Bwog Arts Editor Riva Weinstein has experience in many fields of art. Avant-garde amateur film is, unfortunately, not one of them. Still, she tried to make the most out of the Yugoslav Experimental Film Symposium, which was held this Saturday in the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Columbia.
Listen, what’s the point of college if you don’t go to at least one or two Eastern European experimental film symposiums? At least, that’s what your pretentious liberal arts cousin, Michael, keeps telling you. He tells you this without looking up from his thrice-annotated copy of Finnegan’s Wake. God, Michael is such an asshole. And now your other family members are looking at you expectantly: yeah, why haven’t you been to any Eastern European experimental film symposiums? Are you trying to drive them into an early grave?
Luckily, Bwog is here to help. We attended the third panel of the Yugoslavian Experimental Film Symposium at the Harriman Institute, “Vukica Djilas & Davorin Marc” (if your family isn’t Yugoslavian, that’s pronounced VOO-keet-sa JEE-las and DA-vo-reen MARTS; if your family is Yugoslavian, please give up now).
Vukica Djilas, daughter of the famous Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas, spent over 20 years recording her life on 8 mm film. The result was Home Movies, a 50 minute-long, frenetic showcase of her world: interiors and exteriors, TV screens, people, objects, clips from movies and news broadcasts, Donald Duck cartoons.
An upbeat, disjointed piano score accompanies a film that feels like a dream. A woman in a long coat watches the sunset over the ocean. The camera fixates shakily on the lines of a glass door. We are led, over and over again, through a well-lived space, as though it is imperative to remember the details. We feel as though everything here was very important, very much loved by the filmmaker; but the connection between the image and its crucial meaning has been lost.
At this point, your pretentious liberal arts cousin Michael will try to steal your thunder by talking about the Russian avant-garde film he saw a special screening of in 2008. Imagine how utterly destroyed he’ll be when you remind him that there are two Eastern European avant-gardes: the mainstream, state-supported productions, and the underground “cine-club” scene of independent amateur filmmakers. Your pretentious liberal arts cousin will be so shocked you called him mainstream that he will nearly break his fountain pen in half.
While he is thus speechless, you can fill the silence by talking about how Djilas incorporates structural filmmaking into her own method of diary film, influenced by Michael Snow and Jonas Mekas. Make sure to mention the phrase “quality of quotidian lyricism” as frequently and insistently as possible.
Also showcased was the work of Davorin Marc. Born in a small Slovenian fishing village in 1964, he lacked the formal training and cine-club influence of Djilas, coming upon experimental film techniques, it seems, almost spontaneously. His three-minute film La Popolazione gives us the feeling that we are poorly astral projecting into a picnic: three friends recline on the grass, playing with their dog, speaking in snatches of foreign languages edited to be completely incomprehensible. Marc produced about 50 re-edited versions of this film, including one that rearranged the 5000 frames of the film via a random number generator (he did the rearranging by hand, taking about 6 months).
At this point, Michael will try to redeem himself by claiming he’s already seen that one, and that he much prefers the “original” to the edited and digitized versions. Chuckling gently like a benign 2nd grade art teacher, you’ll remind him that there is no “original” in Marc’s films: every version is only a captured moment in a process of perpetual change, with no anticipated product.
Now thoroughly ruined, your pretentious liberal arts cousin will be laughed out of the family gathering, summarily disowned, and you will never have to listen to another dinner-table conversation about the postcolonial uncanny.
Mysterious round objects and poster via the Harriman Institute