Academic Film Club, New Belgrade: Headquarters of the Alternative Film/Video Festival. Photographed by Kamila Kuc.
Found Footage (2009), bilingual publication of the Alternative Film/Video Festival. Photo by Kamila Kuc.
Cine-Clubs (2010), bilingual publication of the Alternative Film/Video Festival. Photographed by Kamila Kuc.
Archiving and Digitizing (2011), bilingual publication of the Alternative Film/Video Festival. Photographed by Kamila Kuc.
Sky Lines (Nadine Poulain, 2014): The outcome of the 2014 Alternative Film/Video residency programme.
Circle (Tomislav Gotovac, 1964): 360 degree view of Belgrade.
by Kamila Kuc
Now in its thirty-first year, the Alternative Film/Video Festival began life in Belgrade in 1982 with the aim of recording and theoretically defining “authentic values and new creative possibilities in the field of alternative film.”[open endnotes in new window] According to Peter Wollen, a jury member in 1984, “the basic achievement of the authors of alternative film in Yugoslavia” was “the exploration of the ontology of the medium,” as well as a consideration of film “as a part of the modernist movement.” This can also be said of Yugoslav video art, which was at its peak in the 1980s when the Alternative Film/Video Festival was created.
But the avant-garde scene in Yugoslavia has always been vigorous. Since the early 1920s, movements such as Zenithism, Cosmism and Hypnism, which fused Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism and Surrealism, all betrayed a fascination with film. After Tito’s 1948 breakaway from Stalin and the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia enjoyed greater artistic freedom than many other Eastern European countries at the time. In this climate, alternative film culture burgeoned as cine-clubs were established in almost every city of Yugoslavia, introducing their members to various trends in international cinema.
The Alternative Film/Video Festival is one outcome of this cinephile tradition. It is the oldest active festival of avant-garde film and video in Europe. It follows in the tradition of another significant alternative event in Socialist Yugoslavia, the Genre Experimental Film Festival in Zagreb (1963-1967). The Alternative Film/Video Festival ceased to function during the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2002) but was successfully reinstated in 2003, and in 2006 it became an international venture. Every year this non-profit event is accompanied by a bilingual publication (in Serbian and English) based around a key theme from the previous year’s Festival. To name but a few of the themes: found footage film (2009), cine-clubs (2010) and the archiving and digitizing of film (2011).
The Alternative Film/Video Festival is held in the Student City Cultural Centre in New Belgrade (Novi Beograd), which was founded in 1958 as the Academic Film Club and educated such key figures of the Yugoslav alternative film scene as Kokan Rakonjac, Tomislav Gotovac, Nikola Duric, Bojan Jovanovic and Miodrag Milosevic. Nowadays, it produces over 500 films and videos annually and holds a vast archive of Yugoslav alternative film and video. The Centre also offers a month-long residency award that provides a film/videomaker with a studio and full production support for a new film, which premiers at the Festival the following year. The most recent outcome of this residency is Nadine Poulain’s geometric abstract piece Sky Lines, also selected for this year’s Berlinale Shorts competition.
Lasting five days, Alternative Film/Video has numerous international experimental film/video programs and specially commissioned exhibitions and workshops. In its its attempt to reduce the gap between film theory and practice, the Festival also brings together filmmakers, academics, programmers and curators in an Academic Forum to debate experimental film in relation to particular themes. The 2013 Forum's discussions centred on the theme of fragmentation, explored in presentations given by a wide range of international scholars.
Many aspects of Dakovic’s paper also corresponded with my presentation, "Cinema without Film: A Fragmented History of Polish Avant-Garde Film, 1916-1937." In the example of Feliks Kuczkowski’s 1916 now lost animations, I argued that fragmentation is the key factor that ought to be taken into account when writing a history of Polish avant-garde film prior to the 1930s. When attempting to establish Kuczkowski’s status within the history of Polish avant-garde film, one relies only on fragmentary evidence—in particular, his memoirs (written in retrospect, thus not entirely accurate), frames from his films and statements from his contemporaries. The Forum concluded with U.S. film restorer Bruce Posner’s remarks on the complex process of restoring Manhatta (Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, 1921, USA) for the Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941 DVD collection (2001). What emerged as a connecting thread between most of these presentations was understanding fragmentation as both a geopolitical consequence of war (including the recent disintegration of Yugoslavia, the changing borders of pre-war Poland) and a conscious artistic strategy employed by particular avant-garde filmmakers, many of whom have been represented at the Alternative Film/Video Festival over the years.
The diverse body of work at this year’s Alternative Film/Video Festival ranged from contemporary Croatian artists, through Australian avant-garde (1962-2012) and Austrian structuralism, to early U.S. avant-garde (1894-1941). There was also a sneak midnight preview: Bruce Posner’s most recent restoration of Bruce Conner’s Cosmic Ray (1962). Without a doubt, however, the most important event of this year’s Festival was the "Antifilm and Structural Film in Belgrade" retrospective. This program was important for a number of reasons, which I will explore in some detail below. In the first instance, it demonstrated how little of the Yugoslav structural film is known to foreign audiences in comparison U.S., British and Austrian structural films (also included in this year’s program). This festival viewing of a neglected national tendency in itself calls for a historical reassessment of the whole complex tendency in avant-garde film. Secondly, it wasn’t hard to notice that only one female filmmaker featured in these projections and I shall return to this issue at a later stage.
Introduced by leading theorists and filmmakers Slobodan Sijan and Miodrag Milosevic, many rarely seen films were shown, including Kruznica (Circle, Tomislav Gotovac, 1964), Holiday (Praznik, Bojan Jovanovic, 1983) and Sijan’s The garden with paths that bifurcate (Vrt sa stazamasto se racvaju, 1971). A critic and filmmaker, Sijan has devoted much of his career to popularizing alternative film from the region.
Sijan's latest publication, Kino Tom (2011), is devoted to the work of a multimedia artist and filmmaker Tomislav Gotovac, and is currently being translated into English by the Festival’s programmer, Greg De Cuir, Jr. Filmed on top of a building, in Gotovac’s Kruznica, the camera is placed on a tripod and pans 360 degrees. Parts of Belgrade are being shown as the camera zooms from long shots to close-ups – a technique which causes a feeling of dizziness in the viewer. The program was accompanied by an exhibition of supporting material, including Sijan’s manifesto "Diagram of Antifilm: Us & Them," originally published in 1976 in Filmograf. According to Sijan’s chart, the Yugoslav films made in 1963, such as The Morning of a Faun (Gotovac), The Yard, Scusa signiorina and K3 or the Clear Sky Without Clouds (Mihovil Pansini) and in 1964, such as Toilet (Pansini), Direction and Circle (Gotovac), together with the films of Andy Warhol and the Fluxus Group, represented one specific current of world avant-garde film.
[Sijan's chart reproduced on page 2]