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For fun and for real

07.03.2012 15:36 No comments

There is a festival held each winter just before Berlinale and Transmediale, combining the bravest and most innovative of both. The cinema forum in Rotterdam is already 41 years old but does not play it too serious and in spite of discovering directors like Pablo Trapero, Hong Sang-soo, Kelly Reichardt or even Christopher Nolan, still continues to experiment. Following the advice of the festival founder Hubert Bals, programmers prefer to look at geographic locations that hint rich ledge of talent and their sixth sense usually does not lie – what is being presented in Rotterdam in the form of a special program or being commented as a hot trend, soon after appears in Berlin, Cannes and Venice.
Besides, the festival has a special affinity for new media, which is not accidental. Rotterdam is the calling card of Dutch architecture, it is also where the largest exhibitions for contemporary art and design in the country are being organized. As for digital technologies, the laboratories V2 and WORM are known worldwide, as well as art centers like Witte de With – in this particular gallery in the late '90s worked as a curator the present director of the Rotterdam cinema forum, Rutger Wolfson. Perhaps this is why for the festival he runs the line between cinema, video, visual arts and digital media is almost invisible, as far as this distinction even exists. The latest edition focuses precisely on this line and along with a few quite interesting discussions like Art: Film and Stop Worrying and Love Online Platforms, a lot of attention was raised by the section For Real, which each institute for digital arts would have been proud to present.

For Real is a program that brings together 15 different installations and events outside of the usual festival venues. Its aim is to answer a question posed by the three programmers Rutger Wolfson, Edwin Carels and Inge de Leeuw: "What is reality today?". The catalogue introduction recalls how at the beginning of XXI century the theorist Lev Manovich notes that the language of new media develops shaped by the conventions of cinema and a decade later we are completely surrounded by Internet and mobile technologies, so that our life looks more and more like a movie. According to Edwin Karels, the idea to go beyond the festival frame came during the anniversary edition one year ago, for which he organized parallel events at 40 different locations in Rotterdam. Inge de Leeuw on the other side explains that after analyzing the components of a film, the programmers decided to experiment with the element of script and invited authors who explore what happens when the reality plot changes – whether this intervention is perceived by people as cinema or as an actual experience.

Thus, among the 15 projects selected for the For Real programme, there are all sorts of pranks with the actual world. The most accessible work (by Aram Bartholl) is located on the square Schouwburgplein, just in front of the festival center, and consists of a giant red marker with the letter A, copy of the point used by Google Maps for topographical designation. Other authors are presented with interactive movies (Bla Bla by Vincent Morisset), videos documenting past performances (Among Others by Pilvi Takala) or video collages (Reframing the Artist by Sascha Pohle). The British director Simon Pummell participates with a 3D installation called The Sputnik Effect, that interprets the symptoms of schizophrenic patients in 1957, after the first satellite was launched to orbit the Earth. Other projects, such as 100 Meters Behind the Future, Meet Your Stranger, Performance #1 and Our Broken Voice rely on visitors' activity, therefore the outcome is unpredictable every time, as it depends on the reaction of the participants. For Real also organizes four different soundtrack walking routes and with the use of headphones plus a pinch of fantasy Rotterdam turns into a film scenery. Nevertheless, the most popular destination seems to be the Home Movie Factory by Michel Gondry – a cinema pavilion with all kind of sets and special effects for shooting, so within a few hours participants can crafted a short film, just like the protagonists of Be Kind Rewind.

The heart of the For Real programme is located in an exhibition space called, not without some humor, Reality Check. Occupying a former Chinese restaurant, this place for discussions and a meeting spot for some of the projects has a very industrial look, but warmly offers board games and free tea with noodles. Here takes place also the conversation with Carol Spier, the production designer for some of the most popular films of David Cronenberg, including the classics Naked Lunch, Videodrome and eXistenZ. Perhaps this is why when I enter Reality Check, eXistenZ screens on the wall, so the shots of Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh rolling in organic dirt match completely the high-tech objects, exposed on the dusty concrete floor among the remains of the Chinese decoration. Relating For Real's idea with Cronenberg, however, I can not help but ponder where is the bearable limit of this merging between the illusory image and the biological body. When I ask this question to Inge de Leeuw, inquiring whether anyone from the audience passed any sort of negative feedback, she smiles and replies that indeed, some of the participants at 100 Meters Behind the Future complained about paranoia symptoms – although they knew that the script involves a car chase and despite the understanding that everything happening is a performance. Yet, she is optimistic about the common future of man and technology, thus it is logical that the evolution of cinema (and games) focuses more and more on interactivity and immersive experience. This is why also the youngest generation, that grew up surrounded by a plenty of digital images, nowadays gets oriented and shifts between different realities much more easily. Well, I do not want to sound like an analogue anarchist, but umm... for real?

text: Yoana Pavlova