UDVFF Special Stream #3: Coming Into Focus

We will be live-streaming our third special UDVFF program this Friday, February 4th at 8pm Berlin Time (Central European Time). It will remain online for 48 hours.

Live Stream:

Preview Clip:


curated by Maximilien Luc Proctor

PROGRAM NOTES

‘Coming Into Focus’ was born from my interest in its final film: Erde im Mund (2020) by Ewelina Rosińska. Thus in my notes I aim to start and end at the beginning. If Rosińska’s name rings a bell, perhaps you recognize her name from the credits of Julian Radlmaier’s Bloodsuckers (2021), where she worked as Assistant Director. Rosińska and Radlmaier both attended the DFFB, where the former shot Erde im Mund as a project for Ute Aurand’s Bolex Atelier. While knowing that information beforehand might have one primed for similarities to Aurand’s own work, Erde im Mund stands proudly on its own two feet in three different countries, chronicling Rosinska’s time in her home country (Poland), in the country she now calls home (Germany), and a third country where she has built yet another home over the years (Portugal). 

The middle film is Movement and Stillness (2015) by James Edmonds, another immigrant to Germany, who arrived from the UK. Also based in Berlin, Edmonds has been steadily building a body of work over the years that has earned him well-deserved praise in avant-garde circles. He has also worked on the restoration of Gregory Markopoulos’ Eniaios. While Movement and Stillness is a relatively early work from Edmonds (and infrequently screened), in a sense it conveys the essentials of his practice; an intricate in-camera edit which plays with light, isolation, being human—and yes those two key elements mentioned in its title as well.

Edmonds says of the film:
Movement and Stillness stems from a period of lostness, a time when I was living partly at my parents in rural Sussex (in England) around 2012. That’s where the sudden impetus for the film came from – I was reading and I looked out the window to the sheets drying on the washing line, the first shot we see. I then continued to observe the house and its surroundings slowly over time, through these calm moments of clarity, almost documenting my mental state as I began to slowly ground myself again, just moments when these images would appear to me, not seeking them out. It then flows into a visit to Austria at Christmas time before heading back towards Berlin, and continues moving freely between these two locations, two different rooms I was renting in London at different times, plus there’s a brief excursion to Istanbul in the middle somewhere. Some locations are just one or two shots (the botanical gardens in Wien, or the top of a mountain in Steiermark). But the main locations repeat several times as I travel around at different times of the year, up until 2014. All the shots remain in the chronology of filming, aside from the very last section, which brings us back full circle to my parents house again, which was originally on the end of the first reel.”

Our program’s opening title Rhythm Trail (2010-11) is also an early work of sorts, made prior to Malena Szlam’s wider recognition as a filmmaker which came with her 2018 film Altiplano.

Szlam “sees [Rhythm Trail] as an open book of formative years when I began working on moving images using analog technology,” as up until then she was primarily “working in installations and still 35mm photography, already experimenting with the transition from stillness to [movement]. Rhythm Trail is a compilation of in-camera edited ‘chapters’, some filmed in Chile and others in Canada, my two homes. I immigrated to Canada in 2006 and since then Southern and Northern Hemispheres are an axis in my life. Some of this footage was used on an installation piece titled Through the Margin of Mirrors.”

In a sense, all three films in this program are ‘early works’, and strong ones. The trajectory of the program is one of gradually bringing our field of vision into focus. Beginning with Rhythm Trail, we’re subjected to a flurry of wooly orbs. The moon could almost be mistaken for a flashing coin at the bottom of a dark pool—a sequence Szlam cites as the inspiration for making Lunar Almanac (2013). At the film’s beginning, a focus on a single branch of red berries surrounded by torrents of earth-toned brush allows her to recreate the beginnings of our universe in micro. Szlam uses the near-indecipherability of the image to her utmost advantage, vaulting through a quickstep with Mother Nature, engulfing the final images in flame to show us the mystery that hides in a campfire.

Movement and Stillness, while also shot on Super 8, moves with more clarity; despite rapid edits, the camera is often steady in the hands. Tilts and pans are measured, despite the jittery nature of the format. Even when the edit ramps up into high gear, each frame maintains its photographic precision. Edmonds is briefly fixated on windows, and the outside light they let in. Here Rhythm Trail’s glowing plants are echoed in a shot of a chandelier. Edmonds whips in and out of crowds, confronting specific refractions of light in both peopled and intimate spaces. We end in the smoldering orange of the magic hour, and a dazzling visual pirouette into a final tranquil image of the filmmaker’s shadow. 

Erde im Mund begins with the comforting clanking of hooves. Not only has our image moved into the higher fidelity of 16mm, we are now basking in sound—until a scene of a filmed band practice is brilliantly rendered in silence (and black and white, which weaves throughout the mostly-color film seamlessly). Rosińska’s camera captures her travels in a diaristic mode, yet in place of a Mekasian frenzy we are treated to a more deliberate approach to movement, careful to present photographed reality wherein the montage produces new associations alongside movements of a higher velocity which only smear the image on occasion. The soundtrack moves in and out of complementary resonance, never working against the image but never perfectly synchronous either; a shot of fabrics is set to the sound of their previously being torn, a shot of an iron to the sound of its potential for steam emission, the pouring of champagne set to the sound of its bottle being opened. It’s a subtle play with temporality, and one which is carefully nested into a film about the endless playful possibilities of life. 

There is a common thread throughout these films in the approach to the camera and the edit, yet it is one I cannot entirely pin down in words. So too does this approach to the montage create a treasure trove of images which cannot all be retained in a single viewing. By leaving the program online for 48 hours, I hope that viewers will take the opportunity it affords for a second look, to understand the depth of what hides here in plain sight. 

MLP


Coming Into Focus

Rhythm Trail (2010-11) by Malena Szlam — 10min / Super 8 / Color / Silent / Canada
“An open-ended film composed of a series of Super 8mm sketches edited in-camera. These collected notes are traces of moments and places that reflect on the immediacy of sight.”

Movement and Stillness (2015) by James Edmonds — 11min / Super 8 / Color / Silent / UK
“Quiet observations, variations of light, from strong amber glows to diffused greys, intermittently entering the windows of an internal world. A film about coming home, archetypal images where the eternal meets the temporal. Calm reflection interspersed with travel and the endless search for significant forms, personal chapters of collage and remnants.”

Erde im Mund (2020) by Ewelina Rosińska — 20min / 16mm / Color + Black & White / Sound / Germany

“Like a photo book, the film creates new images and relationships between shots, reassembling a journey of impressions where the outlines of the world undulate. In a sensual sequence, images search freely for the stories that shape lives — faith, patriotism, anarchism, tourism in Poland and Germany, returns, arrivals, sketches of everyday life in Portugal, gestures and moments from Brazil and Greece.”

Total runtime: 41 minutes

This program was made possible through funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Department for Communities, Northern Ireland.

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