In medias res

One could say that the space of cinema is a separate world that exists parallel to, but independent from, the real world. It is a private world of its own making and its viewers inhabit it as if it were their own mirror. Like moths to a candle flame, they gather around screens of flickering light, in their homes before televisions or in theater seats before huge screens. The movie camera, once it was invented, in turn, invented us.

This was the cinematic world of the 20th century, and it is now likely over. With its novel pyrotechnics, the electronic and digital age has constructed another model, but there are some that are reluctant to leave this old analog world, a storage source for our past, where tears are real.

Media City, Windsor’s Annual Festival of International Film & Video Art, taking place Tuesday, Feb. 8, through Saturday, Feb. 12, has put together its 11th installment as if to commemorate the end of film as we know it. It seems to celebrate, perhaps without realizing it, the demise of 20th century cinema consciousness and the art that it has spawned.

There’s something for everyone in this six-day orgy of often brilliant, always interesting film and video programming. The artists included are of international origin and reputation, and the 13 programs with some 60 works of film and video art are equally diverse. Many of the artists will travel to Windsor and Detroit to be on hand for discussions after the screenings of their work. In addition to traditional screenings there will be multiple-screen, new media installations as well as performances that employ equally remarkable audio elements.

Legendary American minimalist composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock inaugurates the festival on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Detroit Film Center, which is co-hosting this year’s festival. A four-screen video projection of Niblock’s The Movement of People Working, is accompanied by a live audio performance of his own compositions. While appearing at first to be ethnographic studies filmed in diverse agrarian and marine landscapes, Niblock’s film beguilingly focuses on the simple patterns and rhythms of work. Weavers, planters, shoemakers, fishermen and a host of primitive labor processes are explored for their discreet, melodic movement and rhythms. Niblock’s film possesses an operatic reverence for timeless labor. Interestingly, his technique in filming the patterns of work echoes the process of making a film. And his original sound track on the DVD achieves a minimalist and religious sonority, producing a powerful meditative quality that promises an exciting evening for his live performance at the DFC.

The work that may be most emblematic of this year’s Media City presentation are the three installments of Austrian filmmaker Gustav Deutsch’s Welt Spiegel Kino (World Mirror Cinema). Deutsch’s three-part film is composed of “found footage” from the archives of early 20th century cinema. The three episodes begin with exterior panoramic street shots of a theater in Vienna, Austria; Surabaja, Indonesia; and Porto, Portugal. In each instance, the scenes are mesmerizing. We watch as everyday inhabitants, members of diverse cultures nearly a century old, go about their business in their daily costumes. As they grow aware of the camera’s seductive presence, their body language becomes entangled with the camera’s composition.

Deutsch intercuts scenes from the movies, advertised on the marquee, that are playing within the theaters. The effect is stunning. The play between the fragments of old movies (decontextualized from the stories of which they are apart), the street scene out front of the movie hall and our personal image bank is astonishing. Whether in Vienna, Porto or Surabaja, the camera constructs its own world, and, willingly or not, we are reflexively a part of it.

Toronto filmmaker Mike Hoolboom’s The Invisible Man is the ultimate meditation on the power of cinema. Throughout his three-monitor video installation (at the Art Gallery of Windsor) a silent, misanthropic boy engages the visual landscape of cinema as if it were his only real experience, as if he himself were the progeny of movies. Familiar scenes from popular movies are collaged with Hoolboom’s own original footage and appropriated landscapes from unknown films. A voice-over addresses the cinematic world, expressing that the boy needs to escape because his whole life has been dictated by film.

While Niblock, Deutsch, and Hoolboom represent a kind of prosaic expression, the festival is packed with more diverse explorations of the possibilities of film and video. Bruce McClure, who made an auspicious appearance in last year’s Whitney Biennial, has twin projections of a throbbing, white, moon-like orb. With the presence of the two projectors, serving as antique artifacts, Christmas Tree Stand — Part 1 plays out the industrial aspect of the production of the film experience. Accompanied by the beat of an insistent mechanical sound track, the white orb metamorphoses from hard-edged to soft, with moderate dilations and expansions. This challenges our thresholds of perception.

There are a number of films that borrow directly from the language of both minimalist and abstract painting. Vincent Granier’s Tabula Rasa is a tensely hybridized film that collages painterly minimalist images of the interior architecture of a school with dialogue about everyday life in the school. Ryusuke Ito’s Plate 23 (songs) weaves magnificent abstract color fields with outlines of plants, branches and hands creating a gorgeous tapestry of film.

There are too many artists and films to mention individually, but the expression of film culture represented by this year’s Media City is a testimony to the collaborative work done by Windsor’s Artcite Incorporated, House of Toast, the Art Gallery of Windsor and our own unheralded Detroit Film Center. The festival concludes Saturday evening with, among other screenings, a retrospective of Buffalo filmmaker Eve Heller’s nuanced black-and-white silent films. If the film Beyond the Soft Eclipse is any indication, Heller’s sensuous sculptural forms caught in an epic stillness and carved by the light of cinema will be a fitting end to Media City’s 11th festival.


Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Detroit Film Center, and Feb. 9-12 at Windsor’s Capitol Theatre. For more info on the festival, including a full schedule of events and ticket prices, check out or call 519-253-8065.

Glen Mannisto writes about art for the Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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