Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur 2023

A selection from the International, National, and Sparks Competitions

Texts by Călin Boto (CB) and Giuseppe Di Salvatore (GDS)

There’s a very brief moment in a boy’s life when he’s already experienced enough to fervently play-act machismo, but amateurishly so, making it seem more of a role than a dogma through his awkward, overthought interpretation. As a spectator – as well as a second-rate actor – I always wish for such a spectacle to fail, a line to be forgotten so as to overhear a reassuring boyish stammering. As such, unsurprisingly, I was greatly intrigued when watching four teenage OnlyFans models posing on a slide from a children's playground, however facile such a mise-en-scène might seem. 

In their quite academic, no-nonsense documentary about a sort of Texan brotherhood of teenage online “findoms” (financial dominators), filmmakers Faye Tsakas and Enrique Pedráza-Botero observe the interplay between the boys’ onscreen being-male and their off-screen coming-of-age. From the very first glimpse, their personas are fascinating to eyeball – and eventually worship – because they are images, faces of the fetish, incarnations of ordinary reality (they look nothing different from other boys their age) and sexual fantasy (the performance that forces reality into fulfilled desire). The taboo fetishes, even if dubbed as fantasies – sometimes almost religious – have much more to do with sexual realities: with a sense of risking realities through sexualities. Most of their clients seem to be older, rich men. 

These boys are the children of contradictions, self-made winners of a capitalism that is in itself contradictory: puritanical in principle, and hedonistic in action – as long as said action, as cinema has showed existing for decades, is conditioned by money as a narrative trope. 

However, Alpha Kings depicts a counter-narrative – the more money these boys are making (and it never seems enough), the more inactive their lives seems to become. Self-isolated in a physical and ideological enclave in the Republican suburbs of Texas, they never go farther away than just around the corner, smoking weed, eating junk food and, of course, working more and more – for easy money is addictive. There is a John Waters type of pleasure in watching them inhabiting the Texan suburbs, between Republican billboards, American flags, and people playing golf; the film works best when understood as a serious depiction of the causality between these two individualistic epochs. What has changed is that money lost its national identity and its ideological morals. Now it's just making and spending as a way of living in itself, no longer a trope but a self-consuming narrative. (CB)

Faye Tsakas, Enrique Pedráza-Botero | USA 2022 | 15’ | More Info

The story is slim: a man goes to a public bath using an old ticket. We’re in Japan and the ritual is popular, nothing special except to our Western eyes. The man is alone, his individual sphere remaining untouched yet constantly being touched by nothing more than possibilities of contact with other people. Atsushi Hirai succeeds in creating a subtle balance between introspection and sociality, probably so expressing a particular virtue of the Japanese institution of public bathing. Another subtle balance concerns the simple narrative line that is constantly cracked by nothing more than possibilities of side-stories. Oyu is made of hints and hors cadres, which open up towards social issues without abandoning the personal focus on the protagonist. In between there is a space where respect and care overlap. Respect and care for one’s own body and for the Other, for one’s own soul and for the Other. The film will reveal this Other as the presence of an irreversible absence, the story will reveal itself a story of grief, or better of grief and mourning, of how personal grief can be healed through a delicate form of social mourning. This is – also – a distinctive virtue of public bathing. Oyu is a minimal film in a state of grace. (GDS)

Atsushi Hirai | FR-JAP 2023 | 21’ | Winner of the International Competition | More Info find a way of writing which comes from ideas, is not about them, but which produces them. (John Cage, X)

If Jorge Jácome is a documentarist at all, then he’s a magician, documenting sensibilities as realities and vice-versa. As such, his most recent film, Shrooms, is about psilocybin, a natural  drug against depression, just as watching sunsets is about astronomy. And watching this film truly feels like watching a sunset. 

Dan, its subject, a Venezuelan based in Lisbon, «is no kind of specialist, but…» he looks for magic mushrooms in forests and sends them via pigeons all around town. It’s not clear if he sells it and little does it matter, for any extra detail would spoil his aura – that of a lost boy of anachronic, angelic genuineness – which Jácome transforms into a way of seeing. 

Chilling in his sun-kissed apartment, seemingly by chance, Dan shows the camera an optical illusion toy as if confirming what Jácome has showed so far, namely a deceivingly raw cinema, profoundly tributary to the sheer pleasure of watching with awe that these B.C. (before cinema) moving images preserve. It is as if the director is trying to rediscover a more unruly and visceral way of understanding reality as cinema, one that shivers when watching birds, turns upside down into an estranged landscape, puts on a shadow theatre, and lets its celluloid artefacts take over the screen from time to time, because analogue film is as organic as nature. Dan, a believer of Holism, is not only part of this film, but one with it, and this spiritual mumbo jumbo doesn’t afflict the film, for it never seems more than child play, essentially forgotten, however sacred. (CB)

Jorge Jácome | PT 2023 | 18’ | More Info 

One could, with good reason, call it a video essay for Morgane Frund develops here a proper analysis of a former winner film in Cannes – whose title I choose to omit, sympathetically playing with Frund’s choice of omission in their essay – but watching such a video essay in a Winterthur cinema theatre, I understood that it is probably something more than a video essay, precisely due to its commitment to a sort of image omission, subtly playing with nothing but the challenge of iconoclasm. At first it seemed a problem for me, the difficulty in recognizing an image and the memory of the film on the big screen – which is definitely easier on a little screen – but this problem became the source of a fundamental reflection: how to criticise the violence of images without attending to their reproduction and the reproduction of the violence itself? The constant company of Frund’s voice provides the arguments of the criticism, in line with Laura Mulvey’s doctrine on the male gaze, and the demonstration sounds convincing even if sometime didactic and self-assured, but the most interesting line of this essay is, to my eyes, exactly what my eyes simultaneously see and not see on the big screen of the cinema theatre: the fact that this hesitation between visible and invisible becomes perceptible. Out of the Blue is a perception exercise, also one of falling – literally – out of the blue of an infamous film and its memory, right into its darkness. The difficult image experience in this film is the core of the criticism itself, between and against both the gnostic and the purely iconoclastic options. There is an art of omission that creates the space for dialogue and criticism. A space that, at the end of the film, Frund is also able to occupy self-critically, in recognizing a part of pleasure (as victim or responsible?) in their own male gaze. (GDS)

Morgane Frund | CH 2023 | 15’ | Special Mention of the International Competition | More Info

Let’s start from the end of a film that is made of figures – drones, selfie sticks, garbage, graffiti – that meander through it as threads that put the global geography of mass tourism together. The umpteenth «tourists go home» graffiti is now duly deleted, credits are already scrolled, and on the black screen we hear the sound of a spray-paint can ready to take action. The film would be ready to continue indefinitely, as indefinitely massive tourism and its consequences continue to leave their marks on our planet. This precise and keen detail is the best example of how Corina Schwingruber Ilic works, with a maniacal attention to any formal detail of the film. Been There displays a perfect geometry in editing and framing, and makes of the pleasure for geometry the form and the content of this humorous gaze on mass tourism, for the tourists are the first ones childishly playing with geometries in the pictures whose taking pops up in every scene of the film. The tourists are shown as lost in the grandiosity of the landscapes, the relationship to which is reduced to the laborious activity of recording that they have been there. They or, more accurately, each of them separately, because an “anthropological” virtue of the film is its ability to capture the tourists as being a mass of disconnected individuals that do not make a socialisable group. We’ll certainly laugh watching at Been There, with but a bitter smile remaining on our mouth. (GDS)

Corina Schwingruber Ilic | CH 2023 | 10’ | Best Film of the Sparks Competition | More Info 

Nothing is extraordinary – i.e. out of ordinary – in Felipe Casanova’s Loveboard, not the love story and even less so its images and sounds, all taken from a personal iPhone archive, and this is precisely what makes it extraordinary as cinema: using bits of apparent nothingness to create broken wholeness. The relationship failed, and, in a way, the images did too, as the film sets up a narrative in which the phone broke down and is getting repaired, with its data storage comprising of an involuntary, second-nature memory of this tender relationship, being recovered but as glitchy and faulty.

Casanova makes use of certain types of material – text, picture, video and audio – that was used as correspondence or souvenir, mostly through WhatsApp, perpetuating its aura of raw intimacy through complicity, of shared messages: a holiday video used as a postcard, nudes – a two-way medium in itself – love letters, etc. In parallel, observational shots of the slow, technical and meticulous repairing process, emphasizing the instability of digital memory, a matter of microchips, but also - for the film - a matter of care. Having the phone repaired is the last caring gesture of this relationship. It’s an abstract montage-collage that transforms into a beautiful peek-a-boo essay on memory (the magnificent obsession of experimental cinema nowadays), irreversibility, and eventually on the heavy guilt of wrongdoing. In spite of that there’s no sorrow without beauty, and the soft images used by Casanova, with their dialectical aspect of overseen (banal) and forbidden to the public eye (intimate), contain a great, imponderable beauty that’s ever-growing on phone screens. (CB)

Felipe Casanova | CH 2023 | 17’ | More Info

A historical research on a nuns’ (probably) queer romance during the period of Portuguese Inquisition and the liberation of dildos’ shape from the phallic dominance today are two lines that intertwine around the theme of the prescription and repression of desire. The 16mm images, the organic credo of the dildos’ artist (Rebeca Letras), the nuns’ connection to earth, and the simple fragility of cappella singing collect all the heterogeneous elements of this film into a unique, queer celebration of the senses. (GDS)
Tomas Paula Marques | PT 2023 | 15’ | Candidate for the European Film Award 2023 | More Info

Go to Morgane Frund’s interview to Ella Rocca

Ella Rocca | CH 2023 | 13’

Cruel casting procedures have often symbolised the hardship of the society where exploitation reigns. Sonny Calvento’s story of Philippine mothers that try to be cast for a game show not only insists on the cruelty of the procedures through a showy aesthetic, that is half-kitsch and half-fantastic, but also brilliantly picks up a shrewd motive in order to speak of the Philippine society. Motherhood is depicted as both sacred and explicitly self-sacrificial, so that the exploitation is not only behind the scenes but overtly assumed on stage. The caricatural traits of the film and its entertaining crescendo will amuse us, while at the same time we know that the commodification of our emotions is the backbone of any society of spectacle (not only in the Philippines), and therefore we will clearly feel, not without a shiver going through us, that the parody can be and probably is nothing but a shard of reality. (GDS)

Sonny Calvento | PHP-SGP 2023 | 15’ | More Info