March 4-10 at BAM
Returning for its 7th annual festival, Migrating Forms takes a slightly different tack this year, aiming for depth over breadth by showing multiple works from the artists and collectives within each program of shorter works, as well as multiple features from single directors. It’s a welcome change for the New York festival environment—where work tangential to what might have once been termed the “avant-garde” often winds up slotted into eclectic programs featuring a wide array of artists—instead allowing viewers to immerse themselves in a particular artist’s style and getting away from the emphasis on “new work” that is often the prerogative of festivals aside from oft-ignored sidebar screenings. In this particular festival, it also offers the opportunity to screen important work that remains rather unseen, despite already playing NYC in recent history.
In this year’s iteration, the festival opens and closes with programs of short-form work from Frances Stark and Brooklyn’s James N. Kienitz Wilkins, respectively. Among the latter’s program is the outstanding pseudo-documentary short Special Features, which played the New York Film Festival last year, a VHS-shot “interview” that spreads a strange recounting of a catering gig-cum-kidnapping-cum-Shaq-YouTube-vid across multiple subjects, blurring the lines between subjects and interviewer, dreams and memory, and script and material in a slyly comedic tour de force. It screens here with two other films, B-ROLL with Andre and TESTER, described as its “spiritual prequel & sequel.” Stark, on the other hand, offers an equally playful series of self-described “cat videos”, which mostly feature cats lazing about as various fragments of audio media from across the century play out from within the space. (Do the cats care?) In a particularly timely piece, [THIS NOT EXACTLY A CAT VIDEO] w David Bowie’s “Star Man”, etc. offers two young children in place of cats, dancing around on a bed to a laptop playing the titular Bowie videos, engaging within the performativity of his work in comically direct fashion as they sing along and adjust the MacBook’s volume. It seems a far more aesthetically honest tribute to the Thin White Duke than the many Bowie retrospectives and bar nights the city has offered thus far.
Like Wilkin’s piece, Abbas Fahdel’s Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) also played NYFF last year, but its five-and-a-half-hour heft makes it a key candidate for theatrical viewing. Set before and after the Iraq war (and before and after the killing of the director’s 12-year-old nephew in the invasion), its return to NYC screens is an occasion be celebrated. Much the same could be said for Sergei Loznitsa’s masterful Ukrainian revolution doc Maidan, which had an all-too-brief theatrical run in the city last year. Rigorously sticking to its fixed-camera aesthetic even as the police open fire on protesters mere yards from the filmmakers, it’s a powerful in seeing-as-material-resistance that rises above typical protest films by integrating the act of filmmaking itself—when the camera moves, it’s to save the life of its operator. It screens here alongside his new film The Event, another protest doc, constructed out of archival footage of an attempt to overthrow Yeltsin and Gorbachev in Leningrad in 1991.
Miragating Forms was always an attempt to merge the worlds of art-world and film-circuit moving image pieces, and this year, in Britta Thie’s Transatlantics, it does so in an almost wonderfully on-the-nose fashion. A compilation of web series shorts into a feature length film—bam, look at that medium-crossing—it’s a hyper-pop art-world satire that’s as much media-landscape adoration as critique, reveling in the glossy textures and inane surfaces of self-aware advertising aesthetics and iPhone ringtones, with media as the message and not much else, as a Berlin model (director Thie) goes to parties, sends texts, and buys a cool hat. Infuriatingly self-satisfied even in its satire, it’s best taken as of a piece with PC Music’s inimitable discography as anything else.
Even if Transatlantics never congeals beyond its admittedly intentional lack of substance and haphazard form, it serves as a decent case-in-point for the festival itself, which remains an entirely odd object within the NYC festival circuit even in its newer, ostensibly more focused direction. It can feel like stepping into a self-conscious gallery piece of aesthetic politics—check GCC’s globalist-Arab-Western poetics—or a chilly modernist art film—as with Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren De Hann’s black and white 35mm pieces—and remains admirably unconcerned with “focus” as a guiding principle. Think of it as a wonderful opportunity to catch a few lovely films you missed last year, or as a dive into the media-as-media-as-document-as-media mess of the hyper-diffuse breadth of moving image products. Find me front row center on March 6th as I finally get to watch Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) projected.