Where creation begins: a deep dive into Experimenta at the LFF

From a trance-like journey into creation to the heart-spilling sounds of Spanish divas, this year's Experimenta programme finds artist-filmmakers looking beyond the surface of things to find new depths and resonances.

19 September 2019

By Helen de Witt

Unheimlich II: Astarti (1980)

It’s hardly a surprise that this year’s LFF has many films that deal with the state of the world and its people, whether politics or the environment, personal stories or imaginative reinterpretations. The Experimenta strand is no exception, and there are many in the selection that deal with these urgent matters. But what we find in the way that artist-filmmakers approach their subject is, perhaps, a greater mindfulness of process and material.

Artists are generally aware that they are putting an object out into the world, even if that is an ephemeral object, like a film that only exists when the audience is sitting in front of it. So they are hugely conscious of the importance of form and structure, as well as the film’s subject. The processes of examination and experimentation often invite them to look differently at things that we might think we know all too well, and also at things of which we know very little. Their films look beyond the surface to discover depths and resonances often not immediately apparent, or they investigate hidden histories to give expression to unheard people.

There is no better place to start your exploration of Experimenta than with the Special Presentation, Krabi, 2562, directed by Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong, which provides an alternative experience of the eponymous Thai tourist town. Blending their unique styles and views from east and west, they dig deeper into the nature of the place, its history, myths and enduring spirit – revealing, too, amusing anomalies in these perspectives.

Roz Mortimer has been making astounding and visceral short works for many years, and her first feature, The Deathless Woman, develops her signature style. The film is an investigation into how the Nazi genocide against the Roma has been largely ignored, and the ways in which the Roma themselves have needed to understand it not in terms of victimhood but through the mythic figure of a woman who cannot die.

The playing out of history in order to understand, experience and own it is also the driving force of Louis Henderson’s new film, Ouvertures, made with Haiti’s The Living and the Dead. The theatrical collective is translating (from French into Creole) Edouard Glissant’s play Monsieur Toussaint, about the Haitian revolutionary who, with the aid of liberated slaves, defeated Napoleon. Necessarily, this means working through performance and discussion towards an understanding not just of language but of colonialism and cultural memory.

Cultural re-examination is also core to Nina Danino’s latest feature, I Die of Sadness Crying for You. Prepare for some heart-wrenchingly beautiful melodies from the greatest Spanish divas spilling their sorrow in the form of singing known as Copla, which flourished in the 30s and 40s, possibly as a return of what Franco repressed. Far from providing a detached history lesson, these iconic women are celebrated through the personal story of the artist’s mother.

Another hidden history can be found in Ruptures by Noorafshan Mirza and Brad Butler. It’s based on real events and shot like a French thriller, leading us to wonder why a politician, an assassin, a policeman and a beauty queen are all in a single car heading to an unknown but dangerous destination.

As told by greats including Jonas Mekas and Yoko Ono, George: The Story of George Maciunas and Fluxus is a portrait of the artist told using the artistic strategies of the movement. Hugely creative and visually inspiring, this film by Jeffrey Perkins is both the best tutorial for any diligent devotee of art history and a wonderful journey through one of the 20th century’s most creative and anarchistic art movements, one with roots in both the Soviet avant garde and Dada.

Finally, dive into what is likely to be the most immersive and hypnotic experience of the festival, Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki’s 1980 film Unheimlich II: Astarti. The name is derived from the German word for ‘uncanny’ (a critical concept developed by Freud) and the Greek name for the god Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice and political power.

This exquisite mythopoetic film, painstakingly restored from the original Super 8 into 2K, is a profound recreation of female archetypes; an investigation into the meaning of ethics and relationships though a trance-like journey into the hypnotising depths of where creation began.

BFI Player logo

Stream hand-picked cinema

A free trial, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Get 14 days free