The Experimenta weekend strand at this year’s BFI London Film Festival continues to showcase the most original and innovative works of experimental and avant-garde cinema from the UK and abroad. Forty-two contemporary artists and filmmakers will have their work screened and exhibited over the festival with a concentrated programme of artists’ film and video running over the 23-24 October. i-D caught up with curator, Mark Webber, to find out more.
What are the installations/screenings you are most excited about at this year’s Experimenta Weekend? The festival is a great opportunity for me to introduce the work of significant filmmakers who may have had substantial careers, but haven’t yet received that much recognition here. Lewis Klahr has been making films since the 1980s but this will be the first time he’s appeared in person in the UK. He makes collage animations using imagery from American pop culture and fifties comic books. Music is a really important element of his work, mixing classical compositions with anything from Frank Sinatra to 60s pop to Mercury Rev and, in his latest film, Chocolate Genius. This year we’re also showing a programme of three films by Nathaniel Dorsky, including a new print of a longer early work, Hours For Jerome, that has never screened here before. There are also several mixed programmes with remarkable works by younger filmmakers like Samantha Rebello, Rebecca Meyers and David Gatten.
Could you explain your ideas about the crossover between cinema and art? I don’t really see any clear distinctions between these two areas. Any difference might only be in the situation a work is shown in. Some works are ideally suited to gallery presentation but what interests me more are those made for the cinema – I think the quality of the experience is so much greater. Duncan Campbell’s Make It New John, which is kind of a documentary on John DeLorean and his space-age Back to the Future car, is one of the rare works that succeeds in both environments; it’s been exhibited several times as a gallery installation. I do find it very curious that there’s this unnatural divide between the art world and the artists who make films. The Frieze Art Fair is over the other side of town and we all go there because we’re interested to see what’s going on but that traffic only goes one way – I don’t notice many gallerists or art curators coming to the experimenta screenings at the festival.
Why do you feel that experimental cinema from artists like Maya Derren very rarely get public screenings? These kinds of films were always under the radar of film history and that’s probably a good thing. It keeps the filmmakers free and truly independent. We’re very lucky that for the past decade or so, London has had one of the most active cultures of screenings and film/video exhibitions in the world. It wasn’t like that when I started out trying to discover work. I keep an independent mailing list called Secret Cinema (not to be confused with those people who do party screenings in unusual venues). We send out announcements of events and screenings – not just things I organise but also other trusted curators and venues. Anyone who wants to subscribe can send an email to email@example.com.
It’s a refreshing idea to programme a live-art performance event at a film festival. What made you choose the piece by Daniel Barrow? There is a whole other history of film performance known as expanded cinema, in which artists/filmmakers interact with the projected image. To some extent Daniel’s work relates to that phenomenon because he’s creating cinema live, in front of the audience by manipulating hand drawn slides on an old fashioned overhead projector. I saw Daniel perform this piece late last year and was very taken taken by it – it’s magical when someone uses very lo-fi techniques and technology to create something so engaging. The story of Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry is very funny, grotesque, self-pitying and with a great soundtrack too.
Do you have any advice for filmmakers wanting to take risks with cinematic convention? Don’t be afraid to take those risks, and if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it could be something wonderful you never imagined. Ken Jacobs calls it “taking the wrong turn into adventure”. And if it’s doomed to fail, then be sure to fail big – we all learn by our mistakes.
The Experimenta Weekend is part of the 54th BFI London Film Festival and runs 23 – 24 October.