29 September 2010

If you’ve been to see a film at FACT recently, and showed up early enough to catch the trailers, you might have been surprised to see something a little different…

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For the Liverpool Biennial 2010, we’re adopting a slightly subversive, slightly unconventional format for our exhibition-related film programme. Throughout the Biennial time period, we’ll be showing some of the best artist films in front of our regular commercial feature films. Clocking in at around five minutes each, six films will be shown (one per week - on most weeks) mixed in with the trailers and adverts at the beginning. The films vary in content – some are about love affairs, some about marine life – but they are all by the most acclaimed contemporary artists working with film and video today. 

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So what distinguishes an ‘artist film’ from any other film? The length could be a start – at five minutes, these films aren’t likely to get a screening on their own in a cinema anytime soon. Instead they are more likely to be seen in a gallery – like our galleries – where you might walk into them in the middle of their loop (they’re almost always on a loop), sit on an uncomfortable bench and watch for a while, trying to ignore the other people coming in and out, before moving on to the next artwork.

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But while these are sometimes not great conditions for watching films, we often find audiences are more willing to push themselves and engage their brains when they watch films in a gallery – instead of looking for an escape, they are actively looking at the artist to raise questions, perplex, teach and challenge them.  These films don’t always need to be seen straight through, from beginning to end – they can be dipped in and out of, giving you a different insight depending on when you visit.

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Which is not to say that watching films in a cinema doesn’t engage your brain, but we undoubtedly make different associations with cinemas than galleries. Cinemas are a place where you escape, and where the low lights and dolby stereo sound are often meant to immerse you and make you forget about the outside world for a couple of hours. Cinemas try to make us vulnerable or sympathetic to whatever emotion the director is hoping to draw out – so often you will hear films described as an “emotional rollercoaster” or a “tearjerker”.

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So, recognizing the cinema as an often vulnerable, emotional space, The Artists Cinema speaks quite directly to the Biennial theme of Touched. If the Biennial is about work that moves us – work that makes us not only think but feel – then we’d like to see what presenting artwork in the cinemas rather than the galleries will do to how we respond to the work. We will we have a different emotional response to these types of films when we’ve got handkerchiefs ready and popcorn in hand, rather than the typical chin-scratching gallery visit that leaves us with tired legs?

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All that and we’ve left little room to talk about this week’s Artists Cinema film, but we promise to blog about them coming up. We’ve already shown one by Akram Zatari, and this week is Rosalind Nashashibi’s This Quality – a Palestinian-British artist who has won many prizes and solo exhibitions for her work. It screens only until Thursday so catch it while you can, in front of the film Winter’s Bone. Nashashibi’s film is a portrait of sorts, shot in downtown Cairo, Egypt. The first half of the film presents a woman looking straight on to the camera, and in the second half, a series still shots of covered cars in Cairo.

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Having caught both films last night, we’ve only now just started to think about how they relate – in this kind of format, comparisons are unavoidable, as the feature film begins with the short film still fresh in the mind. How does the dusty backdrop of Cairo compare to the dirty backdrop of the American Ozark back country of Winter’s Bone? While the protagonists in each film are very different, they are both seemingly strong female roles – how would they view each others’ surroundings?

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Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the Artists Cinema films and the pairings they’ll be attached to in our main cinema programme (call us to find out which film is an 'Artists Cinema special screening' this week). And now that we’ve told you what its all about, we promise to talk more about the films next time!


This Quality


 
Winter's Bone