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Eye and IFFR celebrate anniversary with Vive le Cinéma - Filmmakers leave the screen

It's possible again. The first threshold I cross again after a long time of online culture is that of Eye Film Museum. Finally being there again for real, in the middle of the installations of Vive le Cinéma. Created especially for Eye and International Film Festival Rotterdam, they had been quietly waiting for an audience here in the exhibition space for four months. This exhibition by Eye and IFFR is one the activities with which they are celebrating their 75th and 50th anniversaries respectively this year.

The title is more challenging than it first appears. Vive le Cinéma! After all, nothing seems a more natural exclamation for these two film-addicted organisations. But what I see here at Eye is not all self-evident. Is it still cinema when I am standing in front of a wondrous screen in which I see myself as a kind of multicoloured silhouette?

Ghosts

The Passage, installation by Lucrecia Martel (photo: Studio Hans Wilschut)

Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel (Zama) used infrared cameras aimed at the visitor for these digital mirrors. Human forms turn into ghostly apparitions as a result. On the screen, I see other figures joining me, but when I look back, I see nothing. Are they ghosts?

Those who read the information later (or beforehand) on the website and watch the video essay dedicated to Martel will discover that this spirit association is not so crazy. The theme of vanished peoples also crops up in her films. Thus, in this physical exhibition space, I have nevertheless unwittingly entered the creator's virtual imagination space. You could say. Because such unusual installations can of course evoke very different associations.

Thus, the Eye Machine by Carlos Reygadas something completely different. It is inspired by the fact that we usually avoid looks from strangers. Also a kind of inversion of watching film. Now I am being watched myself. Reygadas constructed a carnival-like attraction. A kind of blind date carousel in which you are invited to have a short conversation with random others. Very entertaining, though perhaps a little over the top. All sorts of rules, cameras and superfluous screens seem a bit much to me. But still, do it!

Wild plan

Eye director Sandra den Hamer recalls that the project originated as a wild plan. Concocted three years ago during a lunch with IFFR colleagues. Namely, to ask five quirky filmmakers to leave the two-dimensional canvas for once. They were commissioned to make work that uses the possibilities of three-dimensional space.

Jia Zhang-ke (China), Leopold Emmen (joint pseudonym of Dutch duo Nanouk Leopold and Daan Emmen), Lucretia Martel (Argentina), Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (Lesotho) and Carlos Reygadas (Mexico) took up the challenge. For some of them, it was even the first time they had done such a thing.

By the way, the full title of the event is Vive le Cinéma! Art & Film. That already makes it a little clearer that it is not about traditional cinema. Instead, it is about crossing the usual boundaries between art forms. With a clear hint to the famous words of Hubert Bals, IFFR's first director: 'Film is art is art'.

That visual artists sometimes switch to film is not uncommon. The reverse, as here, happens less often. That also makes it less obvious what this might mean and how to interpret it. Does it point back to the early years of cinema, when all kinds of curious curious machines were also experimented with? Is it trying to explore the relationship between viewer and image?

Experiment

Those who feel like it can attach all sorts of philosophies to it. But as far as I am concerned, you can also simply see the project as an intriguing experiment with very different outcomes. Works of art around a game with gaze and camera, image and physical presence. However, they are all experiments that distance themselves from the traditional narrative form.

Two of the participants used relatively familiar imagery to create an environment that especially invites close inspection. Others went a step further. Intriguing installations that are best walked around with an open mind and the necessary curiosity.

5 Scenes at a Walking Pace, installation by Leopold Emmen (photo: Studio Hans Wilschut)

Literally even, as in the installation 5 Scenes at a Walking Pace by Leopold Emmen. That this is not the first time this duo has engaged in installation art can be seen in its execution. It refers to the way Leopold draws inspiration from locations and spaces when making her films. See the fine video essay Jan Pieter Ekker and Dana Linssen made about this, a very nice addition.

Colour and light

Leopold and Emmen's installation can be seen as a location for an ultra-minimalist film. Almost everything we normally associate with film has been stripped away. No actors, no recognisable objects, no story. But spatial contours, walls, vistas.

A composition of sleek shapes, light and sound. In the dark, ever-changing colours glow. Suddenly, a bright white projected square wanders around. I see shadows of myself and other visitors. And there is music. The latter strikes me as a minor knee-jerk reaction. For does this environment itself now evoke feelings through colour and light? Or is it after all, as often happens in films, the soundtrack? For me, at least, the music does most of the work. But I hear someone else got completely lost in the calm play of colours. The website even ventures into the metaphor that you become a character in your own film while walking here. Who knows.

In any case, take your time with it. Perhaps I was there too briefly myself to discover that five 'scenes' emerge after all. You shouldn't want to rush the other installations either. The conceptual content is fairly high. It might be good to do some preliminary work via the texts on the website or watching the video essays linked to this project (viewable online). Or better afterwards? Warning: those who prefer to go in blank can now scroll through to the 'Films and video essays' section.

The body as a landscape

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (photo: Eye)

Mosese, one of Africa's most important new filmmakers, took an austere approach. In the space he set up, you stand between six screens. Images of ritual ablutions, close-ups of hands or faces and more such intimate, bodily moments. It evokes a special atmosphere. The website even speaks of an "overwhelming installation focusing on the representation of black women's bodies". But I also see horses and a dancing man in an ecstatic trance. A rich, human panorama, although 'overwhelming' is too heavy a word as far as I am concerned.

What appealed to me more was the explanation Mosese gave beforehand via zoom to the assembled journalists. Namely that he had been inspired by the landscape of the human body. Striking images that only increase the desire for his films. Films that are indeed also showing at Eye this summer. The video essay on Mosese is a nice introduction.

Surveillance cameras

The fact that a relatively uncomplicated approach can actually work very well is particularly evident in the installation Close-Up by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White). By this, he refers to the ubiquity of surveillance cameras. Looking around the installation, I see images of a busy intersection in a Chinese city on five screens. Pure registration by surveillance cameras, it seems. Until one of the images slowly zooms in on someone looking around uncertainly, fiddling with a bandage around his thumb. Is this also caught by one of the cameras around the intersection, or do we see the filmmaker's hand here? And then is there more to discover that initially eluded me?

To be fair, Jia too had already given a hint of what was to come via Zoom. Precisely because of this current abundance of camera footage - especially in China - he had come to realise that cinema is only becoming more important. Only with that can you lift an individual out of anonymity. Show human details, tell a story. Surveillance cameras show everything but say nothing. Only in the hands of the filmmaker can the camera tell something about life.

Films and video essays

These five installations are at the heart of a comprehensive programme. There is a online platform with lots of information, articles and short films. There, we will also find the video essays that address, among other things, themes and motifs in the directors' films.

Some of those films will also be shown at Eye over the coming months, with introductions. The kick-off is on 16 June with This is Not a Burial, It's Resurrection by Mosese, preceded by a conversation with the creator.

The exhibition was also accompanied by a teaching pack for secondary schools, based on the work of Nanouk Leopold and Daan Emmen.

Good to know:

Vive le Cinéma! Art & Film is on view at Eye until 5 September. More information plus video essays can be found at the dedicated online platform. The teaching pack can be downloaded for free at LessonUp.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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