The Ultra Dogme Virtual Film Festival 1: From a Distance

Welcome to the first Ultra Dogme Virtual Film Festival. We are excited to be trying something new. As current events have meant an enormous uptick in streaming, I realize we are only one of many sites and festivals giving this digital platform an attempt. Streaming is no substitute for sitting in the dark with a room full of strangers, but for the time being it will have to do.

Yesterday I considered all of the times I didn’t go to a cinema in the past year. An overabundance of availability (or at least the illusion of it in most cases) facilitated by the internet has changed the way we prioritize viewing. I always had the fallback of simply staying home with my machines to watch whatever I felt like watching. It goes without saying that I am now feeling immense regret for all of the times I opted to stay home. Home was always there, waiting for us, but now we are always home, waiting to get out. It’s going to take some time.

I decided to start this virtual festival out of a need to structure in this pocket of newly-found ‘infinite time’ spent at home. In a way, this was a selfish decision, but I sincerely hope it will have a similar effect for our viewers as well as other Ultra Dogme contributors, who have already begun curating their own programs.

Today we kick off our festival with Program 1 – From a Distance, with plans to premiere Program 2 – Compartmentalized Collapse (curated by our resident rap enthusiast Patrick Preziosi) next Saturday, March 28th. Each program will stand more or less alone, its own sidebar, a personal document of its curator’s quirks, indulgences and well-trained eyes. There are no hard rules as to what may be programmed, other than a set of basic guidelines and idea that this festival should be for everyone with an internet connection and a screen a their disposal – we aim to focus primarily on publicly-available content across the net. Today’s program will simply be a suggested schedule: a list of titles, links of where to watch the films, and supplementary material (mostly texts).

While this is not a live event, it should be noted that one of the films (This Castle Keep by Gina Telaroli) will only be publicly available for one week. Thank you Gina for allowing us to include your work in this program!

Myriad artists filmmakers (most notably Jodie Mack and Sky Hopinka) have made previously private works publicly available in response to current events. Many festivals are also offering free streaming programs. As different as it is to see these works at home instead of in a cinema, it is remarkable to see how quickly so many have been willing to adapt to the situation at hand and work to make these programs possible. I am personally most excited for the legendary (experimental) Ann Arbor Film Festival, as their streaming program begins next week (on the 24th). Meanwhile our friends at the Berlin Revolution Film Festival will be streaming their festival (including filmmaker Q&As and talks) via Twitch this year (April 4th and 5th).

You can find a thorough and resourceful list of streaming options over on Sabzian, who were gracious enough to include our festival. Thank you Sabzian!

There is also an ongoing thread on Twitter, courtesy of the London Short Film Festival, of which we were honored to be the first tweet! Thank you LSFF! I learned from this thread that IFFR Unleashed is streaming all of La Flor for free (at least across Benelux until April 6th). Once you’ve finished with that mammoth of a film, be sure and check out our interview with director Mariano Llinás.

I am also grateful to announce that – as you can see in the quoted tweet above – our friend Jordan Brooks has created a special crossover episode of his podcast ‘Drink For…’ to coincide with our festival. ‘Drink For…’ is a podcast about cinema in which Jordan creates drinking games to accompany viewings of films of his choosing. He was gracious enough to create a short episode for the first short of our program, and you can find a link to that episode in the ‘supplementary material’ which accompanies La Chambre.

Consider that my opening speech for the festival.

Now, for today’s program notes.

As mentioned in this week’s announcement of the festival, we would like to begin with a letter written by Jean-Marie Straub in 1968 to the Berlinale’s founding director, Alfred Bauer. Last month, the festival’s prize named in his honor was been re-titled, in light of new evidence that Bauer held strong ties to the Nazi party.

I include the letter again here for posterity’s sake. I would like to express my immense thanks once again to Sequence Press for providing this digitized text and allowing us to present it in conjunction with our first program.

[scribd id=452093329 key=key-u1pkUw1EjH0GGFl41wFx mode=scroll]

Excerpt from Writings by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, ed. Sally Shafto © 2016 Sequence Press, New York. This text translated from the original German by Barton Byg. Used by permission of Sequence Press.

The initial announcement of this first program claimed it would largely feature worlds without people. While that’s still true, there are a few small human appearances, as well as dialog in This Castle Keep. Most importantly though, are the people we feel behind the cameras, and on the other side of the screen. For the duration of this program, we adopt a new set of eyes, a new perspective, and see everything from a new distance due to our isolation, while keeping in mind that by watching together, no matter how far the physical distance, we are not alone. Outside of times of crisis, cinema has already held a special power to connect people through space-time, in no small part through artistic borrowing, homages, collaborations… in various small ways, this program connects (through means both direct and indirect), like-minded artists and tiny dedications.

‘From a Distance’ runs 158 minutes across 14 titles, mostly shorts, with one half-hour film, James Benning’s Two Cabins and one hour-long film, Peter Hutton’s At Sea. My aim in constructing such a ‘short’ program was to allow for plenty of breathing room, and try not to overwhelm anyone who might not be used to intensive festival viewing conditions. Anyone already marathoning titles in quarantine who may find this program too short is invited to watch Straub-Huillet’s Too Early, Too Late and Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man as an extended coda.

Our program begins with a focus on interiors, opening with La Chambre by Chantal Akerman and Blue Curtain by Noah Rosenberg, two 16mm film visions of interiors. Chantal needs no introduction, but I highly recommend this piece about her final film No Home Movie, written by Genevieve Yue for Reverse Shot’s Best of the Decade round-up. Noah Rosenberg is an Ultra Dogme contributor, whose ode to La Chambre (written for our celebration of International Women’s Day) is linked in the supplementary material below for your reading pleasure. Gina Telaroli’s This Castle Keep then carries us from a focus on digital interior domestic space to the glorious exteriors of city streets, shot on super 8mm film in a well-populated 2016. Telaroli exhibits a gift for capturing space, especially here and in her observational train meditation Traveling Light (2011). I look forward to further investigating her work. In the supplementary materials for This Castle Keep you will find a link to a video interview with Gina.

This Castle Keep (2016), dir. Gina Telaroli

The second chapter of the program exhibits a short musical-aquatic diversion in the form of James Broughton’s The Water Circle, a film which had the audacity to show experiments can be fun, paired with our contemporary torch-bearer of joyous experimentation Jodie Mack’s Glistening Thrills, a glowing work I never grow tired of, brimming with brilliant light-play and absolute serenity.

Glistening Thrills (2013), dir. Jodie Mack

In the third chapter: the two longest and most sober works (James Benning’s Two Cabins, and Peter Hutton’s At Sea) bookend Fainting Spells, a visual treat from another of experimental cinema’s hardworking young-ish names, Sky Hopinka. Serving as the connective tissue between Two Cabins and Fainting Spells is Hopinka’s use of hand-written text scrolling across the screen, a technique pioneered by Benning in titles like American Dreams (lost and found) (1984) — as well as their common interest in the dignity of natural landscapes.

In the advertising campaign (such as it is) leading up to this festival, we attracted the attention of some viewers for whom an hour-long contemporary silent film like At Sea may be a radical departure from typical viewing habits. As such I’ve included a link to Brian Eno’s ambient album Thursday Afternoon (which also runs one-hour) in the supplementary material, for anyone so inclined. Do note that Peter Hutton preferred the film’s silence be observed as a crucial part of its viewing, but if a minimal soundtrack helps you to give it a shot, I prefer to be accommodating of any newcomers to such rigorous formalism. I would also like to note here that Kelly Reichardt’s wonderful new film First Cow closes with a touching dedication to Hutton.

Gregory Markopoulos always stood apart from the crowd, and his inclusion here is no exception: Sorrows serves as both a reprieve from the slow + static compositions of Hutton and Benning as well as a segue into our closing chapter, which delves into the abstract. His own Ming Green from three years earlier played with similar editing techniques and opens with a dedication to Stan Brakhage.

Likewise, the closing chapter of our program is dedicated to that same extraordinary artist and his unique take on first-person vision; first with a pair of (very) short painted-on-celluloid works – the 38-second Rage Net and two-minute Black Ice – followed by a pair of contemporary homages to his work – THESSALONIKI, by yours truly and The Act of Seeing by Ultra Dogme contributor Arta Barzanji.

Finally, we step out of the cinema together, alongside Brakhage himself, filmed by his disciple and collaborator Phil Solomon, in what is not so much a film work per se, as a diary entry, a deeply touching remembrance: Stan Brakhage exits the cinema and enters the Light of Day – a nostalgia pang which cuts twice as deep since Solomon’s passing just 11 months ago.

And there you have it dear reader; the first day of our film festival, annotated and ready to watch. I hope you enjoy it and will join us again next Saturday.  

In solidarity,

PROGRAM 1 – From a Distance

TitleYearFilmmakerRuntime (min)Supplementary Material + Resources
La Chambre1972Chantal Akerman10Drink For… podcast
Blue Curtain2018Noah Rosenberg2Noah Rosenberg on ‘La Chambre’
This Castle Keep2016Gina Telaroli14Video Intervew with Telaroli
The Water Circle1975James Broughton3 
Glistening Thrills2013Jodie Mack8.5 
 III – take a tea break    
Two Cabins2010James Benning30Art Forum Interview + Photogenie Interview + a Manifesto
Fainting Spells2018Sky Hopinka10MUBI – TIFF wavelengths 2018
At Sea2007Peter Hutton59Thursday afternoon + James Benning remembers Peter Hutton
 IV – take a pee break    
Sorrows1969Gregory Markopoulos5.5Frame of Mind
Rage Net1988Stan Brakhage1 
Black Ice1994Stan Brakhage2 
The Act of Seeing2019Arta Barzanji2.5 
Stan Brakhage exits the cinema and enters the Light of Day2002Phil Solomon4 

Click here to download a social media sticker commemorating the festival!
(Special thanks to our editor Martin Bremer for making it!)

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Maximilien Luc Proctor (+MLP+) is a French-American filmmaker/musician/writer with a special interest in the avant-garde. He is a contributing editor for Photogénie, founder of Ultra Dogme, and social media manager of Fracto Experimental Film Encounter.

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