LAPSES OF LIFE (A SHORT FILM PROGRAM FOR 16 FESTCURTAS BH)
By Roger Koza
The title of this section is a distorted loan from a great film by Alexander Balaguara, whose title is “Lapses of life of an object in the frame”. The Ukranian director’s film runs for almost two hours but, to some extent, secretly sums up the obstacle faced by any filmmaker working with what is defined as a short film: the time for each shot is marked by the short duration of the whole. Indeed, a short film is, by definition, a film whose essential limit is, prior to anything else, structural, since it is assumed that the total duration of its interior existence is restricted. To a maximum of 20, 30, even 40 minutes, even though the more orthodox festivals set the defining limit for a short film at half an hour.
The reasons that lead a filmmaker to work under this time restraint are unknown. In the beginning, as we all know, that happened due to an impediment in the technology itself, but since a few years back, the extension of a film is no longer a problem. So, why continue to encourage brevity? A thesis, an indication, a policy of this author: a film must run for as long as it needs to run.
For different reasons, I have been for many years a juror in an Argentinian national short film festival called Cortópolis (“Shortcity”). On four consecutive editions, they changed the other jurors but kept inviting me. Repetition is a theme that fascinates me, and because of that, I accepted the role time and again, because I knew that repetition makes us think on certain things and eventually build a few hypotheses. I was also a juror at a Latin American short film festival and, recently, I even accepted to judge a mobile phone short film festival. All of these experiences have led me, with no exception, time and again, to realize a permanent tension in films with short runtimes, namely: there is always a secret conflict between an order of advertising that, in its essence, feels obligated to produce an effect, and an order of film, that pressures and demands that the filmmaker refine, in a short time, an idea of cinema. Most of the time, short films are, formally, advertising in disguise. Not of merchandise, but of the syntax and and the way through which merchandise conquer their target: by becoming an object of consumption.
When we think that all of Artavazd Pelechian’s films are short films, excepting Nosso Século (Our Century), those who wish to make films with a brief runtime already know that anything is possible and that in a few minutes one can make the language of film go delirious, and elevate it to heights of expression never before imagined. There are no excuses: a 10-minute film can be as striking as any “brief” 4-hour film by Lav Diaz.
All the films chosen are important for different reasons. In almost every instance, I could see that the director sought out something, sensed some kind of cinematic form and, in some cases, conceived and designed a meaningful idea of cinema. The themes chosen are different, even though I have attempted either clashes or thematic and aesthetic empathy among the films. Overall, I believe it’s possible to point out some issues in contemporary cinema as whole and Argentinean cinema in particular.
I suspect it won’t take long to find out that, among the films in the exhibition, there is one of German origins. De la necesidad de navegar los mares (Of the need to sail the seas) is a short film by Philipp Hartmann set in Bolivia and Argentina. I have decided to include this film for two reasons. On the one hand, Hartmann’s film belongs to a tradition of film: he takes up the spirit of adventure of Flaherty, Van der Keuken and Herzog. For all of them, to film is to travel, to move, to seek others. A camera not only captures a moment in order to reproduce it later; it is also an instrument that incites movement. It’s about searching for unknown images in distant lands. On the other hand, Hartmann’s gaze is that of a foreigner who observes a symbolic and physical space that Argentinean (and Bolivian) filmmakers might not be all that interested in shooting. For the few minutes when the action is set in Buenos Aires, the city seems different.
The works chosen are by celebrated, well-known, and also unknown filmmakers. Some films could be considered “professional”, and others, “amateur”. If I have chosen them paying no attention to diplomas and awards they might have received, it is because I feel that the worth of each and every one lies in the formal and thematic diversity that so well represents contemporary Argentinean cinema.
When appointing and restricting myself to one country’s filmmaking, I would like to clearly state my position as a programmer (and film critic): I have no interest in nationalism itself and its relationship to film, which does not imply denying the issues of identity that yes, may be seen in a specific region’s cinema. I clarify this point simply because cinephilia has always been an heterodox way of thinking about the world, as if cinema were an “additional” country (as Serge Daney liked to put it), dislocated away from linguistic and territorial sovereignty. That said, I believe most films are rooted in a specific context, and that is exactly why they are able to transcend their own territory in order to embody a universal interest.