7 Great Experimental Short Films on Vimeo

by +MLP+

We’re all looking for something great to watch. Moving images which will actually move and challenge us: to be better viewers and better people. In the contemporary streaming hellscape, there is an overabundance of ‘stuff to watch’ and a dire lack of meaningful & engaging work. So to celebrate the launch of yet another tiresome streaming service, I wanted to focus some great viewing hiding in plain sight.
I’ve come to learn over the years that more than just another place to dump stuff so you can link it to your friends, Vimeo can be a real goldmine of experimental filmmaking. Whether working with digital or celluloid, most currently-working film artists host their films on the platform, albeit often hiding behind private and password-protected links. Today we’re taking a moment to celebrate a few of the artists & collectives who have left us full works out in the open to enjoy at our leisure (and for free, no less).

Zen Basketball by Mike Hoolboom (Super 8, 4 min, 2019)
Mike Hoolboom is a Canadian artist who has been making films for several decades. Recently he’s taken to re-editing old works and making them available on his Vimeo page. Soft photography, philosophical narration and basketball make this title a wonderfully simple pleasure. While Hoolboom’s website lists the film with a duration 20 seconds longer than what we see here (and a 2020 release), I think it’s safe to assume this recent upload strongly resembles the finished film.

Glistening Thrills by Jodie Mack (16mm, 8 min, 2013)
All the colors of the rainbow shine and shimmer in this brilliant, meditative and soul-healing short. A perfect pairing for the images, the otherworldly soundtrack by Elliot Cole is splendid. London-born Jodie Mack studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and works almost exclusively on 16mm film, ever-focused on tapestries of patterns lifted from man-made objects and re-contextualized by nature and speedy, rhythmic repetitions. Simple objects become powerful actors.

Chimera by Philip Hoffman (Super 8 & 16mm, 15 min, 1996)
A journey of smeared vision and frantic energy, Chimera is like a mix styles somewhere between Teo Hernandez & Jonas Mekas. And per Hoffman’s own description, it was shot “between 1989 and 1992 in Leningrad, London, Egypt, Helsinki, Sydney and Uluru,” – extensive travels for only 15 minutes. (The same vimeo channel also features an excerpt from David Gatten’s fantastic film, Hardwood Process).

UNDERGROWTH by Robert Todd (16mm, 12 min, 2011)
For 12 minutes, we inhabit the phenomenological field of an owl, as it simply observes. Serenity gives way to taunt absorption through editing which weaves its subjects together. Tactile, studied, cautious.
Sadly, Todd is only one of three artists on this list who passed away in 2018. Notes, video links and extensive information about his filmography can by found on his website.

Light Work I by Jennifer Reeves (16mm/HDCAM, 8 minutes, 2006)
This film cannot be embedded. Thankfully though, as with every film on this list, by simply clicking the title above you can view it in its entirety on Vimeo. (Hopefully you are doing this anyway, because watching any of these embedded is a far cry from how they are meant to be experienced, but they can be used to give a taste of the film and thus guide decision-making about which ones to devote your time to.)
I first came across the work of Jennifer Reeves in the book Zelluloid, Film ohne Kamera/Cameraless Film, a beautiful book published by Schirn Kunsthale Frankfurt to commemorate an exhibit of the same name. Reeves takes cues from all of the greats in service of forging distinctive textures of her own. Organic, radically colorful, urgent.
From Reeves’ description, “Educational films (depicting factory assembly lines, X-rays, scientific experiments, etc.) are sewn together on a sewing machine, and covered with melted down pharmaceuticals affixed to the film.”

Light Work I

A Mystery Inside of a Fact by Jonathan Schwartz (16mm, 16 min, 2016)
A man approaches the camera through a lilac-tinted fog. Later he is rowing down a river. We are almost certainly in India. Images of mosquitoes, elephants and the peace of the forest are juxtaposed with honking horns and the description of animal suffering on the soundtrack. Documentary scenes of the city streets. Slow dancing. A certified poem.
Schwartz passed away in 2018.

PULSARS E QUASARS by Paul Clipson (Super 8, 5 min, 2014)
Thanks to his collaboration with countless musicians, the films of Paul Clipson often play like music videos, though the intensity of the images remains whether you leave the music on or not. By working in this style, he granted his films a unique air in either context: pushing images further than music videos dare to go & daring to synchronize pop music to his films. Vibrant, lively, touching.
Clipson passed away in 2018.

If you’re still hungry for 21st century digitized content, then as a bonus round here are three medium-length experimental films which will take a little longer to watch:

REICHSTAG 9/11 by Ken Jacobs (digital, 38 min, 2016)
A grandfather of the field, Ken Jacobs has taught, written about, and created experimental films for decades. He’s influenced contemporaries like Bill Morrison, and continues to release new work. Reichstag 9/11 sees him datamoshing and glitching footage from September 11, and it is both harrowing and distant.

WHITE HEART by Dan Barnett (16mm, 53min, 1975)
A new 4K master that was released last year, it’s amazing that this title now available to watch for free on Vimeo. This release was brought to my attention by Michael Sicinski’s Patreon.

L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski (35 & 70mm, 66min, 1982)
L’Ange is a masterwork of the genre. Bokanowski plays with motion in every conceivable way for an hour while we watch in disbelief. David Lynch took a few notes from L’Ange in terms of representing motion in Season three of Twin Peaks. While this one’s not free to watch in its entireity, you can rent or purchase it digitally from the good folks at Re:Voir. They’re doing great work. Watch the trailer below:

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