The New:Vision Award is CPH:DOX’s competition for experimental, innovative, reflective documentaries. The festival presented twenty-six diverse, genre-bending pieces this year. In managing to watch them all, I made profound discoveries about expressing a deeply personal aesthetic in film. In a post-festival correspondence with programmer Mads Mikkelsen, he told me: “Part of the project here is to not think in opposite terms of ‘documentary’ and ‘fiction,’ but to think in the very basic term ‘filmmaking,’ with a reference to the real. That said, there is a strong, current interest from the art world in what could be called the documentary project: reflecting on the world we live in from perspectives that acknowledge the formal potential of filmmaking. This is, of course, especially visible in the New Vision program.”
What was common amongst the films in the New:Vision category was an original interpretation of that ineffable matter within us, the one that keeps us connected to the world of dreams. Many of these film works act as amorphous metaphors for the secret sources of our spiritual and intellectual power, creating new myths in relation to our physical selves and the ways in which we interact subliminally with the (familiar) world around us.
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And while all of this might be hot stuff to creative programmers and adventurous cinephiles, we asked Mikkelsen what kind of feedback the festival gets from local audiences: “Well, the fun thing is that I talked to people that are not cinephiles, who had a genuine experience of change from encountering these works in a cinema. I think that is vital to the cinema-going experience: to change.”
Perspective (from the Latin perspicere, to see through) is generally defined as an approximate representation, as seen by the eye, on a flat surface of an image. These filmmakers “see through” the more impenetrable layers of our being, transforming their material into rich storylines that animate some aspect of daily life. It is extremely encouraging that an event calling itself a documentary festival supports this kind of work. Documentary has a propensity to be a genre that can all too easily become stale through its own precious, self-referential way of telling stories. Many of these pieces were a slap in the face to all that, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
As the makers of these pieces traverse deeply personal and quixotic territory, they often instigate an unfamiliar shift in the viewer’s perspective. There is no doubt that when watching these films, installation pieces and other UFOs, there is a focused attention to detail and nuance, where one’s experience of a “cinematic encounter” can be redefined. But only if one meets the work at least halfway.
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For there is work involved to be sure, and according to filmmaker, Ben Russell, that is quite intentional: Russell, last year’s New:Vision Award winner, and Canadian filmmaker, John Price, hosted a masterclass. Both of these artists work at the forefront of this exploratory borderland. This year, Russell’s first feature, Let Each One Go Where He May, was part of the New Vision category, along with the seventh in his Trypps series, Trypps #7 (Badlands). John Price’s latest film, Home Movie had its European premiere at the festival and is described as “a psychedelic science fiction film with a distant relative in Tarkovsky.”
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