MIFF 2015: Vertical Cinema

Flyers advise that there’s a strobe warning and earplugs are handed out at the door. I walk into Deakin Edge, a gorgeous corner of ACMI specifically designed for concert performances, take my seat and stare up at the monolithic screen in front of me. This is going to be a bizarre and challenging MIFF experience.

The Vertical Cinema is like your average screen turned on its side. Experimental filmmakers have teamed with electronic musicians and glitch artists to collate ten specially designed films for this very unique experience.

The films shown are a mix of analogue and digital experiments with an emphasis on sound design. The first film shown, Chrome by Esther Ulrus, uses the technique of autochroming (hand-painting the individual frames of the film itself) to craft a colourful psychedelic collage of manic dots and shapes. It sets the tone for the kind of experimentation this brave audience is to expect and some shuffle uncomfortably in their seats and doubtless contemplate leaving.

The program’s emphasis on sound is exemplified by the juxtaposition of silence and noise. The third feature Louver (Bjorn Kammerer) tests the audience’s patience with complete silence. Accompanying the sonic nothingness is a single shot featuring what appear to be filmed images of fluorescent lights rhythmically shifting back and forth across the screen. The effect is hypnotic and time is momentarily suspended.

Following the transcendent silence of Louver the audience is confronted with what we were warned would be the first of two deafeningly loud films. Manuel Knapp’s V~ is a nihilistic short comprised of analogue digital synthesis accompanied by a deafening industrial score. Though the film appears amateurish, the dizzying soundtrack creates an eerie and nightmarish environment that is purposefully uncomfortable. I get why we needed earplugs now.

After the first five shorts the audience is treated to an intermission. Disappointingly a number of people leave and I hear one bloke (who reminds me of a character from American Psycho) whine to the MIFF volunteer about the unpleasantness of his experience. I will tell her afterwards that this was the best session of my entire festival.

Returning refreshed (the eyes and ears need time to breathe) the audience is immediately subjected to more brazen audiovisual overload. One of the first films back from intermission is Deorbit, a film credited to Makino Takashi and Telcosystems. This short is the highlight of the collection and one of the most incredible things I witnessed throughout the entire festival.

Deorbit is a mostly black and white collage of analogue and digital effects that slowly build to an epic crescendo of sound and image. As the image intensity rises and falls the soundtrack compliments, eventually building to chaos closely resembling a harsh noise wall. The images are sporadic, weaving together a story of space travel, discovery and the cosmos.

Deorbit is also the longest film of the Vertical Cinema package. Clocking in at almost 18 minutes it makes use of every single second and every frame of celluloid. I sat, mouth gaping and transfixed, allowing the senses to be overwhelmed by the pulsing noise and crazy visuals.

The following film Colterrain is a total change of pace and my second favourite of the collection. Directed by established graphic designer and multimedia artist Tina Frank in collaboration with Swedish glitch and experimental musician Ivan Pavlov (aka CoH), Colterrain is another short showcasing a perfect marriage of audio and visual.

Frank has transmitted Pavlov’s music through a Synchronator device that translates audio frequencies into RGB video frequencies. I am reminded of Robin Fox’s spectacular RGB Laser experiments in that the rhythmic coalescence of sound and image is used to create trance-like total immersion.

The vertical screen is utilised best in this film. The lines created by the Synchronator fold in toward the center of the vertical screen, creating a sense of infinity. The viewer is sucked toward this visual split in the screen, creating a portal into the void or perhaps to other dimensions.

Another highlight of the collection is Pyramid Flare directed by Johan Lurf. This is perhaps the most structurally and tonally “normal” feature of the collection: no rapid-fire edits, psychedelic colours or sonic abrasion.

Pyramid Flare is a structural research essay of a pyramid shaped building in Prague. Shot entirely using a 35mm camera on its side, the building is filmed from different angles at different times of the day. Due to the vertical landscape we are given a very unique portrait of the building. The pyramid appears to be pointing to the heavens, with Lurf emphasising screen space to everything above the building, resulting in shots that are almost fifty percent sky, sun and cloud. It’s a moving and beautiful short, despite its simplicity, and as the day changes we see the building take different forms until eventually night consumes the pyramid in darkness.

Each film shown was extremely impressive and there was not a single bad film of the collection. The challenging way that these artists have experimented with the screen’s form is a welcome inclusion to any film festival and I feel privileged and honored that I was given the opportunity to experience this in my own city.

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