The other night we went to the closing ceremony for the EX-is festival this year. From the packed-house audience of the opening night the numbers had dwindled rather drastically, with a scattering of souls – many of them festival staff and help – distributed in clumps about the large auditorium. The comments were duly said, subdued a bit by this diminuition in bodies present, and on we were to prizes given. The first were lesser, mostly local ones, boxes of DV tapes for this or that. None of the filmmakers were present to receive their prize. Then the jury was introduced, and Pip Chodorov got the duty to read the winners and bestow the large blown-up checks to the similarly absent winners: 1 million won, 3 million won and the biggie, 5 million. That latter is roughly US$4500 these days, though the won is making a comeback from its fall to almost 1600 = a buck. Now it is 1200, crawling back to its several years ago parity.
In his introductory remarks Pip said it had been a pleasure to work with his fellow jury members and that they’d not argued, and had all agreed on the winning films. And he said the festival had been well organized and that all of the films had been good, there hadn’t been a bad one in the hours of screenings. With that cheerful note it was on with the show.
And then they projected the 3 winners, which perhaps explained why the crowd had been winnowed down so drastically.
Showing in reverse order as usual, so theoretically the best was shown first instead of being withheld to the last, began a film by Patrick Bokanowski of France, by title of Battements Solaires. At first glance it dazzles, a strange shape eluding understanding, glistening with light, the camera jiggling a fair bit, and then a brilliant golden light flickering and in a bit revealing itself to be water, and a double image. On the soundtrack a somewhat ponderous minimalist music drones. This goes on. And on. Shapes change, the water is more evident, the music swells and subsides, a horseman rides on a beach of flowing water, and the sense of potential mysteriousness evaporates into irritation at the barren truth that despite the razzle and despite the dazzle, and the clever visual trick of a horse seeming to ride on the golden surf, this all goes nowhere. But it does go on. And on. The music swells up and down; the horse trick returns a few times; the sand and light glitter golden. 18 minutes that seemed much longer. And so f… king what. My sentiments were evidently shared by the little audience which gave a very tepid minimalist round of handnoise at the ending.
Walking towards the fire. In a ceaseless stream of light, people, landscapes and objects lead us to mysterious regions. French filmmaker Patrick Bokanowski’s work is hard to classify – and all the richer for it. Together with his wife Michèle, whose musique concrète compositions form the basis of the sound design, Bokanowski offers a prolonged, dense and visually visceral experience of the kind that is rare in cinema today. Difficult to define and locate, its strangeness is quite unique.
Burbled the Rotterdam catalog on this film, which is basically some beach footage at sunset, superimposed here and there, wobbly hand-held and aimless in its mysteriousness.
On to the next one, a far slicker affair coming out of Les Fresnoy, a northern France art factory school, lavishly equipped and in the past at least, manned with “name” teachers. Title of this was Coagulate, by Mihai Grecu. Here, rather than sloppy handwaving of the camera, was a cold precision of would-be surreal images: the body of a man underwater, his head absent above the bottom-surface reflections; some things skittering on the surface of the water; a tracking shot along a bland wall, some reverse motion slo-mo water splash.
Technically a “product” of the well-endowed Le Fresnoy, this film in its 5+ minutes strained for some meaning, but one read the strain more than the meaning. It tried hard to be weird/surreal, but to no evident effect. Again, the winnowed audience at EX-is gave a mandatory flapping of limp hands, suggesting my jaded view wasn’t the only doubting Thomas in the crowd.
And on we went to the next, last, and very unmercifully longest winner of the night, From Dust to Dust: Chronicles of Women in Naegok-ri, Kyungsang Province, by Hyejong Cho. This item went on 49 minutes, with home-footage and fake home footage (computer flare-outs happening like clockwork, all exactly the same), along with new color video, all mindlessly haphazard, to support a recorded voice-over of old women telling of their lives. No pictures on the net, not that the pictures were much. In fact the imagery, while having an occasional history/sociology interest, were mostly bland shots of rural fields, trees, and old b&w home-footage, all basically used in utterly uncinematic manner to illustrate the recorded talk of the women. This was not a film, it was a slapdash collection of material left unformed and stillborn by the maker. During this one a number of people rightly left, doubtless numbed by the far less than bedazzling quality of the “winning” films. Again a now virtually inaudible patter of hands concluded the screening and those left dragged themselves to the nearby club for some free beer and nibblies.
Afterward Amber complained to a new friend that sitting beside me had been annoying since I heaved sighs of displeasure (Marcella should have told her sitting beside me during a movie is to be avoided if you don’t like tangible signs of displeased viewer, or for that matter very pleased viewer; cuts both ways.) Amber said she liked the first two films. I, as you can see above, thought they sucked, and my audience antennae tell me I was with the majority.
With Chodorov’s comment that “no bad films” were shown, we see perhaps one of the problems of the so-called avant-garde, experimental realm which is that those who act as guides – like Jonas Mekas – don’t have a clue and so pass along for the gullible the idea that crap is gold. Some believe.
This week, at Yonsei, a couple of my students, present and past, who’d been at EX-is for the week, tentatively asked me about the films I’d seen and were greatly relieved to find out I thought most of it sucked like they did. In some of the courses they have here they get taught the avant-garde academic canon, which is littered with work like this – hence their fear I might be on the other side of the fence.
There are, of course, exceptions – among them Daniel Cockburn mentioned in earlier post. There is, here and there, intelligence and wit and talent lurking in the dense shit-pile of AG-film.
And here, since I doubt our heroic USA Mainstream Press will bother to do so, is an item by the recently-released from prison fabled Iraqi shoe-thrower. He was sentenced to 3 years of prison for this alleged offense, and was let go after 9 months (though not without beatings, etc. along the way). His crime, as you may remember, was to throw a shoe at the war-criminal GW Bush, former US President, who is also, if there were remotely justice in the world, a candidate for numerous other charges, from crimes-against-humanity on down to lesser things like perjury, lying to the US public, etc.
Why I Threw the Shoe
I am no hero. I just acted as an Iraqi who witnessed the pain and bloodshed of too many innocents
By Muntazer al-Zaidi
September 19, 2009 “The Guardian” — I am free. But my country is still a prisoner of war. There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act. But, simply, I answer: what compelled me to act is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.
Over recent years, more than a million martyrs have fallen by the bullets of the occupation and Iraq is now filled with more than five million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. Many millions are homeless inside and outside the country.
We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shia would pray with the Sunni in one line. And the Muslim would celebrate with the Christian the birthday of Christ. This despite the fact that we shared hunger under sanctions for more than a decade.
Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. But the invasion divided brother from brother, neighbour from neighbour. It turned our homes into funeral tents.
I am not a hero. But I have a point of view. I have a stance. It humiliated me to see my country humiliated; and to see my Baghdad burned, my people killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation. The scandal of Abu Ghraib. The massacre of Falluja, Najaf, Haditha, Sadr City, Basra, Diyala, Mosul, Tal Afar, and every inch of our wounded land. I travelled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.
As soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies, while I washed away the remains of the debris of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the blood that stained my clothes, I would clench my teeth and make a pledge to our victims, a pledge of vengeance.
The opportunity came, and I took it.
I took it out of loyalty to every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.
I say to those who reproach me: do you know how many broken homes that shoe which I threw had entered? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all values were violated.
When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora.
If I have wronged journalism without intention, because of the professional embarrassment I caused the establishment, I apologise. All that I meant to do was express with a living conscience the feelings of a citizen who sees his homeland desecrated every day. The professionalism mourned by some under the auspices of the occupation should not have a voice louder than the voice of patriotism. And if patriotism needs to speak out, then professionalism should be allied with it.
I didn’t do this so my name would enter history or for material gains. All I wanted was to defend my country.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited