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This text that I’m writing is a sort of walk and a meditation on the days I spent in Germany, during the 64th edition of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. I’m walking around, in my mind, not sure what I’m looking for, but my eyes are open. Actually there is a connection between the acts of looking, remembering and writing: all these repetitive habits produce connections and interpretations and they are able to open up a space in my mind, multi-temporal and heterogeneous. Porous temporalities, like the personal present tense of my writing here in London, the past of my memories of the Festival, upon which the future of my knowledge is built – inform this text: I will not follow a linear path, but a more spontaneous back and forth which gives me the possibility to reach openness, ongoing articulation and self-discovery too. A collection of fragments: reflections, ideas, sights, visions, sounds, dreams.

I arrive on the 3rd May, in the late afternoon. A sense of marginality and a certain strangeness emerge from the industrial landscape of this region, which unfold through the carriage windows of the moving train I’m in. The city is quiet, relatively silent, apart from the animated group of kids walking on this opposite side of the street. The long, wide, empty path reverberate only with the sound of their footsteps and their laughs. The sunlight and the breeze of wind. Oberhausen, one of the oldest and most important short film festivals in the world, is quite relaxed and friendly as a place. The festival has avoided over-expansion and remained at just the right size so that people inevitably, but casually, come across each other several times a day around its two or three major meeting points – like the small Lichtburg multiplex where almost all of the screenings take place and the Festival Bar, the hangout spot for night parties, adorned with graffiti and decorated with old furniture – both places are within ten minutes walking distance. The festival’s program is inspiringly inclusive, featuring animation, documentary, narrative, avant-garde films, hybrid performances and installations and it is proponent of challenging work that pushes the boundaries of contemporary cinema. This spirit of openness emerge from the Opening Cerimony, where three works, very different from each other, are screened to celebrate the inaugural evening: ‘Rite of Spring’ (2010) by Mona Vătămanu & Florin Tudor, ‘Das offenbare Geheimnis’, (2015) by Eva Könnemann and ‘What The Fuck Am I Doing?’ (2017) by Martin Creed. Simple and poetic gestures, which playfully unfold and gives rise to multiple pathways and to different ways of becoming. The festival affirms itself as a space of possibilities, being able to open a dialogue with works that otherwise would remain invisible, relegated to the outer margins of film and art.

Das offenbare Geheimnis, Eva Könnemann, 2015

Das offenbare Geheimnis, Eva Könnemann, 2015

Das offenbare Geheimnis, Eva Könnemann, 2015

The Hymns of Muscovy’, Dimitri Venkov, 2017

On the 4th May, as a respite to this screen-time, I attend the performance at the Festival Bar. The live solo drum of the young Steffen Roth from Leipzig pervades the darkened space of this underground venue, creating a mesmerising flow of continuous rhythmic units. It is like hearing the train wheels rolling, or the intermittent sound of an old projector. The percussionist seemingly fuses chaos and order and it’s here, in this mix of free improvisation and repetition, tension and catharsis that the ‘opening’ comes to light and the whole performance become a transformative experience.

A fascinating work which is an expansion of the notion of cinema evident in Oberhausen and which reminds me of the Conditional Cinema program (curated by Mika Taanila), one of the four new sections launched at the 64th edition. I see the same fluid, evolving, improvised nature of Roth’s live drum reflected on Manuela de Laborde’s new work ‘Ficciones’ which is a cinematic project of living-sculptures. A return to the primitive, to the ‘here and now’ as opposed to 3D, virtual reality and Internet; never ‘final’ but always in slow development. Both activities can be compared to the movement distilled from an actual walk: non-linear, rhythmic, tentative and spontaneous rather than systematic or circumscribed. The delicate easiness of de Laborde’s execution, materialist yet conceptual, gives space also to other dimensions, allowing the perceptual and the emotional to emerge. I felt lost, dreaming out loud, dreaming with my eyes open.

This focus on materiality, on analog films, issues of preservation and independent forms of production and distribution trace the Theme and re-selected programme as well. ‘The aim is, on the one hand, to redefine the value of the analogue format and, on the other, to offer peaceful resistance to blanket digitisation’, as Daniel Schranz explained.

The group of selected filmmaker in the Profile section, Salomé Lamas, Louise Botkay, Mona Vătămanu & Florin Tudor and Eva Könnemann, bring out a desire to expand our worldviews, encompassing the study of life, of our origins, of the evolution of the universe and of the dynamics of social groups throughout history, as well as the invention of new ways of doing politics. These works offer encounters which sustain understanding without asserting rigid explanation, reaffirming the critical, emotional and ethical potential of images as witnesses of reality and windows to the world.

Manuela de Laborde, Ficciones, 2018 : photo credit Kurzfilmtage : Daniel Gasenzer.

Manuela de Laborde, Ficciones, 2018 : photo credit Kurzfilmtage : Daniel Gasenzer.

Rite of Spring, Mona Vătămanu:Florin Tudor, 2010

Rite of Spring, Mona Vătămanu/Florin Tudor, 2010

After four days, spent in between the darkness of the Lichtburg Filmpalast and the nightly parties at the Festival Bar, I realised that the fabric of the Oberhausen Film Festival is made of ‘encounters’: sensations and impressions are shared with new people, while time and space are mapped by the discovery of new works. The time dimension become the site where these activities unfold, allowing me to reach self-awareness through the ceaseless transformations of the works I am watching: my mind drill into the consciousness and the gaze turns inwards, allowing the «self» to be «seen».

A change of perspective, a collapse of both time and space is shown in ‘Gimny Moskovii’ (The Hymns of Moscovy) (2017) by Dimitri Venkov, winner of the e-flux prize and the International Critics’ Prize (FIPRESCI Prize). A very slow revelation without any plot, character or dialogue, which reshapes the potential of moving image in the age of information and circulation. All the buildings, the streets and skyscrapers appear heavy and dense, presenting sculptural qualities and moving towards ideas about enclosure, volume and massiveness. It functions like a monument against the easy image circulation and consumption – its slowness stand against the speed of the metropolis, where information need to be delivered and absorbed quickly. From the authentically urban to the utterly ethereal, the cityscape – haunted by the ghost of its past – allows the future to speak. Venkov prompts a re-ordering of vision that allows me to see differently what I already thought I knew and to let me sense the genius loci of Russia, its ‘spirit of place’.

Um filme para Ehuana, Louise Botkay, 2018

Um filme para Ehuana, Louise Botkay, 2018

The Lost Head & The Bird, Sohrab Hura

The Lost Head & The Bird, Sohrab Hura