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Review: IDFA DocLab 2010 Opening Night

Dynamic documentary expansion at the DocLab 2010 launch.

A glitzy crowd milled in the theatres and halls of Amsterdam’s charming Brakke Grond last night for the opening of DocLab 2010. A fitting launch for IDFA’s dynamic new media program, bringing abstract and virtual video from the left field of documentary, right back to reality.

A series of installations as part of the Expanding Documentary exhibition, ranging from the poetic / experimental to the downright comical, welcomed visitors as a precursor to the spellbinding and eagerly anticipated world scoop HIGHRISE/Out My Window presented by Canadian hotshot Kat Cizek.

Highlight of the Expanding Documentary group show, is the poignant short film Vita Nova which addresses the subjectivity of history, as we observe a now elderly former child soldier from 1950s French colonial Ivory Coast flipping through the pages of Paris Match issue 236 (1955) – featuring landmark pictures of himself on the cover and inside. The projection is accompanied by stacked re-prints of the magazine, inviting visitors to re-read and re-interpret history for themselves on the spot, adding a tangible dimension to the installation.

And in the tiny storeroom of the Brakke Grond, a special screening shows the throat-lump inducing documentary The Corridor about a donkey in the South of England that visits old folks homes, by Belgian filmmaker Sarah Vanagt. In a purely observational narrative, we are shown connectivity between man and beast, between present and past, between skin and fur, projected in a dark, corridor-like cell that evokes the narrow existence of the end of days in a residential care home. Poetic, timely, and true.

At a little after 7pm the crowd was ushered into the HIGHRISE room to experience this elaborate interactive documentary installation, with introductions by web documentary director Kat Cizek, and the French interactive artist Priam Givord who was responsible for designing the installation which brings the web documentary into a physical space, with meticulous delivery.

The screening features a selection of cuts from the 90 minutes of material now gathered for this worldwide collaborative project that connects the myriad lives behind the closed doors and windows of the world’s peripheral and often dilapidating tower blocks of social housing – far removed from the frothy frappuccinos and organic farmer’s markets that typify today’s urban centres.

The bespoke installation for DocLab was designed as a canvas on which the filmic principles of the web documentary could be flaunted, where non-linear content could be broken down to reflect the virtual space in the real world; overlaps, dissolves, transitions – a physical dreamscape that is not seamless but rather seam full.

Two coloured spotlights flank the projection on either side, inviting visitors to step under them and shift the visual – from the musings of a housewife in Alamar to the reminiscence of a Tibetan in Toronto, to a cosy apartment in Amsterdam’s notorious Bijlmermeer. Visual connections between disparate lives which have nothing in common save for their subsistence in vast, bland, urban environments.

And finally into the Brakke Grond theatre, for the Tagfish live performance by Belgian artists Berlin, who miraculously turn the excruciatingly dull minutiae of town planning and boardroom banter into a hilarious overture that combines documentary, theatre, lo-fi hi-tech, and magic!

A semi-circle of throne-like, high-backed chairs surround an austere meeting table, each chair hosting a screen on which we see a series of German boardroom archetypes (grey, overweight, suited) appear as video apparitions. We follow the painstaking evolution of their longing to turn an abandoned coalmining complex in the Ruhr region, into the nation’s hottest hangout – complete with luxury hotel, hipster bar, and theme park. One chair remains empty, reserved for the elusive Sheik Yani Hamani on whom everyone’s hopes are pinned as the project’s investor, and ultimate executor of this increasingly impossible pipe dream.

How could such a deadly story led by such dull characters possibly be compelling? Generous helpings of irony in the delivery, dramatic lighting and sound, rich animation over video footage, plus maps which magically unroll, glasses of water that appear to be poured by an invisible intern, and interaction between the apparently disconnected characters on the screens, combine to create a unique and extraordinary treasure of convergence culture. That’s right, convergence! It’s the new black. Thanks to Paradocs for the exquisite tip!

Written by TheMinilot