Xavier Lukomski's Bridge over the Drina, about the aftermath of the Bosnian war, is not a typical feature-length film. There's no character-driven plot starring an actor who lost 50 pounds and broke his back to portray a tortured hero. It's pretty short, only about 20 minutes long, and it isn't exactly what you'd call dramatic the film is the monotone testimony of a man named Poljo Mevsud for the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal. And yet the film is more powerful than any three-hour epic re-enactment could be.
The witness recalls retrieving his neighbors' mutilated bodies from the Drina River, broken up in bits like they had been in a washing machine. As we listen to what he recounts, our eyes are fixed on an immovable frame of the river, where fish are eating and birds are flying. Dawn turns to day, which turns to dusk. No bombs blow up soil, not even one bloodied body floats downstream, like Mevsud recounts. But, the filmmaker is trying to tell us, those birds and fish are just as important. Only the river knows the whole story.
It's amazing what artists can do when they aren't chained to convention. For decades now, the quiet yet disorienting world of experimental film and video art has offered audiences the opportunity to get reacquainted with sounds and images. The filmmakers present the bare minimum of what we need to engage with the world, and as a result their work expands our imagination incredibly that is, should any of us happen to actually view it.
Once a year, metro Detroiters can see it thanks to Windsor's Media City Annual International Festival of Experimental and Video Art. Now in its 12th year, Media City is a fantastic program featuring work by big shots from across the globe. Some of the artists have gotten Guggenheim awards and are regularly included in the Whitney and Venice biennial exhibitions, but the schedule also includes pieces by artists unknown, even those working hermetically.
The festival hosts retrospectives every year, and the 2006 schedule celebrates the exceptional work of three diverse artists: Vincent Grenier, a French-Canadian filmmaker whose work spans the mid-'70s to the present; Kurt Kren, one of the early Viennese actionists; and Karl Kels, a contemporary German filmmaker. (Kels also appears at the festival to discuss his work). Media City once again showcases the films of Peter Tscherkassky, who's been recognized for decades for using the Cinemascope, an early film apparatus, to re-photograph original footage frame by frame.
From projector performances to startling avant-garde audiovisuals to a new take on the nature documentary, the pieces included in this program more than 60 in all can't be summarized, except to say they're not what one would expect. And yet, refreshingly, there are no codes to be cracked. Program co-director David Dinnell says he's not particularly interested in films that are self-contained, only referencing the history of the genre. Dinnell and co-director Oona Mosna meet their goal of showing films and videos that locals either don't know about or have access to, which is why they chose Naoyuki Tsuji's Trilogy About Cloud. The Japanese filmmaker's childlike pencil drawings are vastly different from the slick animé style of filmmaking most Western audiences know well.
Doing what they do best (observing their environment on an intimate scale), many of the Media City filmmakers take us to distant lands. Chu-Li Shewring's Mantis Tales introduces audiences to the Malaysian rainforests. With an occasionally tremulous hand evidence of the artist's intense response to her chaotic environment the footage features close-ups of the jungle's buzzing and slithering family, set to the sound track of beautiful birds endlessly calling. The film's first moments are subtle yet profound in conveying nature's rhythms and rituals by focusing on the dignified visage of a praying mantis, accompanied by the faint sound of a Muslim call to prayer.
In Ideas of Order in Cinque Terre, Ken Kobland visits a hilly town on an Italian coast. His compilation of imagery, again, is simple still shots of the stacked mountainside homes, interspersed with mundane street scenes. But it's obvious that the artist was overwhelmed by the land's jagged beauty and, in turn, he entrances us. Kobland eavesdrops on aimless chatter between local folks, and in one sentence he expresses how it's possible that such random and meaningless conversations could be so moving for the viewer: "It's a landscape of steeply terraced cliffs ... where one's never allowed to have the last word."
Distance, the artist proves, is only a matter of miles.
Media City 12 runs Feb. 21-25 at The Capitol Theatre and Art Centre, 121 University Ave. W., Windsor. Call 519-253-7729 or visit houseoftoast.ca. Tickets are $8 per evening.Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected] or call