Field Report: Rotterdam Film Festival #1

Sat, Jan 29, 2011

free radicals

Free Radicals - A History of Experimental Cinema

My favorite experience of any festival is when I see something with no expectations and then I'm pleasantly surprised, excited even, by what I've seen. With two-plus days under the belt, I've already enjoyed some good fortune.

Two films really caught me by surprise on Thursday. The first was MY VOTE, a low-fi doc about a small Romanian town where a longtime reigning mayor is doing whatever it takes to win an upcoming election. We repeatedly see the mayor and his cronies going over a ledger of names, figuring house-by-house, person-by-person, in an effort to calculate the votes he has in the bag. We see him promising to fix the everyday problems of his constituency on an individual basis, always with the caveat that it will happen AFTER the election and only IF he is victorious. Most of the people in the village are very old, and have suffered under just about every type of corrupt leadership possible. The voting is a farce, with multiple people entering the booth at one time, the mayor an ever-present lurking presence, and many of the citizenry, especially the oldest, are very vocal that it is the same shite they've been dealing with for decades.

In the same program was OUR NEWSPAPER, about a heroic publisher/editor/reporter in the middle of nowhere (800 km east of Moscow) who, along with his wife, creates his own newspaper for the region as an alternative to the state-owned paper (THE LENINIST). It's wonderful to see a part of the world where people still depend on a paper – for gossip, horoscopes, TV listings, and actual hard local news. The area served by the paper confronts problems much of the developed world never has to think about, fresh running water being the primary one. In advocating for the common people of his area, the husband and wife team are under constant harassment from government officials and business owners, are always being told to shut down. It's an area where fields are still plowed by mules, where people seek the counsel of a healer in lieu of a doctor. They have no one looking out for them save one indefatigable newspaperman.

Other quick thoughts: Nathaniel Dorsky is the subject of a retrospective at the festival and I caught three of his films during Thursday's program. PNEUMA, a mesmerizing film composed entirely of a variety of developed, unexposed film stock, optically-altered in some instances, that gets about as close to the essence of cinema has one might hope to. I hope to see more on Saturday.

Finally saw Brent Green's GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN on the screen, with an audience, after being out of town when we screened it at the Wex in August. Wonderful experience.

Pip Chodorov's FREE RADICALS, a very personal survey of the history of experimental film overwhelmed by the sheer volume of amazing interview footage alone. There is a copius amount of footage with Mekas, Breer, Kubelka, Brakhage, Richter, etc., that is nothing short of engrossing. It's impossible to sum up a field in 90 minutes, but the film is a great contribution to a greater awareness and understanding of a history that is often neglected in basic art history surveys.

Finally, I capped Friday night with a screening with Mathieu Amalric's L'ILLUSION COMIQUE, a very entertaining stage-to-film experiment, with the Comedie Francaise. Most are more familiar with Amalric the actor from KINGS AND QUEEN, LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER, MUNICH, and, yes, the bad guy in the most recent James Bond film. The programmers made the curious decision to stage an interview with Amalric BEFORE the screening, and the interviewers line of questioning didn't add anything to the event. Perhaps most fun was passing Amalric in the street after the film, almost anonymously puffing on a cigarette, accepting a few well-wishes from some kids exiting the film.

Written at midnight, apologies for any errors of fact or style. More to come. — DF

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