Exprmntl.cz Through Eyes of American Journalist Daniel Walber

American freelance critic Daniel Walber focuses on a bunch of Czech experimental movies which were screened at the 21st Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Fascinations: Exprmntl.cz section.

Storyline (Dějová linka, Alžběta Kovandová, 2017)

We live in a world of lines: streets and telephone wires, electrical grids and transit maps. It’s all fairly chaotic, of course, but we can teach ourselves to see the order and live accordingly. These lines are how we get to work, how we communicate, and perhaps even how we survive. But there are other ways to perceive the structure of our physical and social surroundings. A number of the Czech experimental films showcased by the 2017 Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival tear at these perceptions, severing our calm relationship with organized reality. They are, to say the least, a bit dizzying. But their cumulative impact is tremendous, altering the way we perceive both reality and documentary.

Alžběta Kovandová’s remarkable Storyline quite literally chops up the lines of our lives. She begins with images of communication and transportation, roads and cars. At first they remain recognizable, even when juxtaposed in surprising ways. Soon, however, things fray. Lingering, oddly cropped images of horses create a growing sense of unease, enhanced by Martin Stýblo’s eerie soundtrack. Paths soon bend. A train runs neither right nor left, but up into uncharted offscreen territory. Kovandová closes with a human hand, a perfectly normal assortment of fingers. But in the wake of the preceding two minutes, this collection of mundane digits feels jagged and unnatural.

Kovandová’s technical approach is entirely her own, but she shares this drive toward disconnection and fragmentation with a number of the other filmmakers. With Life in Patterns, Vojtěch Domlátil deconstructs tile and porcelain to the cacophonous tapping of a blunt soundtrack. Zbyšek Semelka’s Traffic supplies an even briefer shock. Its visual collage is made from a number of different traffic jams, superimposed on top of each other for maximum disorientation. The filmmakers of Vilyž take a similarly frenetic approach, composing a portrait of Švihov Castle from disparate images and percussive sound. Each of these brief experiments quickly upends the audience’s relationship with physical space. The raw material of reality is transformed.

Vilyž (Klára Míčkočková, Kristina Bártová, Marie Píchová, Petr Kutek, Tomáš Červený, Zbyšek Semelka, 2016)

Some directors take it even further, pursuing even greater levels of abstraction. Simona Donovalová’s Today is a negative portrait of the sun, created via the 35mm images of a mostly obscured leaf. Its slow rhythm and warm atmosphere approaches the experience of the plant itself. Anastasia Seyduk’s About Me, meanwhile, is a tactile self-portrait in stone. A rock bounces about a minimal space, followed by a tumble of similar forms. Both of these films build isolated, metaphorical spaces from the bric-a-brac of the physical world.

Equally interesting as these environmental distortions are the films that filter the world through animation. Jakub Korselt’s Unknown takes the same subject matter as Semelka, public transportation. But his method is almost the opposite, erasing details rather than multiplying them. His subway setting becomes nearly formless, as do the faces of those riding it. This abstract space feels vaguely threatening, though never to the degree of the animated nightmares in Life of Dreams. Evgeniya Opalko’s challenging, intriguing work is a distorted dreamscape, accompanied by alarming narration. “Cognition is a suicide,” we are told, “Protect your sleep.” Red scribbles and white hands flash across the screen, flailing in the unforgiving vagueness of the subconscious.

Admittedly, the more extreme observations of Life of Dreams are a departure from the mood of the other films. But its objections to normal cognition are a useful context with which to think about experimental documentary. These filmmakers have all taken the images of reality, what we think of as “nonfiction,” and warped them in artistically fascinating ways. They interrupt and replace our cognition of image and truth, often in a matter of seconds. But the resulting revelations, that no documentary is objectively “truthful” and that every cut has meaning, can be applied to much longer works.

Of course, the other films in the Exprmntl.cz program aren’t much longer works. But many of them carve substantial, beautiful and even political observations out of their own nonfiction material. Michal Kindernay’s Transformations / Vapors / Melanosis has a very clear point of view, even if its images are a fair bit more obscure. The film is a darkened portrait of a river, flowing past an industrial complex. Kindernay begins on the water itself, reversing up the wake of a ship as it cuts a large, thick line of spray. There are cracklings in the soundtrack and suggestions of visual distortion as the images gradually give a wider picture of this altered landscape. The titular melanosis appears to be inflicted upon the earth itself, as viscous suggestions of pollution occupy this elegiac short’s last moments.

Transformations / Vapors / Melanosis (Transformace / Výpary / Melanosis, Michal Kindernay, 2017)

Franz Milec’s Loathing has a similar set of concerns, though it takes place within a factory. Actually, it doesn’t seem to take place within any specific industrial space, but rather something of an any-factory-whatever. Much of the cobbled together footage has the quality of UFO sighting videos, a slightly hazy tinge to otherwise identifiable settings. The hypnotic, minimalist music slowly introduces tension. What begins as a panorama of industrial progress and joy soon becomes a threat of disaster. A fatal accident looms just offscreen. Or worse, sabotage. The images themselves do not necessarily give this away, but the way they are used together creates an undeniable and lingering anxiety.

Anxiety is also the theme of Eliška Cílková’s Dare Novitatis, though it is a much more personal and intimate project. Its theme is childbirth and its expectation, built from the plans and concerns of a number of different voices. It begins with the suggestion that childbirth initiates an “altered state of consciousness,” breaking up the usual comprehension of reality. The rest of the film is spent posing various questions, delicately framed and expertly woven wonderings and worryings. By the final fade to white, the only universal truth is the diversity and variability of experience.

Of course, experimental nonfiction is also capable of expressing the tremendous specificity of experience. This is the case with Lucie Navrátilová’s Can, perhaps the best film of the entire crop. Her study of the traditional costume and festival of the Haná region is anything but traditional. The tactile soundtrack and bold editing present a collage of community heritage that feels entirely alive, as present in the 21st century as cinema. It’s charming, with its paper doll animation and its rabbit’s tongue sandwich lesson. But it is also sober, engaging with the threats to a fading tradition. Navrátilová’s use of the Diary of Anne Frank is both strange and intriguing, perhaps an acknowledgement that no European tradition can honestly continue without acknowledging the cracks made by the 20th century.

It is also quite matter-of-fact about its own hybridity, combining everything from real festival footage and documentary interview to animated sequences and staged, lightly comic vignettes. It is a film made with the wisdom of the whole program, the understanding that nonfiction cinema is an artform of juxtaposition and arrangement, inspiration strengthened with juxtaposition. This is always clearer after experiencing a particularly well-constructed program of experimental short films, particularly when they demonstrate the confidence of this batch.





more articles from a section:  Theme

1+2.19Emerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will Tizard
2.17Why Series SuckCritical essay about the phenomenon Quality TVHanjo Berressem, Nadine Boljkovac
1.17Haptic/Visual Identities – A project between art and researchAgata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio about their haptic camerasAgata Mergler, Cristian Villavicencio
4.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F5.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F3.16Ji.hlava ManifestoWatch Ji.hlava Manifesto online
4.16Transparent Landscape: TurkeyComing to terms with the past, the clash of cultures, and intellectual reflections on everyday life – just three aspects of a country larger than Ukraine and as unknown as the OrientTomáš Doruška, Âkile Nazlı Kaya
4.16The Russian Avant-GardeThe pioneer of the moving image – Dziga Vertov – and other significant figures of the Russian interwar avant-garde explore not only Soviet society, but, even more importantly, art and the nature of the medium of mediaBriana Čechová
4.16Translucent Being: Éric RohmerAbout not well known documentary work of French pedagogue Éric RohmerDavid Čeněk
4.16Translucent Being: Bill MorrisonCreation methods of the American experimental filmmaker and documentarian Bill Morrison, who uses a variety of damaged celluloid strips in his films; most often, however, those damaged by the ravages of time.Andrea Slováková, Štěpánka Součková

starší články

1.18DOK.REVUE
March 05, 2018


from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReviewA Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis PrášilReview Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival