Open City Documentary Festival

Open City Documentary Festival 2018 – Focus: Art & Architecture

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Matt Turner examines films in the festival programme investigating art, architecture and philosophy.

Having screened such films as Non-Place/Other Space (Linda Chiu-han Lai, 2009), Utopia London (Tom Cordell, 2011), Art Must be Beautiful (Marina Abramovic. 2011) and Estate, a Reverie (Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2014) in recent years, amongst others, Open City Documentary Festival has a legacy of showcasing films about art and architecture. This year’s programme includes a number of films that continue this tradition, albeit in unorthodox ways.

Several works in this year’s programme engage with architecture, disrupting the ways in which we look at the built environment. Two mid-length films playing together examine the ghostly qualities that deserted spaces and structures can take on, and the reasons (spatial and visual, but also historical and cultural) behind this occurrence. Edward Lawrenson and Killian Doherty’s intelligent Uppland probes into the colonial legacies of a mine in Liberia, once thriving but now abandoned; and Ivan Ramljak’s elegant Home of the Resistance looks at a memorial for communist youth situated in Kumrovec, Croatia, exploring the changing meanings that it the site has contained as the years have passed.

More unusual still, speculative architect Liam Young, acting under his Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today’ mantle, will explore points of intersection between architecture and digital technologies through his new ‘Hello, City project, unravelling the “autonomous infrastructures, ghost architectures, anomalies, glitches, and sprites” that underpin the modern city. The architecture focused short films that follow Young’s performance propose alternate ways of viewing (and thinking about) built environments. Also, taking these ideas further, in Film in Place, a panel of artists and filmmakers will discuss “visualising space, documenting landscapes and crafting temporal explorations of place.”

Elsewhere, two films that perhaps fit most neatly into the (ever widening) mould of ‘artists’ moving image’ are Aminatou Echard’s Jamilia and Luise Donschen’s Casanova Gene. Both feature a tableaux format, switching between settings and scenes to show a variety of arresting imagery; and both are filmed beautifully on film – strikingly unsynced sound super 8 in Djamilia, and lucious, textural 16mm in Casanova Gene. Both too are essayistic. Donschen investigates—through fiction, documentary, interview and performancethe myriad meanings behind desire; whilst Echard explores the stories of various Kyrgyz women, situating them against national histories and traditions.

Less an artists’ film than a film about art itself, Barbara Visser’s The End of Fear explores the extreme responses that art can provoke. Barnett Newman’s “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” was an abstract painting that was destroyed twice, first by a vandal and then by those responsible for restoring it. In her expansive, intelligent film, Visser attempts to understand why this (or any) artwork should produce such intense reactions, and how that might be intertwined with the means of production itself: in the negotiation of authorship and ownership that can occur between ideation and execution during an object’s creation, and in the politics behind the purchase, presentation and restoration of the completed piece. Her search proves scintillating.

Similarly searching, Emma Davie and Peter Mettler’s Becoming Animal surrounds philosophy – positing a number of large ideas through the idiosyncratic and discursive perspective of its central character, cultural ecologist David Abram. Amongst many other things, this visually resplendent, intellectually expansive film asks what it means to be a human on this planet, and how we mediate our relationship with nature, with technology, and with each other. The answers it provides about how we might do these things better are a different sort of artistic practice: the art of being a person (or animal) on this planet, the art of living.