, the very drunk subject, and Hein narrates his actions as if he were an animal in a nature documentary. The action of the film concerns Kopac trying to crush a single sugar cube with a hammer. He attempts this over and over again, laughing harder each time it doesn’t work. During the screening, his drunken laughter was so infectious that most of the audience laughed along. It was somehow so sweet and comforting to be able to witness someone in that state of mind. The feeling the film communicated was so immediate and bursting with life, it was just a pleasure to be a part of it.

Too much thought goes into the marketing of films, the casting, and hyping the director. Not enough thought is given to the script, the idea behind the film, and freedom to experiment and discover hidden moments. If it wasn’t for the Director’s Lounge, we might not be able to identify an honest human emotion on screen.

-Sabrina Small