The Experimental Nature of the 19th Jihlava IDFF

American journalist Daniel Walber offers his perspective of the section at the 19th Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival

Listen to the Horizon (A. Kryvenko, 2015)

Cinema is perhaps the ultimate technological art form. Mechanical reproduction made it possible, and new inventions had a crucial role in its development over the last century. Now it is both challenged by the digitally initiated decline in celluloid and invigorated by everything from iPhone cameras to motion-capture and computer generated images. Cinema is as closely connected with technology as it has ever been.

It is then all the more intriguing that so many of the Czech experimental films recently showcased by the Jihlava IDFF take the natural world as both subject and style. While they don’t necessarily resist either digital or celluloid technologies, they incorporate them into an organic milieu. After all, nature is perhaps the only thing that expresses time as profoundly as cinema.

Some of the films are artistic manifestations of that exact observation. Michal Kindernay uses the graphic representations of a study of daylight and plant movement as the raw material of Heliophilia #7. Blue color swatches slowly parade across the screen, like a technologically processed sky. Kindernay then moves to more dynamic plant charts that vaguely resemble green curtains, rising and sagging with the sun. The overall effect is hypnotic. It’s an artistic representation of time built almost entirely from the products of scientific analysis.

Time-lapse is also key to Kryštof Strejc’s Before the Interception, a haunting exploration of decay that borders on science fiction. He shows mushrooms growing and dying, slowly but irresistibly. The titular interception arrives in the form of haunting human figures who silently arrive midway through the film. This is an experimental monster movie in which it’s unclear who exactly are the monsters, the people or the toadstools. The vibe is somewhere between René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Ishiro Honda’s Attack of the Mushroom People, but with no simple resolution. Rather, the only certainty presented by Strejc is the ineluctability of natural decay.

Biotop (A. Kudlová, 2015)

The images of nature, then, can be manipulated to suggest much greater phenomena than the simple swaying of plants or the growth of fungus. Adéla Kudlová uses fauna as a cinematic weapon in Biotop, an experiment with Google Earth. The film begins as a brief virtual tour of the world’s urban spaces. Quickly, though, these city streets are trampled by deer. Digital distortion allows them to step over the landscapes of elevated trains and shiny new buildings. Eventually they themselves become distorted, with some of the backdrop shining through. This meticulously photographed virtual universe turns to chaos, as these charismatic creatures can use technology to reclaim spaces that were once virgin forests. If nature cannot survive in the terrestrial world, perhaps it shall colonize the digital.

Visual trickery also characterizers Petra Sklenařová’s Landscape. Through the use of miniatures, she takes the audience on a trip to remote forests and distant mountains. Matte photographs of nature’s grand vistas are given an added boost of realism by modest imitations of the elements. A match stands in for a campfire. The steam from an off-screen bathtub presents an illusion of fog. Smoke evokes the slopes of a volcano. She demonstrates the power of cinema to evoke nature, even when it may be transparently false.

Of course, the natural world can find its way into a film even without the aid of mountain backdrops or digital deer. Perhaps the most enigmatic work in the program, František Týmal’s Return of the Dinosaurs, uses the chemical etching of celluloid to create glowing abstractions. Yet within these pools of light is something organic and primordial. The constantly morphing green and blue shapes hearken back to the earliest days of life on earth, the single-cell organisms of an ecosystem before time. Some moments even suggest scales or claws, as if predicting the eventual evolution of dinosaurs. Týmal’s brilliant accomplishment is the representation of teeming life without a single image of organic material.

Landscape (P. Sklenářová, 2015)

Yet perhaps the greatest triumph of the programme is that of Anna Kryvenko, who locates the movement of the natural world not in the processes of science, but in human history. Listen to the Horizon, which won Jihlava’s prize for Best Czech Experimental Film, is a found footage distillation of political change and violent conflict.

With the magic of editing, she combines large rallies gathered from across the 20th century and positions them in awe of the same solar eclipse. Through superimposition, she suggests that the vast movements of crowds and armies are like the hot, irresistible flow of lava. As her images shift toward mass transit and mechanized warfare, her suggestions remain predominantly natural. Rocketfire is matched to rain, violent destruction becoming a tremendous storm. The tempests of human history, collective and violent, leave little life in their wake.

And so Listen to the Horizon is probably the most aggressive of these films in its grafting of nature’s movements onto its subject matter. But all of them, in one way or another, use the flow and the logic of the natural world to achieve their artistic goals. This is particularly fascinating given that none of them, save perhaps for Biotop, have an explicitly environmentalist message. Climate change might be the most significant international political issue of our time, and it will only get more urgent. Yet here are a group of Czech experimental films, bound together by their artistic use of nature, that do not explicitly make an effort to join this fight.

Perhaps, then, they can predict something about the artistic art of the 21st century. The growing awareness of environmental issues does not have to be an exclusively political or scientific phenomenon. In the way that nearly every work of art of the 20th century can be seen through the lens of its grand political ideologies, perhaps the art of our new century will be touched by an intimate awareness of the natural world. If that’s true, and if the these experimental films are any indication of quality, it will certainly be a fascinating ride.

more articles from a section:  Theme

1.20There’s more than one feminismA reflection on women documentarians inspired by Barbora Baronová’s book Women on WomenMartin Šrajer
1+2.19Emerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will Tizard Through Eyes of American Journalist Daniel WalberAmerican freelance critic Daniel Walber focuses on a bunch of Czech experimental movies which were screened at the 21st Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Fascinations: section.Daniel Walber
2.17Why Series SuckCritical essay about the phenomenon Quality TVHanjo Berressem, Nadine Boljkovac
1.17Haptic/Visual Identities – A project between art and researchAgata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio about their haptic camerasAgata Mergler, Cristian Villavicencio
4.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F5.16Winners of the jubilee 20th edition of Jihlava IDFFComments on the winners of 20th Jihlava IDFF by the festival editorial teamTereza Hadravová, Veronika Jančová, Kateřina Šardická, Janis Prášil
F3.16Ji.hlava ManifestoWatch Ji.hlava Manifesto online
4.16Transparent Landscape: TurkeyComing to terms with the past, the clash of cultures, and intellectual reflections on everyday life – just three aspects of a country larger than Ukraine and as unknown as the OrientTomáš Doruška, Âkile Nazlı Kaya
4.16The Russian Avant-GardeThe pioneer of the moving image – Dziga Vertov – and other significant figures of the Russian interwar avant-garde explore not only Soviet society, but, even more importantly, art and the nature of the medium of mediaBriana Čechová

starší články

27. 06. 2016

from current issue:

Situational reviewCaught in the Net should really be on the net if it’s going to change anythingDiscussion about the new film by Vít Klusák a Barbora Chalupová Caught in the NetKamila BoháčkováSituational reviewWill our civilisation negotiate this turn?American documentarian Jeff Gibbs’ activist film Planet of the Humans, which criticises the way we treat renewable energy sources, has evoked numerous controversial reactions. It’s no surprise that the producer is well-known filmmaker Michael Moore, who released the film freely on YouTube on Earth Day, when the worldwide corona virus pandemic was at its peak.Kamila BoháčkováNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseSun of the Living DeadAnna Kryvenko on the loss of compassion in the post-factual age, the battle with the chaos and hostility of the universe, and how to create a documentary essay from archive materials.Anna KryvenkoNew releaseThe story of a small provincial townNovice Russian director Dmitrij Bogoljubov tells dok.revue about the circumstances surrounding the origin of his new film Town of Glory, a co-production with Czech production company Hypermarket Film and Czech Television. The film uncovers the mentality of Yelnya, a provincial Russian town that is one of the most depressing in the country and where the legacy of the Great Patriotic War still lingers – something Putin’s establishment has successfully exploited to gain the support of the local citizens. The film was available to stream for a short time in March on the portal DAFilms as a part of the festival One World Online. This fall it will be shown on Czech Television and possibly in cinemas as well.Dmitrij BogoljubovThemeThere’s more than one feminismA reflection on women documentarians inspired by Barbora Baronová’s book Women on WomenMartin ŠrajerTheoryBiopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real We publish here the essay by one of the most prominent minds in film today, Timothy Corrigan, who presented his essay “Biopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real” at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in fall 2019 as a part of his lecture for students in the festival’s educational module Media and Documentary.Tereza Hadravová, Timothy CorriganInterviewWe have to start with ourselves, or nothing will changeAn interview with Macedonian documentarians Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevská, creators of the film Honeyland.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewNone of the big streaming platforms are buying documentaries now because people are so scared in their personal lives Challenges for the film industry and festivals in the age of the coronavirusRadim ProcházkaIntroductionWhen local is universaldok.revue 1.20Kamila Boháčková