Returns to Mindfulness

in 61st International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Martin Kanuch

Long feature films in variously defined competitions of film festivals work, primarily and separately, for themselves. Short films grouped into program sections are necessarily, despite competitions, dependent upon one other. Every short film story, inserted into a given domain, of program/competition, participates in the formation of a unique dialogic situation. The singular creation of such dialogic contacts, often surprising, encountering styles, attitudes, concepts and visions, offers some really interesting dramaturgies in a short film festival. Thinking through the short film, projecting every possible mental connection between the films and their programs (not only) in competition, offers the challenge to uncover unknown parallels and provocative associations. The asset can be coincidence, harmony of diverse voices, but also marks surface frictions and contradictions. It was a strong common outline in the international short film competition at the 61st edition of Kurzfilmtage, Oberhausen.

Of course, Kurzfilmtage represents the world’s longest standing tradition of thinking through the short film – that long-term festival practice is evident in the collection of 10 programs that form the international competition (59 IC films from 32 countries). This year a thematic emphasis was placed on detailed mapping of the complexity of relations between man/woman and his/her specific (home, work, leisure) environments, tracking his/her socially, politically engaged actions in public space and larger geopolitical contexts. Dialogue in the competition films revealed various figures of transparently political (Integration, The Lawes of the Marches), mainly intellectual (Paradise, Earth and Shape), or personally emotional (self)reflections of real and imaginary landscapes of human life (Missing, Zlaté Piesky Rocket Launch).

In The Disappearance of Aïtus by a Swiss director Pauline Julier – almost half of the selected films in competition were made by women – she concentrated on many of the aforementioned features, meditatively. Her poetic essay observes the unprecedented event: the geographical disappearance of a state – and is therefore conceived as a kind of farewell. It speaks about Tuvalu, a micro-state in the South Pacific, a forgotten archipelago of nine small islands that are threatened by rising sea levels (the largest has 2.5 km2 and is 5m high). From the title static shot, Julier follows evacuation preparations. The picture, after a while, starts to wave and we know the camera is on a boat. She considers all possible consequences, negative – leaving homes and relatives buried there, but also unsuspected after effects – printing postage stamps for a country that will soon cease to exist. But the message is not only about the loss of soil underfoot; it is also about religious fears, of the Second Flood and of God’s punishment. It was said in commentary: “All things die endlessly”. And on this level of mourning, for vanishing worlds and life’s uncertainties, of getting over powerlessness in facing climate or war disasters, there was a common communication from films across thesprograms, extending to Mars in the Well, Vertieres I, II, III, Kioku, Wada /prediction/.

From a preferred dialogic point of view, two of the full programs – which could carry the auxiliary labels, mindfulness (IC 4) and relationship crash tests (IC 7) – worked as the most compact and complex within the framework of the whole competition. In the first one the discussion was stimulated by thinking about traditional and still potential (inspiring) aspects of different expressions of religiosity, spirituality or mysticism. Something has to remain unspeakable (trance and the occult knowledge – Views and Visions), but in another context the religious affect can be re-enacted and, in that way, also relieved (public lynching of a traitor – The Passion of Judas). Observing and comparing the spiritual experiences opens the imagination to a social/collective hygiene. As the most life coaching or instructional film, there is Mindfulness, by Greek filmmaker and visual artist, Poka-Yio. Video is focused on mindfulness as a common daily meditative practice in the East, which is considered here as a kind of solution (pharmakon) to contemporary social crisis (increasing cultural polarization), and as a tool for the restitution of human’s lost self. “For the years of individuality, for the horrors caused by loneliness”, we hear in voice over, “for every loss caused by reckless excess, return to where you belong. Return to Mindfulness”. Corda, by Brazilian filmmaker Pablo Lobato, in the same program, IC 4, explores another practice/tradition of shared exaltation during The Círio de Nazaré, one of the biggest Catholic processions in the world, taking place in Belém, Brazil. In the image we are looking at crowds of exhausted pilgrims (“head to head” shots), accompanying the saint’s statue, competing for the privilege of holding a long rope that leads the carriage through the city. But really profound is the sound design (only selected noises, such as the. scrape of piano strings), through it we are taken over a level of specific documentation and moved to the very interior of the event itself, that of the collective’s head. An ordinary record of the fiesta becomes ecstatic, Delirium can be contagious.

In the second highlighted program (IC 7) we enter into the realm of family and relationship struggles, intimicies, shame and other mysteries (Totem, My mommy) and, on the other, more conceptual side, to the area of corporality, sensuality and maternity (Just My Own, House and Universe; all of the films mentioned here were made by women.) Some of the personal stories and visual experiments were connected on the level of self-reflexivity (interrogations of relatives, researching one’s own views and memories). In this section the film 32+4 excelled, by young Chinese (Hong Kong based) filmmaker Chan Hau Chun. It is a personal reconstruction of the unpleasant history of her family breakdown. Once again, the spectator can feel the director – the person provoking the confessions – inviting them to its sheltered, intimate space (we are with her in her room as she looks at her notebook under blanket, checking the family “file”).

An emphasis on dialogue between works in all of the international competitions was very symptomatic. It was like a 3D-effect for me to contemplate every single film in the set of such premeditated contexts (visual art, national, political, ideological, aesthetic), which were present across the programs. Naturally, it could also be an Achilles heel, because if one link in the chain was not classified precisely (for me f.e. Jeu de Paume in IC 1), misunderstanding can cause doubt in an otherwise ideally constructed program.

Edited by Tara Judah