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Field notes from an experimental adventure

Lydia Beilby, part of artists' collective Screen Bandita and Short Film Curator for Edinburgh International Film Festival, took a trip to the BFI London Film Festival to attend some of the Experimenta screenings this October. Here are her highlights from the programme...

As analogue technology ambassadors, working primarily with archival found 8mm and 16mm film, visual material, text and performance, I felt sure that a visit to Experimenta would provide plentiful thought-provoking inspiration!

Experimenta forms part of the BFI London Film Festival’s programme, showcasing works by artists from across the globe that, according to the brochure, “use the moving image to change the way we think of film and how it functions”. This year’s selection was of particular interest to me as a result of the programme’s correlation with the methods, mediums and themes we explore in our work as artists’ collective Screen Bandita. As analogue technology ambassadors, working primarily with archival found 8mm and 16mm film, visual material, text and performance, I felt sure that a visit to Experimenta would provide plentiful thought-provoking inspiration!

My plan encompassed seven screenings across short form and feature length work, the first of these being the new piece by Turner nominee Tacita Dean. We Banditas have long been inspired by Dean’s wondrous films and her advocacy work for the celluloid cause, and the opportunity to see her new piece was an exciting prospect. Event For a Stage presents a nuanced exploration of the very process of creating a performance. Recorded by two 16mm cameras across four evenings, the piece captures actor Stephen Dillane presenting a monologue that subtly changes with each performance. Dean’s 'performance for camera' brings into focus the complex interplay between fiction and reality as played out through a theatrical presentation and asks, is the actor inserting elements of his own life, or rather, exhibiting his effortless talent in appropriating the text as personal reflection? At its core, the work references the trickery and suspension of belief required of an audience to ‘believe’ in the magic process of performance creation, be it for stage or screen.

Following the themes established by Tacita Dean rather nicely, Ben Rivers new 16mm feature- length work The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers also expressed a deep interest in the rituals and performative elements underpinning the process of crafting a film. Part dissected historical epic and part postmodern reflection on the cultural interactions (and implications) of filmmaking in a non-western culture, Rivers' work sparkled with imagination and approached the organisation of narrative thread, sequence and syncopation with a playful musical collage-like sensibility.

The final feature length work in my schedule was Heated Gloves by London-based artist and radio presenter William English, an intimate and touching portrait of idiosyncratic inventor of electrically heated clothing, Captain Maurice Seddon. Unearthing Seddon’s singular existence through a rich lattice of archival TV footage, 16mm and mobile phone footage, English illuminates the gentle ways of an eccentric visionary living amid an abundance of scavenged vintage radios, motorcars and a pack of loyal canines. All in all, a superb portal into a curious life lived with healthy disregard for the restrictive norms of conservative English society.

Three of Experimenta’s short film programmes also appealed; Scores, was a compilation of four works grappling with the interpersonal communication complications arising from the distancing effect of advanced capitalist systems. Of these works, Laida Lertxundi’s Viva Para Vivir was of particular note, drawing a fascinating parallel between the tactility of the 16mm film material and the body, in order to evoke an electrifying synesthetic experience of corporeal processes, from heartbeat to orgasm.

The Stuff of Film programme resonated particularly with this Bandita due to the strong presence of celluloid works, and the perpetually brilliant Aura Satz impressed with Chromatic Aberration, a mesmeric piece darting amid time and chronology in order to examine the advent of early colour filmmaking through drastically re-appropriated archival stock from the Eastman Kodak archive. And Tomonari Nishikawa’s dazzling Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars reflected the physical imprint of chemical radiation upon 35mm colour negative stock that had been submerged in the earth on the periphery of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station.

Mediums and Messages prioritized the documentary format, and journeyed through a number of inventive and inspired ways of engaging the medium to evoke character, atmosphere and socio- political climate. It was a particular pleasure to see Mike Hoolbloom’s Scrapbook included; a film that had enjoyed its UK premier at EIFF 2015, and was awarded the coveted Best Short Film Award. 

As an archive film fiend, I was particularly intrigued to see Thresholds and Sensations, an incredibly rare opportunity to glimpse the intimate Super 8 sketches of Buenos Aires life captured by Maria Louise Alemann in the 1970s and 80s. Presented by curator Federico Windhausen, who was bequeathed Alemann’s archive following her death in early 2015, the reels had been gathering dust in shoe boxes in Alemann’s wardrobe for decades, but observing her playful collaborations, choreographic explorations and ingenious political critiques provided a fascinating portal into Alemann’s vibrant personal landscape. I sincerely hope that more of Alemann’s work will be digitized and screened to the audience it deserves. 

In summary, my journey through the Experimenta programme was a real treat; a wonderful and varied array of work, thoughtfully curated and followed by open discussions encouraging the exchange of thoughts and ideas inspired by the images we had collectively experienced on screen. My visit to LFF was superbly invigorating, and I have returned to Edinburgh energized and inspired!

Images: Lydia Beilby at BFI Southbank, Still from Even For a Stage, Still from The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Still from Heated Gloves, Q&A for Scores, Still from Chromatic Aberration, Still from Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars, Still from Scrapbook.

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