Let us recall a sequence from Man with the Movie Camera (1929) which opened The New Medium program last year, accompanied by live music. Elizaveta Svilova, the editor of the film is on the cutting table. Behind her is a grid of box drawers and shelves. She rolls up pieces of film, labels the shots, and places them into the grid: A database. We see the film take shape in front of our eyes. Edition two of The New Medium begins here.
Footage. That films are made of footage, seems obvious. But in the films we are about to see, any simple relation between footage and film is exploded into a multitude of relations between photographers, editors, narrators and materials. It is a struggle to tame or ride this multiplicity, which is at the heart of cinema.
Found Footage. In art history, a found-object is something that the artist found, that existed as is, not created by the artist. The artist then crafted it and its meaning into something else. In filmmaking, the term Found Footage can be misleading. In every film that you will see in this programme, the artists did not just chance upon the footage they used - they were actively looking for it. There was method, madness and rigour at every stage of its seeking and crafting. We prefer to call this genre Footage Films, and are looking forward to bring you fourteen formally unique films, and three live, performative events that exemplify this quality in film.
We begin with the The Hour of The Furnaces, (1968), the film that gave rise to the Third Cinema manifesto. A cinema that was not Hollywood, nor European auteur-driven avant-garde. Third Cinema was to be collective low-budget acts, utilising existing film clips, news reels, state propaganda, guerrilla film footage, photographs, texts and poems, and direct cinema, to develop an original and experimental formal language whose means would serve a greater common end, in this case a revolutionary one. And while this mother of collage films was being edited clandestinely by the Group Cine Liberation in Argentina, in Paris, the Situationist Guy Debord was publishing his critical theory on The Society of the Spectacle, as a book. A few years later it would become a film, hijacking images of soft porn, fashion adverts, news broadcasts and film clips from around the world, turning them into a Marxist revolt on silent consumption and alienation in modern society. These two energetic and didactic footage films, one from the South and the other from the North lay down a theory-praxis for working with existing footage, by transforming the original intent and meaning into something provocative, critical and new.
The Giant (1983) by Michael Klier is the first film ever to comprise almost entirely of images from surveillance cameras. CCTV was then a new medium proliferating in societies in the western world, but Klier shows us what it looked like from inside. Chris Marker’s Level Five (1995) anticipates contemporary Internet and virtual reality, as it embarks on a mind-boggling video-game caper, transforming an old Macintosh into a time-travelling excavation of the Battle of Okinawa.
The trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1961 was held on a film set, shot with multiple cameras and edited live in the new medium of its time - video. 35 years later, Eyal Sivan salvaged the footage to bring us The Specialist, Portrait of a Modern Criminal (1999). In 1977, the Red Army hijacked a Japan Airways plane, forcing a landing at Dhaka airport; the hostage-drama was transmitted live and non-stop to homes in Bangladesh, even as a dramatic sub-plot was developing on the side. Combining material from BTV, NHK Japan’s archives with audio recordings of the negotiations made by the Bangladesh military, Naeem Mohaiemen crafted his first feature, United Red Army in 2011.
2011 was also the year of the Fukushima disaster. Philippe Rouy downloaded hours of live-cam, robot and drone feed from the Tokyo Power Corporation’s own website, assembling the images into a chilling document of our times as witnessed in his Fukushima Trilogy. Meanwhile in the Arabian Sea a group of sailors, in friendship and collaboration with the Bombay-based artist group CAMP, create From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf (2013), a travelogue born in many countries and across many video formats, while paying some beguiling tributes to regional cinema and music.
As tributes to both cinema and cities go, Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) is a voluminous essay film on the world’s most frequently filmed metropolis. Diverse film scenes culled from sixty years of Egyptian cinema, each featuring the pyramids of Giza in the background lend structural form and content to Domestic Tourism II (2011), by Maha Maamoun. Thom Andersen offers her film a generous pairing with his playful A Train Arrives at the Station (2016).
Two films look back at the promises of new media technologies. Spectres of the Spectrum (1999) – it’s title acknowledging The Society of the Spectacle – is an "allegory about electromagnetic autonomy in the face of massive media conglomeration", in which Craig Baldwin crafts a trippy optical-printing sci-fi from 1950’s American TV shows and popular films. Dreams Rewired (2015), a collaborative work by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart and Thomas Tode is a media-archaeological dig into mostly unseen films from the 1880’s to 1930’s, taking us back to when old technologies were new, and presenting us with what could have been.
Finally, we pay homage to S.N.S. Sastry, in house maverick of Films Division with Flashback (1974), a footage film commemorating the 25th anniversary of what is now a living archive on Peddar Road.
The opening weekend includes three live events: Kamal Swaroop and collaborators on a thirty year archival journey called DADA. And From the Mediastorm, in-person, India’s first and only all-woman documentary collective and their prescient video practice. We open the program with CAMP’s CCTV Landscape from Lower Parel, a 200-year neighbourhood story told through a single camera and experienced live inside the cinema hall of PVR Phoenix.
- Shaina Anand