Article on Moves09 from Film International
Moves09 Festival of Movement on Screen, Manchester – 23rd – 28th April 2009
Film International – Summer 2009
It’s now three years since Moves transcended its origins as a strand of the Manchester-based Commonwealth Film Festival to present work as a stand-alone event. Developing from a core commitment to the relatively niche subgenre of screendance, the festival has rapidly established a highly inclusive signature style by programming across traditional genre boundaries to include short film, animation and new media-influenced works, with a commitment to what founding director Pascale Moyse has referred to as ‘visual rhythm’ within screen based movement.
This year, a new festival hub at the Cornerhouse Cinema provided an ideal home-base for sit-down screenings, as newly included strands spread city-wide tendrils to encompass VJing at the Green Room; poetry and film at the Cervantes Institute, and combined an extensive gallery-based programme with work created for mobile technologies and podcasting.
The festival’s geographical reach has traditionally included a range of venues and partner organisations throughout the North West, and this year extended as far south as a co-commissioning remit with Sadlers Wells in London. The resulting work – created by Shelly Love for public screen viewing – made use of Love’s trademark high-gloss production values to explore historically-set conventions of society portraiture, drastically restricting movement and behavioural possibilities for her silk-gowned, bejewelled and powdered sitter, whose limited, near-static world serves as sole focus for extended viewing gaze.
With previous events focussing on screen choreography, and the interrelation of sound and image, the choice of narrativity as this year’s theme provided a discernible trade-off in programming terms. Debuts for narrative-themed slots included a highly successful range of work aimed at younger audiences, including child-friendly explorations of storybook themes, such as Bobby Brown and Devraj Patnaik’s Statues Come to Life (2005). Within the same programme, and appealing across age-related consideration, Charlotte Dolman’s use of stop-motion wittily endowed a range of cleaning implements with playfully-oriented personality quirks in What’s in Store (2008), and Aaron Epstein and Daniel Stedman’s pared down narrative for The Moth and the Firefly (2008) reduced essential elements to a parable-like minimum, linked by finely illustrated intertitles. With similar success, the work of Czech filmmaker and animator Jan Svankmajer was showcased in a programme spanning the artist’s creative output from the mid-1960s onwards. Presented in partnership with the BFI, Michael Brooke provided extensive contextualisation of the work in a pre-screening talk – a format which was echoed in the presentation of Lottie Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, from 1926, introduced by independent programmer Gitta Wigro. Reiniger’s labour-intensive practice, placing highly stylised paper cut-outs against background fields of colour, provided a glimpse of handcrafting from an increasingly industrialised historical era, and convincingly swept a mixed-age audience entirely along in its Arabian Nights-themed sabre-wielding, princess-wooing, monster-slaying narrative arc.
Across town at the Cervantes Institute, a combination of inventive visuals and non-traditional narrative marked a noteworthy experiment, programmed by Manchester based publishers Comma Press. Recent pairings of regionally-based filmmakers with output from Comma’s poetry list included Kath McKay’s minimalist inventory of a female life in Working Metal (2009), providing the basis for Terry Wrag’s stop-motion cutlery drawer and jewellery-box residue. Lisa Ribec’s sheer fabric-swaddling illustrated the central image of Shamshad Khan’s Heart Wrap (2009), while the steady advancement of map-set track marks contrasted with birdsong-bathed disuse in Kate Jessop’s visual evocation of Simon Armitage’s On Miles Platting Station (2008). The evening began with poet Gaiai Holmes’ engaging readings of her own work, with subject matter ranging from neighbourhood voyeurism to Cillit Bang, and further elements of live performance featured in Get Played, presented at the Green Room in association with Liverpool-based festival Abandon Normal Devices. Here, clone-like cartoon ponies and pandas gambolled across the screen, as sonic experimentation fused with anime-style visuals, hypnotically conjured from static laptops by Werner Moebius and Pikilipita at the laconic click of a key.
Elsewhere within festival scheduling, the focus on narrative appeared to limit the diversity of work on offer, with a strong reliance on scripting and voice-over in evidence. Honourable exceptions appeared in the form of festival debuts from Mark Jones and Jeff Chiba Stearns, presenting widely divergent approaches to the issue of narrativity. Chiba Stearn’s Yellow Sticky Notes (2007) deluged the viewing eye in an ever-evolving whirlwind of hand-scribbled animation, interweaving world-stage events with lists of personal minutae, as cloud-jumping unicorns morphed into machinegun-toting GIs. Jones’ documentary Taken By The Air (2008) provided a quietly assured evocation of the duality of aerial performance, blending firsthand testimony of an aerialist mother with her pre-teen daughter’s once-removed view of her professional world.
In addition, a number of artists with strong festival track records this year highlighted narratively-oriented experimentation. Montreal-based partnership Marlene Millar and Philip Szporer’s expansive vistas of natural landscape screened at Moves07 in Butte (2006), followed up by the pressure-cooked intensity of The Greater The Weight (2008) at last year’s event. For Moves09, Millar and Szporer alternated pin-sharp close-up with hazily diffuse full-figure framing in 40 (2009), exploring the age-altered, body-centred experience of a single male performer. Julie Angel’s focus on parkour previously featured in MySpace (2005), framing molten, hyper-mobile movement against a surroundingly angular urban environment, while this year’s Feedback Loop (2008), used bodycam-generated footage to lead the viewing eye through the off-kilter pathways and texturally harsh terrain of a highly particularised movement-world. Current South East Dance Agency fellowship awardee Lucy Cash provided the opportunity for back-to-back viewing and discussion of two works shown elsewhere within Moves scheduling, at a specially-curated edition of the normally Brighton-based Dance For Camera Nights Forum. In Sight Reading (2006), Cash’s reconstruction of scientific experimentation into ‘sightless vision’ illustrated what she described as her own approach to resolutely non-linear ‘quantum storytelling’, while Requiem for the Redhead? (2008) combined stop-motion techniques, photographic portraiture and thoughtfully allusive voice-over with bursts of pop culture pacing.
Moves commitment to internationally-based partnerships and guest curation has previously opened up screening possibilities to include programmes from BravoFACT; the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, and the historically diverse slanting of La Cinémathèque De La Danse. This year, geographical reach spanned the inclusion of custom-made programming from Núria Font’s Barcelona-based NU2; Jeannette Ginslov’s combining of African-themed work and a range of pieces from Sydney-based ReelDance. While many of the works exhibited a strong focus on translating pre-choreographed, codified dance vocabulary to screen, Sergio Cruz wove together a tapestry of apparently spontaneously-occuring movement, music, heat and light entirely by means of skilful edit in Exotica (2009), echoed by Aitor Echeverria’s composition of never fully seen interlinked bodies in Aprop (2006). Gideon Obarzaneck and Edwina Throsby approached the emotionally complex subject area of the father/daughter relationship by providing a single instruction to a series of young women in the conceptually-assured Dance Like Your Old Man (2007), while a documentary-influenced feel to the minimal palette of shamanic, ritualised movement in Guy Spiller’s Trance Dance (2007) was augmented by spectral, superimposed digital graphics, fleetingly illuminated by firelight and timeless as cave painting.
With a substantial range of short film and screendance shown in non-traditional venues across the city, gallery-set programming also opened out access beyond cinema-based considerations. At Manchester Metropolitan University’s Link space, Hilary Goodall’s Earthmoves (2008) bypassed traditional notions of codified dance content to spotlight the role of conceptualisation and edit in an entirely medium-specific choreographic endeavour. Wicker picnic basket, expanse of fake lawn and striped deckchairs provided a self-contained viewing environment for Goodall’s constantly moving, ceiling-projected patternings of burrowing insects, swaying branches and rippling currents, enhanced by natural soundscape. Lutz Gregor’s previous work Maps of Emotion (2008), dealt with real-time narrative progress by means of a three-way screen split, featuring as part of Moves mainstream programming. Gallery siting for Raft of Medusa (2008) this year invited a more rewardingly contemplative approach to the work, allowing the viewing eye time to register the slightest shifts in compositional arrangement within emotionally charged, Bill Viola-like tableaux, in a high-def, slow-mo, twenty-first century reworking of thematic territory explored by nineteenth century painter Géricault. In contrast, Eloi Maduell’s pLayModes installation, shown at the Lowry in Salford, allowed for interactive experimentation with a range of visual and time-based effects – generating, during my own dancer-heavy group visit, an improvised duet for starfish-like fingers and umbrella, kaleidoscopically refracted onto a giant playback screen.
Emphasis on debate this year included a series of eight narrative-themed discussion forums, with two British-based artists making use of the platform to explore alternatives to traditional linear progression. Alex Reuben included examples of his own work as British Council artist in residence in Brazil, while Becky Edmunds unveiled recent work-in-progress shaped by the arctic expanses of Swedish Lapland. Reuben’s professional background in visual art and music contrasts with Edmunds’ dance and live art-influenced practice-base, however both artists share a discernible commitment to a non-linear, improvisatory-based camera practice, calling into question the necessity for predetermined narrative planning. The festival’s orientation towards new media-influenced work also saw the inclusion of slots exploring virtual environments, and the hybridised world of recombinant fiction. In Paolo Cirio’s experimentation, the latter threaded together elements of fact-based information with game-culture tropes, inhabiting the culturally expanding zone of fluidity between actual and artful, and leaving a sense that the potential of new media delivery methods can leave artists playing catch-up, ideally requiring a lifetime or two for creative exploration. The festival’s final day was given over to a double-forum session for Simon Fildes, in a compressed version of the Open Source Video Dance format, which has functioned in recent years as a significant, dialogue-driven focal point for the British and international screendance community. Using knowledge mapping and participant-led enquiry, approaches to the central issue of ‘movement as narrative’ included the potential of cutting-edge technological enablement – coining the usage ‘narrative 2.0’ -. and avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren’s mid twentieth century theorisation of a layered, and poetically-associative horizontal narrative progression. Questions relating to the consequences for authorship, and the role of the viewer within such multilevelled experimentation, also surfaced for discussion.
Moyse now hands over the reins for future activities to current festival manager Gala Pujol, and while transition from founding director to incumbent can be a challenging rite of passage for any organisation, both appear to share a vision of the potential for festival development reaching beyond traditional formats, and a commitment to further strengthening a network of national and Europe-wide partnerships. Moves organisational growth over the last three years has coincided with a shifting of tectonic plates within the national landscape of screendance activity, leaving Pujol well placed to build on secure festival foundations, oriented towards an inclusive culture of moving image creation.