Dear friends and filmmakers, guests, women, men, artists, writers, thinkers, curators, panelists, respondents, activists and passivists, or whoever - welcome in Berlin!
My name is Heinz Emigholz, I've been making films, writings and drawings since the beginning of the ‘70s. I lived in Hamburg and NYC for a long time, and I am currently based in Berlin because I got a teaching job here at the University of the Arts which I will conclude with the documentation of this THINK:FILM event in April 2013. Together with Stefanie Schulte Strathaus from ARSENAL - INSTITUT FOR FILM AND VIDEO ART and others I am one of the organizers of this congress. We want to thank the ACADEMY OF THE ARTS BERLIN for inviting us to this lovely building, which will be our home for these five days.
As we all know by now, this congress had two forerunners that took place in Toronto, Canada in 1989 and 2010. The slightly different names of these two events, EXPERIMENTAL FILM CONGRESS and EXPERIMENTAL MEDIA CONGRESS, together with the current one, EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA CONGRESS, give a hint to the different agendas of all three congresses that reflect the enormous changes of paradigms (deims) and techniques and theoretical and practical approaches within the media of the "moving image" that has taken place in the last 25 years. "Film as Film" has definitely lost its status as a "leading media" or its claim to be the media for a "Gesamtkunstwerk" in this digital age. And this is true for mainstream productions as well as for marginal, artistically used formats - "experimental, avant-garde, independent, underground, transgressive" or whatever you call them. Whether this is good or bad can be discussed, but you cannot avoid the fact. "Film" has lost its glamour, but the "moving image" has not!
Our decision in this situation was a rather sharp one. Instead of organizing another festival or a showcase to screen the broadest range of works in those fields and formats from wherever they have been produced, OR showing examples of the most advanced use of the possibilities the new media have to offer, OR featuring new works of self-reflecting, self-analyzing media products (which for a long time was one of the strong points of the western avant-garde), we would like to say "Stop and Pause!" Let us go back and think about something that might be hidden in the unknown realms of the obvious. Let us think about the motives and the reasons and the necessities for the kind of cinematic practices we are involved in. Inhaling, consuming and producing "moving images" became an integral part of thinking, communicating and society forming and building, for each of us. So what is the wider context or the basis of our special cinematic activities? Do we want to remain in happy self-inflicted castration on the more or less subsidized and tolerated, non-binding, duty-free playing ground for visual macramé - that being the role for us reserved in the mind of a deprecating society of the spectacle? Or do we actually have something to say that deals with the core of that society and our lives and experiences in it? And with "say" I mean making "moving images" that cannot be talked away, that deal with and are issues and a practice of a new kind of thinking that becomes a new and necessary language dealing with reality or realities.
So, the focus point of this congress is NOT a "Leistungsschau" (a kind of "industrial exhibition", a term used by our mayor for an art exhibition that took place last year). It is NOT a general overview where certain works are presented with a sense of hierarchy (usually related to a real or imagined market-value, and everybody whose work is not included would have the right to protest). It is NOT a presentation of a certain "genre" that is defined or has to be defined and find a place or fight for a place for itself within a spectrum of other genres. That would just be a manifestation or a defence of a petty bourgeois movement praising all its small industries - from as-if-productions of artwork and theory to journalism, from theory embedding to submissive dependency on theory, from university tenure to curating jobs - including the usual quarrels about festival and art politics and funding problems. And it is NOT the prolongation of the years-old and rather boring discussion about "Art and or versus Film", respectively "Cinema and or versus Museum/Gallery", "dirty video" versus "DCP" – formerly known as "analogue" versus "digital" – and so on and on and on. We can now take these discussions for granted and leave them alone for a while.
In contrast to that, we decided to try out a rather special endeavour and build and discuss a wider and at the same time more specific context for cinematic practices - a context that often suffered from the limitations that a general over-view-approach generates. Let us go back for a change to the roots of our activities, and that is the very special relationship of moving images and their sound to the realities they depict and record, and to the relationship and bonds these little containers of time build with the audience in the act of seeing and hearing, thinking and feeling. That there are films that equal thinking in their production and evoke thinking by viewing them, and that there are others that obstruct thinking and promote regression, is a fact we have to deal with. Where does advanced thinking and film come together, historically and at present? We hope the concentration on one central issue instead of dealing with a lot of possible ones is productive. A fourth congress will probably prefer a totally different agenda. We are looking forward to that.
The decision not to organize a festival (with ongoing or even parallel screenings, presentations, installations and exhibitions) was not welcomed or understood in all corners of our community (if there is one). I hope my statements here cleared or will clear the situation. The films and excerpts of films that will be shown in front of or during our panels do not represent a cross-section or are not meant to be the most outstanding works in their fields. They form examples in our context, and they even might be treated shabbily, because we did not really create the space for them in which they could speak for themselves (which would be the old "claim" of the avant-garde). No, no, let's talk, as long as we are here together, and not only sit and watch something together and than leave without a word. Frankly, I know hundreds of other films and videos that could perform the role of catalysts for our discussions, the hierarchy hangs rather low here. But on the other hand there always was a reason to include a certain work or parts of it. It related in a special way to the chosen panel.
So, let me finally talk in positive terms about how we proceeded. We knew that we would have only four days for the event. We excluded parallel events to allow a linear attendance to all panels and a debate that could relate to and build on the preceding panels. So there was only time for fourteen different ones. After comprehensive discussions we boiled down the issues to the topics you can find now in the announcements for the panels.
We will record all panels and discussions on video and audio for a documentation of the congress. That will be a book, a DVD and a website, in English and German (other translations are welcomed) hopefully published in Spring 2013. There are facilities and a team to record statements and interviews on the other side of the lounge room that could deepen or reach beyond that what has been discussed at the panels. We invite every participant to make use of this possibility. Results will be included in the publication.
We all came here with a set of expectations, and they, of course, will be, I would reckon, to a certain degree disappointed - but: Let's make something out of it. Adults have to endure the truth, which in this case, is the truth of a "difficult situation". What is the situation? The issues at stake are quite fluid and not defined. The so called "experimental-avant-garde-independent-underground-or-whatever-film" is definitely in a critical state, although it is blossoming in some parts of the world and although it was to a certain degree depressingly successful with its forms. Let me explain this:
Peggy Gale mentioned in her introduction to "An Open Field: Experimental Media" that "media works and issues are no longer marginal; the arts are increasingly professionalized and welcome in academic circles, and commercial opportunities are not uncommon. 'Underground' is an antique term."
I asked David Marc whether he sees some relationships between the rise of a sharp and advanced storytelling in TV series like BREAKING BAD, OZ and THE WIRE - something I would call "experimental epic" - and experimental or underground film works. His dry and down to earth answer was: "My view of 'epic' is based on the assumption that the concerns of culture achieve currency before individuals express themselves on those concerns. Of course, the media that artists choose for their expressions affect the character and the reception of what they have to say, and that happens in ways that artists don't always expect. For example, I can't help but think of Stan Brakage (an 'epic' experimental film maker if there ever was one) when I watch commercials on television. It's probably not what he had in mind when he made THE WEIR FALCON SAGA." Forms can be stripped of their content and beauty of its meaning in a future use. It's all up to context and interpretation.
The "art world" has, to my belief and as far as my experience goes, little to offer filmmakers - except for "fame and honours". It is a pretty unproductive sphere in comparison to the realities of a film production. It deals too much with representing and it seems to be, despite its public hype, even in worse shape then film. There is no art history of film, there is very little serious research on that field, and the so called "political" in the re(a)lms of art is again only a symbolic act begging desperately for interpretation. That love is in vain.
Some urgent questions remain: What do cinematic activities that reach beyond genres have to offer the world? Should they have something to offer and whom? Who is talking where to whom? Which sense does it make? What is it about? Should it be "about" something, or is that not allowed as in "the aims should rest in themselves"? Is it a necessity to make these films or is it just play? And if so, why? Can one maintain one's innocence through self-inflicted castration and belittlement?
For me the question of cinematography is in the cent of all activities (performed in whichever technique, analogue or digital), and that is too rarely discussed in a context where illustrating theories and showcasing attitudes and provocations are "de rigeur". What is actually said by the picture and not in the picture via dialogue or about the picture? Does the loss of a composed image (for example, in the so called "social media" or some forms of documentarism) make the role of the artist and his or her work obsolete? Is he condemned to become an on-going agent provocateur, something like a social engineer who is good in manipulating the media, a moderator, a stand-up comedian, an anchor man or woman, and at the end a full-time society clown, who is asked for his political opinions by some journalists because he reached his fifteen minutes of fame by whatever means? The olymp is already full of types like these.
I did not attend the preceding two congresses in Toronto, just heard about them. My last attendance of an endeavour of this sort was the "Festival of Independent Avant-garde Film" in London, September 1973, where my film SCHENEC-TADY premiered. That was the peak of the "New American Cinema" and its influence in the western European avant-garde scene. Although there existed strong work from European filmmakers, the undeniable glamour rested on the American scene and shoulders. I loved the work of Kurt Kren and I think I saw Michael Snow's LA REGION CENTRALE there for the first time. There was only informal talk. Pop groups like THE WHO invited us to parties and put LSD in our drinks. These times are definitely over. But still it is rare, as a filmmaker, to be able to talk and discuss issues freely without the stress of a festival where one has to screen, discuss and defend one's work (which really can be a distraction) and thus has little time to look around and be curious about what other people have on their minds.
And after all is said and done, it will be better, of course, watching the films, instead of talking about them, "seeing how the film looks, how it moves, how it uses colour, light, editing, space, territory, and time itself" (as Jerry White put it). And that is what we are going to do in half an hour with the rare 35mm print of Isidore Isou's film TRAITÉ DE BAVE ET D'ÉTERNITÉ from 1951.
Thank you very much.