Anything But Dusty

in 59th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Jennifer Borrmann

In addition to the traditional sections like the NRW-Competition, International Competition or Children’s and Youth Cinema, there was established a new section at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival this year, retrieving forgotten paths: the Archives section. In 2013 probably most famous film archive world-wide opened the hopefully ongoing section on restoration, preservation and making archive material accessible to a wider audience in theaters: La Cinématèque Francaise. The program was completed with short lectures and films from the Pacific Film Archive in San Francisco and the Slovenska Kinoteka in Ljubljana.

Albert Pierru’s art work — La Cinémathèque Francaise

Emilie Cauquy, among other things an art historian in film science and responsible for distribution and valuation of the film collections at the Cinémathèque, presented several shorts by Pierru: Tantes, Taches, Touche (1956), Fantasie sur quatre cordes (1957), Soir de fete (1957), Surprise Boogie (1957), Spirales (1957) and La Jeune Fille à L’etoile (1960). When Henri Langlois founded the Cinémathèque Francaise — a difficult endeavor itself, because German authorities in occupied France wanted to destroy material collected until the end of the 1930s — his initial goal was not only to preserve cinematographic repertoire, but above all to screen it. The value is formed only by making it accessible — so this archival wish was in a deeply enthusiastic way supporting cinema and movie theaters. A topic that complemented the main topic of the Festival this year with its questions on what and where is cinema. After Norman McLaren was given the Palme d’Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for the Best Short Film (Blinkity Blank), Pierru also experimented with films — and made them without a camera: He painted on the material itself and by this literally performed a transgression. Pierru made his films in a sense much more personal by working with the material, instead of filming through the photographic mechanisms of the camera. In combination with very lively and experimental jazz, you can truly experience the fluidity and the colors of the films, which have been blown up from 16mm to 35mm to protect the originals.

Experimental Bay Area — Pacific Film Archive

In contrast to the French presentation, Kathy Geritz, film curator at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) in Berkeley, gave a historic lecture on experimental films of the Bay Area in San Francisco from the 1940s up to the year 2000. And instead of a (monographic) show of one artist, she brought with her a very diverse and beautiful overview of those years: North Beach (Dion Vigne, USA, 1958), The Bed (James Broughton, USA, 1968), Riverbody (Alice Anne Parker, USA, 1970), Wild Night in El Reno (George Kuchar, USA, 1977) and Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue (Leslie Thornton, USA, 1984). Again, it was Henri Langlois who encouraged the PFA to collect West Coast independent cinema. But it was not until 1989 that the archive received a grant and therefore could actually preserve and restore the found material to help complement artistic local history. They depend largely on the artists from the area themselves, who help expanding the archival material.

Karpo Godina’s early work — Slovenska Kinoteka

Introduced by a enthusiastic Jurij Meden, film worker at the Slovenska Kinoteka, we had the unique possibility to watch Karpo Godina’s pieces Dog (Pes) (Yugoslavia, 1966), Game (Divjad) (Yugoslavia, 1965) and A.P. (Anno Passato) (Yugoslavia, 1966). Meden regretted that in many parts of the world these kinds of films aren’t part of the official canon and have the attribute of being “only” amateur films. Because of this, the Slovenska Kinoteka began to explore the Slovenian (former Yugoslavian) experimental cinema in 2010 and made some surprising discoveries, e.g. when literally finding beautiful film material under beds.

As to the restoration of those findings: The early Godina films were shot on 8mm Foma reversal films with a separate soundtrack on ¼ inch magnetic tape, and played at 18 frames per second. Additionally, sound and image were synchronized manually. Everything has been restored, with the great exception of leaving traces of history of the film’s production and exhibition intact like the grainy pictures. In Oberhausen the audience had the chance to compare the restored material to two digital screenings of old films — and the difference was tremendous, especially on a large screen.

Though the way of working with the material and the initial goals differed, all three archives — which, of course, do not only preserve and restore in dusty, cold and dark basements, but screen and make accessible for those who are interested — share common difficulties and demands. The loss of films, because of deterioration, of screening devices like projectors, of restoration film labs (La Camera Ottica is part of the university at Udine and one of very few left), and of financial means has affected them all. But each of them is very keen and eager to put as much effort into their work as needed, of course relying on help by donations in the form of money, but also by help from filmmakers and/ or their friends and family through film material donations — as in the case of Pierru, where family and the then producer helped the Cinémathèque Francaise. Not only preserving the material, but actively searching for it and making their restoration efforts visible in an auditorium under original conditions and therefore contributing to a vivid film history is the most important similarity, and of course a noble one as well. Hopefully, the festival will continue to help getting archive material out into the light.

Edited by Tara Judah