A program of found footage films

Program online between May 7, 2020, 19:00 (CET) and May 8, 2020, 19:00 (CET)
Suggested donation: 8 Euros or more


Rose Hobart (1936-1939), Joseph Cornell, 19’
Sleepy Haven (1993), Matthias Müller, 15’
Cruises (1989), Cécile Fontaine, 8’
Removed (1999), Naomi Uman, 7’
Pièce Touchée (1989), Martin Arnold, 15’

This (online) film program is aimed at introducing the fifth edition of Fracto Experimental Film Encounter scheduled to be held on-site in Berlin, October 2021. The found footage films of Peter Tscherkassky will be in focus during this year’s edition. Via the online program, we intend to present a selection of films that tap into different modalities of found footage filmmaking which will be further explored via our special programs later in the festival.

The first film in the program is grand collector-collagist Joseph Cornell’s classic, Rose Hobart (1936-39), a film using found materials in keeping with other avenues of Cornell’s creative practices. It’s a film that uses montage as an organising device while simultaneously chiseling other formal parameters such as devising its own plastic narrative tension, rhythmic assertion of elements of composition, a radical creation of a new temporality and a structuring principle that de-narrativizes the original found film, East of Borneo (1931) by George Melford, and then (re)creates something that is very much a Cornell signature. The film's blue tint relocates its ambience to emphasize a filtered act of looking, mediated by a window glass.

The blue tint extends into Matthias Müller’s mysterious, suspenseful and paraphilic Sleepy Haven (1993) acting as a chromatic intervention that intensifies the oceanic feeling of a sea-novel. The film uses material metaphors that then spill over into the narrative, thus exploring and underscoring it as an erotic container of both explicit and nascent desire. Like Cornell, Müller’s film is also a re-construction that facilitates the birth of a new narrative by an adventurous use of montagist reorganisation.

The feeling of being at sea continues with Cécile Fontaine’s Cruises (1989) albeit in a manner that refocuses attention on the photochemical basis of the film material. In Cruises, the material alteration is not merely limited to scratching or painting directly on film, but involves soaking the material in order to disintegrate the emulsion and subsequently rearrange the scuffed layers. The narrative caricature, though marginalized, does exist but the representational basis of the film, the indexicality of its images, is challenged.

In Naomi Uman’s Removed (1999), manipulating the emulsion by means of selective insulation using nail varnish and allowing for the bleaching process to wash away the rest substitutes the key object of visual pleasure in pornographic film, the female body, with an animated hole. Breaking away from the first two films in this program, both Fontaine and Uman bypass the reconstructionist possibilities of montage in the context of found footage film by arbitrating directly on the film material, focusing on its transience and physical kinship to disintegration, while the material defies its passive imagistic expectation. Removed nonetheless refurbishes the gender relationship between a man and woman in heterosexual pornography.

Martin Arnold’s Pièce Touchée (1989) also demonstrates the dormant gender codes that permeate conventional Hollywood narrative filmmaking. Such codes rarely manifest autonomously when narrative reigns over a film’s ambition. Arnold allows these dormant folds to erupt, mundane gestures to amplify, with the aid of an optical printer by resting the control away from narrative using repetition and variation in tempo of the frames -- creating the effect of a malfunctioning projector dedicated to disrupting an orthodox filmic experience.

The heterodox nature of found footage films, in fact the very meaning of the term, does not allow for its full scope to be comprehensively realised. This program aspires to no such pretension either. It does, however, strive to articulate a few important concerns that lie at the heart of found footage filmmaking: namely questions of recontextualization, appropriation, the limits and possibilities of representation and deconstruction of the fundamental approximations that drive dominant cinema.

-Arindam Sen.