White Frame Online Series 2023
A selection of poetic films curated by Ruth Baettig and Giuseppe Di Salvatore (Filmexplorer) and screened online for free from the 22nd to the 29th of June 2023 on White Frame platform
Filmexplorer's ultimate selection of short films for White Frame
Poetry and its Politics
Statement about Filmexplorer's curatorial choice - by Giuseppe Di Salvatore
When Chantal Molleur asked Ruth Baettig and I, funding editors of Filmexplorer, to curate a short film programme that could represent the identity of our platform, a crowd of wonderful titles were competing in our minds to get to Filmexplorer’s Olympus, not necessarily helping us to overcome the possibly blocking freedom of the blank page. Which criteria should we apply in order to make our choice? How can we honour the long-standing complicity with White Frame? The leading criteria for an ultimate selection must express Filmexplorer’s main tenets: curiosity for discovering the diversity of film styles, focus on film medium specificity, exploration of film forms, artistic commitment in film, and a general attitude of proposition of original contents – be they in the films themselves or in their critical discussion. So, we found the solution, in a “poetic film” that seems to exactly match all of these criteria.
What is a poetic film? Without trying to explain what poetry is, I would say that a poetic film is an unexpected journey into a territory that touches sensitive chords of which we were previously unaware. This is why poetic films are our passion and motivation. Yes, we recognize a poetic film when it is able to inspire us, for example to inspire a sensible answer to despair, or to inspire a conversion of the mind through the assumption of an unusual perspective, and we recognize a poetic film when it is inspired itself, by a genuine or a puzzling experience, and also by its own tools, be they the film strip, the editing process, the soundscape or the location.
We won’t describe the selected films here because their poetic quality is self-explicative. It is difficult, and sometimes redundant, to add words to poetic proposals and this challenge is precisely what pushes criticism to necessarily be creative. By the way, on Filmexplorer you’ll already find several critiques and some interviews with almost all of the selected artists: Brent Green on A Brief Spark Bookended by Darkness (interview), Beatrice Gibson on Crippled Symmetries (interview), I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, Deux soeurs qui ne sont pas soeurs, and on the art of editing (interview), Audrius Stonys (interview) and Mike Hoolboom (interview) on their creative activity, Jorge Cadena on El cuento de Antonia, Soeurs Jarariju (Q&A), and Flores del otro patio. Total Refusal’s Hardly Working, which is a film developed within a video game, also testifies to Filmexplorer’s interest in the most diverse formats, such as animation (Brent Green’s film) or DoodleChaos’ playful contribution with Bostjan Cadez’ flash game Line Rider – a way for us to question the plural status of film today. Speaking of plurality, we hope that the proposal of this seven quite intense films will not only be the occasion to share poetry but also the opportunity to see new connections and imagine a community of visionary persons.
Filmexplorer’s concentration on poetry is also meant to be a cultural statement that expresses our vision of the political task of art and culture today.
Is poetry a form of escapism or, even worse, the politically disengaged pleasure of privileged classes? Not only do we answer with a sound “no!”, but we will point out how this recurrent question appears to us to be the symptom of a confusion that is often experienced by the artists and the intellectuals themselves. They often interpret political activism exclusively in terms of global claims, cries against injustices and slogans romantically sung on the streets of weakening Western democracies. Of course, from political authoritarianism to surveillance biopolitics, from climate collapse to heteronormative moralism, we have many global issues that motivate us to fight, but the attention to what we fight against can make us forget to take what we actually fight for sincerely and seriously, in a detailed and non-vague form.
Commercial mass journalism is not only a plague that fans the flames of human fear, but also forces us on the abstract level of general humanism and moreover programs our minds to work within the often uncritical solving problem pattern. On the contrary, poetry recalls to us the importance of the unknown, of exploration, of attention, of critical interpretation, and in this way it makes us exercise our minds – and our sensibility – to work through creative patterns, beyond the new rampant moralism of the politically correct. Only in being able to convert said mind and sensibility can we be politically active in a meaningful, concrete, effective way. Poetry is the highest political commitment for artists and intellectuals that lets criticism and responsivity prevail on the know-it-all easy recipes of commercial mass journalism.
In thanking all of the artists for their inspiring works and the immediate positive answer to participate, we wish you a wonderful journey on White Frame through filmic masterpieces that make us explore, hear, despair, learn, hallucinate, question, imagine.
The Film Programme
Online streaming for free on White Frame platform from the 22nd to the 29th of June
USA 2018 | 5'
A love letter to his wife: that is the apparent line of Brent Green’s A Brief Spark Bookended with Darkness. His voice is quivering but also surging with passionate energy. There is a «world on fire» outside, war, suffering, incoherence, but «I hold you close» – says the voice – «I hold you close, like some idiot doctor that loves the sound of your heart, and lungs». The agitated and dissonant music stops when we see the simple drawing of the couples embracing in bed. Later it returns with a crescendo of different sound elements (noise, music, voice, chant), with a generative progress in the visual animation through figurative patterns that directly stem from the woman’s pulsating heart. Fusions and transformations replace the initial divide between the inside and the outside.
Brent Green’s animated cinema has the flavour of the silent cinema of the beginnings, with intertitles and flickering lights. Just like this cinematic genre, it has the fundamental virtue of exhibiting the grammar of cinema itself: we perceive the sounds, the images, the words as distinct entities that contribute to a composition where the real thread is the emotional line of poetry. One has really to experience a film like A Brief Spark Bookended with Darkness to understand how the multiple and the unique coexist, how the fragile and the powerful conflate.
Giuseppe Di Salvatore
UK 2018 | 20'
Poems of CAConrad and Eileen Myles, excerpts from works by Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, and Pauline Oliveiros’ music all contribute to composing a film that breathes through a terrific work of editing. The theme of motherhood constitutes the centre of a dense cloud of emotive associations, which are linked to both fragility and the question of heritage, or transmission. The first person perspective of Beatrice-mother does not display a towering subjectivity but an inclusive collection of distant and close fragments of impressions, where the Other permeates the Self. The liberating dance at the end of the film (a homage to Claire Denis) works as a signal for a film that does not take “a” position but constantly moves, according to the rhythm of poetry.
Giuseppe Di Salvatore
LTU 2001 | 16'
A sad child is going to pay a visit to her mother in prison. Her solitude is immense. Sitting in the backseat, she looks on in silence outside the window while the landscape passes in front of her eyes.
CAN 2017 | 10'
After the breakdown the old world beckons, a sunrise in Amsterdam, and in that golden light a poem by Lisa Robertson floats across the waters. Cropped from her sterling poem-essay collection The Nilling, the maestro writes about what must be refused in order to create the borders that make identity possible. Against the borders of state she poses the project of intimate conversation and poetry (“bodies assert their incalculable distance”). Poetry is the speech of citizenship. Pigeons flap, friends clasp hands, a pair of strangers dissolve on the metro, ghost cars, lovers don’t mind the rain, tea sipping, sunset at the bridge. As if he were coming back to life.
Through the poem we receive rhythm –
it is in the history of poetry
that we have a record
of subjectivity’s movement in language.
The Nilling by Lisa Robertson
CH-COL 2016 | 30'
De El cuento de Antonia, il nous restera certainement l’image du visage de la jeune fille, partiellement couvert par ses cheveux agités par le vent. Mais aussi l’île des pêcheurs avec son improbable voie ferrée, ses maisons délabrées, ses figures usées par la vie ou pulsantes de jeunesse. La caméra de Jorge Cadena a su saisir le regard de la fillette, où personnes et nature, comme ces cheveux au vent, sont traversées par un seul courant envoûtant, où le père ou la Vierge-Marie deviennent des corps géants, monstrueux, peut-être les symboles de deux idéologies opprimantes : le machisme et la religion.
Et de ce film colombien nous restera aussi, certainement, le paysage sonore, si prégnant et si présent. Sa force souligne une intériorité qui semble capable de se détacher de ce qu’elle voit, une intériorité qui ressent la réalité dans l’instant et a posteriori, sur le mode du pur vécu. Car le récit d’Antonia (el cuento de Antonia) n’est rien d’autre que la remémoration de son enfance par une jeune femme qui s’initie à la vérité grâce au fait de raconter, d’exprimer, voire de vérifier son récit. Ce rite d’initiation, quelque part ésotérique, mais pas anodin, ouvre effectivement le film et explicite un engagement dont témoigne le récit lui-même. Jorge Cadena tient sa promesse, car à travers ce récit aux tonalités rêveuses il touche brièvement et efficacement plusieurs questions, sur la religion, la politique, la relation parentale, le machisme, les espoirs de la jeunesse, l’aspiration à la liberté, l’urgence de la poésie — autant de questions nouées autour des moments fragiles et précieux du passage à l’âge adulte et de l’acceptation du rôle de femme.
El cuento de Antonia est un film émouvant et direct, mais en même temps complexe et riche, qui donne ainsi au spectateur la vive sensation de la découverte du monde et la possibilité d’une réflexion sur l’individu et sur la société. Le cinéma montre ici toutes ses potentialités, dans une démonstration narrative qui coïncide avec l’acte de création.
Giuseppe Di Salvatore
AT 2022 | 20'
Just imagine that our own lives would be faithfully mirrored in this second life video game: the film essay would become an ethical focus, and a profound reflection, on the background figures that are part of our own daily landscape as a commodified labour force. Beside this brilliant anti-capitalistic thread we also discover an existentialist line that emerges from these non-playable characters (NPCs to gamers), for programmed slavery implies moments of indefinite suspension. Do we dare to see ourselves in them?
Giuseppe Di Salvatore
2018 | 4'
Three Line Riders sled, skid, and sail across a choreography of lines. Written between 1804 and 1808, the accompanying music is from the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘5th symphony’. YouTuber DoodleChaos drew, synchronized, and tested the course for more than three months.
Line Riders is a browser game developed by Slovenian Boštjan Čadež in 2006.