Next weekend, Parallel, a busy and exciting three day festival of artists’ cinema will take over Arnolfini. Sam Francis from the Arnolfini programme team talked to Adam Pugh, Artists’ Moving Image Project Manager at Independent Cinema Office, about what’s in store…
SF: Parallel has a full programme spanning over three days. What’s it all about and what can audiences expect to discover across the festival weekend?
AP: The festival is part of a two-year project run by the Independent Cinema Office based around developing audiences for artists' moving image in cinemas. We often run ICO Screening Days, which are industry-only events aimed at giving cinema programmers the chance to preview new films. But this doesn't really work for artists' moving image, not least because there isn't a steady stream of new feature films coming along - so instead came up with the idea of a weekend festival.
Over the weekend, we've tried to make sure there's a real mix of events, to have a cross-section of some current practice in artists' moving image. So, there are previews of longer films, including two (by Ben Rivers and Miranda Pennell) which we'll be distributing to cinemas nationwide; but also three exclusive guest-curated programmes, selected from an open call we ran earlier in the year. Each of these takes a very different angle - from selfies to touch to technology, and a filmic conversation between artists - but all look at contemporary currents via both new and rarely-seen historical work, and, I think, demonstrate the possibilities that artists' moving image presents.
SF: What is meant by the term ‘artists’ moving image’? Why is it different from other kinds of cinema?
AP: It's an unwieldy term isn't it? Really, it just means films made by artists. It might sound odd, but it's important to retain this distinction as many, if not most artists approach making films from a completely different viewpoint, material position and perspective. It's this difference that has always excited me: it makes you realise, if you're coming to artists' moving image for the first time, that 'cinema' at large has a pretty uniform way of seeing things. Artists don't respect the rules: they blow everything apart and reinvent things from scratch. And I think we could with more of this attitude in general!
We use the term “artists’ moving image” to avoid artists having to play by the same rules and be judged in the same way as regular commercial films coming out of the studio system. Having said that, it's also good to remember that at the dawn of cinema, before the studio system, there were no such distinctions: everyone was an artist, and everyone was experimenting. Everyone was having a lot of fun! So artists' moving image IS different, but it shares a common history with the rest of cinema and deserves a place in it - which is what we're working to achieve; to bring artists' work back into the cinema - the cinema is a really special and particular site, and still provides a unique way of encountering film.
SF: ICO has commissioned artists to make new films especially for the festival. Tell us more…
AP: The Artists Cinema, running as part of the project, has commissioned five contemporary artists to make short films - specifically films for the cinema. So, we approached those artists and asked them to propose projects which responded to or activated the site and history of the cinema in some way; which thought about the fact that a cinema audience is very different to that in a gallery. The selected artists are all mid-career, already reasonably well known in the visual arts but not so much in terms of cinema - and for each of them we hoped that this opportunity, to make work for a mass audience, with certain restrictions around length and so on, would be a useful step creatively and in terms of their careers.
The ICO has run the project twice before, in 2006 and 2010, but this year is unusual in that most of the films ended up forming part of feature film projects in one way or another - something I'm really happy about as it means that we've also assisted in the development of longer work, which is a big leap for most artists, not least financially. Corin Sworn & Tony Romano's film The Coat is taken from their longer work - already complete and previewing at PARALLEL on Friday - 'La Giubba'; whereas Margaret Salmon's short, 'Bird', is part of her forthcoming long-form film 'Eglantine', which she'll be presenting finished scenes from at the festival on Saturday. Naeem Mohaiemen's film 'Abu Ammar is Coming' forms part of his ongoing project about radical leftist politics in the 1970s; while 'El Helicóptero' by Dora García will feed into a wider project called 'Segunda Vez'. Gabriel Abrantes' film 'A Brief History of Princess X' is the only one which doesn't have a longer counterpart, but there's enough in it to make a feature: quite how he managed to bring Napoleon's grand-niece together with sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Sigmund Freud, the history of a notorious phallic sculpture and the pursuit of female sexual pleasure into six minutes is anyone's guess!