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„Eine ganze Welt öffnet sich diesem Erstaunen, dieser Bewunderung, Erkenntnis, Liebe und wird vom Blick aufgesogen.“ (Jean Epstein)

Alternative Film/Video Belgrade: Holes Exist in Every Single Tree

In the stretch of a year, a lot may happen. Alliances may form, break or be reconciled. What deserves acknowledgment is the importance of continuity and labour. Taking the time, or reserving the time TO MEET WITH FRIENDS AT THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME PLACE, year in year out, is something I yet need to undergo, but my return to the Balkans this autumn/winter transposed this truth and I am very lucky to be able to make the time for such gatherings. Where in November I stopped by at Pravo Ljudski in Sarajevo, this month I revisited Alternative Film/Video Belgrade (7-11 December 2016).

Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade

Yugoslav anti-film revealed itself to me during last year’s 25 FPS, in Zagreb. An interest initiated. Soon after I was to be taught by Boris Poljak, who at some point took me from Sarajevo to Split, during which he shared several anecdotes concerning his main teacher and friend Ivan Martinac, who was responsible for filling generations of filmers with mountains of cine-enthusiasm. Autumn 2015. Leaves changing colours. Followed by a hot cocoa with Vjekoslav Nakić, someone else who played a major role in this history. With similar vigor, he inspirited me because of his animated and humble personae. These are just a couple of events that inclined me to return to the Balkans. And to keep returning, since this year Petra Belc, a friend and scholar, was there to present an excavated selection of women’s experimental film made in former Yugoslavia.

But let’s most certainly not underestimate the time-related privilege that comes with this endeavor. As Yoana Pavlova contested on Twitter:

‘’Once you pop up at any festival w/ a baby stroller, it gets much more complicated. One shouldn’t omit the fact that festivals require physical availability + certain existential choices from both men & women… And this is where the problems start, as women are supposed to be happy to make the same choices as men, only it’s > complex’’

And therefore the ability to build a relationship with a festival and its visitors is not possible for everyone, let alone with a location-specific art movement. When I meet someone who has uninterruptedly frequented a foreign festival in the course of nine or ten years, nine times out of ten it is a white man. Worth noting is that it often also includes more than just a single event, but several spread out over the globe. There shouldn’t be exceptions to this rule.

Writing p(l)ainly about moments that leave unmistakable imprints on the way one deals with life, is not easy but much needed. As I ponder about Alternative Film/Video, I’m calling to mind… Vlada Petrić, founder of the Harvard Film Archive, approaching and talking to Eve Heller with a childlike blink. Together with Petra (Belc) I’m attending this split-second (in a history) and suddenly cinema changes a bit. How? Why? I honestly don’t know, but it felt as if a cog moved, triggering a change elsewhere as part of a grander scheme of things.

What is the difference of describing this in either a couple of words or a couple of books? A film festival as impressive as this cannot be fully described. You go there, of course never knowing what it will become, and it ends up talking and activating one’s faith.

Sudden thought: ‘’…(moving) images here, (moving) images there… but true preservation happens not everywhere…’’

I arrived relatively late to the party, but arguably at the best possible moment: just in time for Sebestyén Kodolányi’s presentation. A fierce archivist and educator / an educator who works in archiving / an archivist who wholeheartedly educates. Delivering something that cracked open, invigorated, and crushed our notions of how to cut through unnecessary tendencies and cycles of self-validating curatorship. Or: programming. To program one’s flow of thought.

It was the kind of get-together where we happen to make notes of the following sort: ‘’with [this or that person] you are not being put in the mode of giving compliments. But rather: to talk in order to burn the bullshit together. To pursue this as both receiver and sender, or what is left of this dichotomy.’’

Giving films their ‘’much-needed portion of attention’’ is right but also extremely problematic. Since ninety percent of the films we get to see, especially through festival screenings, already passed through more eyes than we can imagine (also because this is never de-mystified or questioned, since festival selections need to appear as novel discoveries, instead of films that made a long and difficult journey before arriving in front of the public). Though, once again, Alternative Film/Video is singular in this stance because it presents to us moving images that are, if not picked by someone after the festival, immediately gone, that is: if not viewed with the attention that is required to fully notice it. And to be able to see in a festival works that will, though just in few occasions, only have a lifespan as long as a single screening, is actually something that needs to be lauded. It takes bravery and guts to show something that is, due to several reasons unknown to us as well as the programmers, bound to slip into forgetfulness.

Now, if I would have to describe one film, which one would it be? Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy is the one that still occupies my mind. Bearing resemblance to Ismaïl Bahri’s Foyer (2016), it poses: “What do we think we see?” And both are films shot in the Middle East with lenses that are intentionally obscured. But that is where the similarities end. Enfin: to take a camera to somewhere foreign is easy for us Westerners. We put it up and we can start recording. But what then? Do we see anything when we see something “in vivid detail?” Or is it more specific to any given situation? So that an extremely blurred image might disclose just as great an insight as the aforementioned? There’s a pinhole camera. There is also a desert. People are curious. The camera doesn’t care but slowly starts to capture images more clearly. Until there is the arrival of a train. You feel fearful but then the camera keeps spinning in 360 degrees as the train doesn’t seem to have a tail. L’arrivée d’un train en gare but none of the bystanders seem to care. And perhaps they have a point.

Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy
Foyer (2016) by Ismaïl Bahri

The final screening ends. I turn my head to the right and there appears Vlada Petrić. We are the only two who remained seated until the very end of the festival, my twenties just started, he will soon turn ninety. I look down to see what I scribbled down in my notebook during the films, and it is only because of its repetition – pardon my horrific handwriting – that I vaguely manage to discern:

All I demand is Enthusiasm…
All I demand is Enthusia…
All I demand is Enthus…
All I demand is En…
All I demand i…
All I dema…
All I d…
All I…


Raw Material (2015) by Jean-François Reverdy
Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade