MIFF Focus: Vertical Cinema

Words By Garry Westmore
August 14, 2015
What started out as a novel idea brought about by the limitations of a venue, has now snowballed into a serious showcase for experimental filmmakers. And now Vertical Cinema makes it first Australian appearance for the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Upon being told about the concept, Joost Rekveld, whose film #43 makes up one tenth of the films appearing inVertical Cinema, admits his initial reaction was one of laughter. “ I wasn’t there when they had it, but the original idea came from Sonic Acts, a team of curators and artists, and they were invited to do a series in Austria. The main festival venue was a church, and they told me afterwards that the first they thought was “it’s really difficult getting in a screen [horizontally]…”” And the rest, as they say, is history.

When Rekveld was invited to create something for the project, he knew that it wouldn’t simply be a matter of “making something and turning it around ninety degrees” he laughs. “My first reaction was, “how can I do something where the format itself really plays a role?””

The resulting answer is #43, a ten-minute experimental film full of hypnotic patterns and forms that seem to embody the process of life itself, as images of what appear to be stars, grow and merge like nucleuses. But what one person sees and interprets may very well differ to what the person next to them might – but almost certainly there’s something fundamentally universal about the patterns and images employed by Rekveld, perhaps because we see similar patterns throughout our world.

“When you see nucleuses and growing processes, that’s the model you’re seeing – it’s describing how nerve pulses propagate through tissue, and those patterns have a lot of similarities with how colonies grow, so I’m interested in how to use process as an analogy for another [process]. On a visual level I found it fascinating how we have a non-verbal understanding of these processes, because we’ve seen these things: we’ve seen films of how cells divide, and it’s interesting how these non-verbal things can teach us something, and give us a different view on processes we know.”

That fascination has been an ongoing one, with models, formulas and systems having featured in many of his past works: the Dutch artist’s website stating that he ‘explores the sensory consequences of systems of his own design, often inspired by forgotten corners in the history of science and technology’.

“I am interested in biological systems and I also get a lot of inspiration from science, so [for #43] I took one simplified mathematical model and used it to create the images, so what I’m exploring is the visual language of that model.”

That’s not to say however, that these ‘sensory consequences’ always go to plan when implemented visually. In fact sometimes the imagery doesn’t quite work…

“It happens quite often!” laughs Rekveld. “The systems have their own logic,” he explains. “It feels a lot like gardening, you plant things and build the fences, but in the end you’re not doing the work.”

It’s an interesting analogy, and one that makes perfect sense when watching a work of Rekveld’s like #43. But it is worth noting Rekveld’s isn’t the only work appearing, and all filmmakers/artists involved have interpreted the monolith-like vertical screen their own way. For Rekveld, who has projected works in 35mm horizontally before, the size of the screen wasn’t so much a concern as the orientation of it. “I kept thinking of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey,” he says. “I think that was also inspiration for other filmmakers, but for me the a concern I had to really think about was speed. I chose a slow speed which I think compliments the screen.”

And though he thinks that cinema isn’t in any ‘crisis’ as such, he and experimental filmmakers like himself take serious pride in the project and format. The act of bringing out a modified 35mm projector to Melbourne for Vertical Cinema might logistically sound like madness, or, an unnecessary cost – but it just goes to show says Rekveld, that there’s life in film projection yet. “We see projection cinema kind of disappearing,” he says. “So [Vertical Cinema] is how we can contribute, and it’s a reminder that not all possibilities have been exhausted.”

Rekveld’s #43 appears alongside nine other films to form ‘Vertical Cinema’, and your only two chances to see it as part of MIFF 2015 is tonight, 6:30pm and 9pm. Head here for tickets.

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