Krakow Film Festival’s Affairs of the Art

in 61st Krakow Film Festival

by Vladimir Seput

61st Krakow Film Festival, this year held both in cinemas and online, had an impressive focus on contemporary visual arts and some of the main competition sections of the festivals – International Documentary and International Short Film – as well as side programmes provided the platform for both the cinema and the visual arts, those two intertwining but nevertheless distinct domains.

Péter Forgács, Budapest-based media artist and filmmaker, who last year won the Dragon of Dragons award for exceptional contribution to international cinema, this year presented an installation Letters to Afar (2014), which was commissioned by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Forgács works with the archival footage, in this case home movies filmed by the Jewish immigrants from the United States who visited Poland between the two wars, which he then edits in the multi-screen video-installation in order to create haunting art pieces. In this instance, the viewer is captivated by the found footage through knowing what will happen in those same places in the following years, with the Second World War genocide.

International documentary competition showcased a different type of artist, a South Korean painter Kim Tschang-Yeul in the film The Man Who Paints Water Drops (L’homme qui peint des gouttes d’eau), which won the Silver Horn award for the film with high artistic values, and is directed by the artist’s son Oan Kim and the French filmmaker Brigitte Bouillot. Kim, who passed away at the beginning of the year and is one of the most known Korean visual artists, is beautifully presented here as both a father and an artist. The filmmakers juxtapose intimacy with publicity, serenity with agitation and tragedy, as the film builds its pace like a stone thrown in a water grows its circles. The film’s title is, of course, a reference to Kim’s four decades of painting water drops for which he became world-known but the work is also a subtle homage to the ways other artists portrayed their fathers, namely Jean Renoir in his 1962 book memoir “Renoir, My Father” in which Jean tells the story of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the great Impressionist painter.

The festival’s award of the President of the Polish Filmmakers Association for the best film editing went to filmmaker and painter Zbigniew Czapla for his short animated film On Time, a Japan-based story whose narration is based on the poems by the great 17th-century master of haiku Matsuo Bashō. There is a tension in the film spun between the meditative elements of the poetry and the rapid change of imagery, as if inspired by Tsai Ming-liang’s Walker from 2012. Those familiar with Czapla’s earlier work, such as Strange Case from 2017, will again be able to enjoy the painterly quality and the craft that characterises each of his frames.

Traditional animation might be the film medium that most directly recalls fine art practice and the Polish animation is one of Europe’s finest. This year Dragon of Dragons winner Piotr Dumała is one of those Central European artists and filmmakers that cities such as Krakow, Prague or Zagreb know well, a distinctive animator whose work shows an innovation and a deep appreciation of the medium, and is rich with literary references to the European novel, in Dumała’s case to Kafka (Franz Kafka, 1992) and Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, 2000). Dumała developed an animation technique called “destructive animation”, a stop motion in which he scratches an image into painted plaster, paints it over and scratches the next one. He discovered the technique during his studies as a sculptor, and it was inspiring to see the films from his early period, especially his 1981 work Lykantrophy about the mythological human transformation into a wolf-like animal, and a 1984 Flying Hair, powerful and poetic love story.

Finally, English film director and animator Joanna Quinn’s new short Affairs of the Art is a humorous and quirky work that follows Quinn’s well-known character Beryl who, in this chapter of her animated life, wants to become an artist. We follow her through her ambition, dreams and the relationship with her eccentric sister and a dysfunctional family. Created with the aid of traditional techniques, Affairs of the Art is a light-hearted film about the process of creation, and an entrancing way to show the ever-growing dialogue between the worlds of cinema and visual arts.

Vladimir Seput
Edited by Savina Petkova