March 14th–20th, 2016 / Cinema Muzeul Țăranului, Cinema Elvire Popesco, Universitatea Națională de Muzică / the 6th edition
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International Competition - Digital Dystopias
Curatorial presentation by Andrei Tănăsescu
We live in a time where, now, (more?) than ever, the future and all its socio-economic, political and cultural affectations bear a heavy burden on our lives. It used to be that we could sit back and comfortably envision a future through the prism of modernity’s promising outlook. Yet while we were sleeping, 'the slow cancellation of the future' was happening before our eyes. Our Ludovico wide-eyed evolutionary optimism has freeze-framed as the future of the past was crumbling in a fascinating uncertainty. In our present future, change is immediate, technology advances at exponential rates and global systems of economy and power are riven with instability.
And so, equipped with an unprecedented awareness afforded by our digital age, the following films look at the frailty of our human existence and its inevitably dystopic trajectory. Significantly, in this wide cinematographic pallette each film brings out distinctive hues of digital filmmaking (from simple compositing to creating full-scale virtual worlds), blurring the line between reality and fiction.
The dystopic film par-excellence, Edouard Salier’s Habana serves as landing point for experiencing first-hand a world in ruins. Documentary footage offers a cursory investigation of a Cuba under siege, where technologically-superior (in)human forces have imposed martial law over its capital’s inhabitants. More so than its faithfulness to genre storytelling (the inevitable rise of the oppressed), HABANA stands out through its sleek chiaroscuro cinematography that seamlessly (and, digitally) envisions a present infiltrated by an imagined future. This realism is weighed even heavier by the plausibility of the film’s David and Goliath narrative.
An uproarious but tender example of ‘digital-organic’ cinema, Ulu Braun’s Architektura re-organizes the structural blueprints of human civilization’s urbanization, envisioning a world where concrete meets both the organic and the abstract. Mutating (in the slightest) the DNA strand of architecture, Braun creates a literal, post-apocalyptic, post-capitalist digital dystopia where soap-bubble buildings stand alongside ruined churches turned car dealerships. A parable for our future generations, it questions whether architecture’s alchemical wonder of urbanization - and its aesthetic, environmental effects - is an inheritance worth endowing.
The (seemingly) evolutionary acceleration of our time narrows to the essential in Thibault Le Texier’s pleasantly foreboding The Invention of the Desert. The landscape has shifted completely to the digital, where virtual demo videos of (home, office, recreational) real-estate are stand-ins for our disappeared world. These idealized utopias of urban habitats summarily become ‘user-friendly concentration camps’ in the narrative spoken by an unseen female robotic voice. It seems humanity’s complacency in allowing technology to optimize its existence became the catalyst in the eventual arrival of technological singularity. The inevitability of Artificial Intelligence surpassing mankind leaves us to ponder ultimate dystopian fear: our existence no longer computes.
The capacity of parody to subvert takes on literal form in Freedom & Independence, as Bjørn Melhus embodies the titular concepts in order to deconstruct the dystopic potentiality of our current neoliberalist political and economic climate. A high-art vaudevillian one-man show, Bjørn Melhus’ work caricaturizes Capitalism’s notorious Ayn Rand as the mother-superior to Mr. Freedom and Ms. Independence, who are sent off into the first-developing-world. Parroting rational and theological platitudes, the two protagonists unwittingly single out the indoctrinating egomania of Capitalism, at the same time foreshadowing its inescapable futility. Their reductive call-and-response rhetoric is juxtaposed against the song-and-dance of life’s most reliable Truth and constant: death. If 'hell is other people' Freedom & Independence points out that Capitalism’s ruinous ideology is the clothing that wraps up the dystopian despotic emperor.
How can one imagine the future in an insular, totalitarian country such as North Korea, where the past attests to a present where (r)evolution and progress are suppressed? For renowned Romanian artist Mihai Grecu, the answer is from within, as his The Reflection of Power holds a reflective mirror to the absolute and megalomaniac power of the state. All alone and empty of human presence, the dictatorial monuments exude an unshakeable folie-de-grandeur that starts to be slowly swallowed up by an incoming Biblical flood. Poetic and striking in its realism, The Reflection of Power subverts the utopian dimension of landscape art. Sealed-off from the outside world, the resilience of totalitarianism becomes an Achilles heel, as it symbolically swallows itself, remaining but a faded glory.
Oftentimes, greener pastures veil arid realities, diverting awareness and placating concern. In The Park (Casablanca’s Arab League Park), Randa Maroufi sweeps us past its green idyll and lets us loose ‘on the wrong side of its fence’. Instead of touristic leisure, our floating POV captures derelict carousels among wild vegetation and rubbish-strewn walking paths. This is the stomping ground of Morocco's urban youth, heard through fractured voice-overs as they perform in front of digital cameras for the approval of social media. Materializing this presence-as-posture through still-lifes of bodies in mid-action, The Park offers a (privileged) virtual flânerie in a space where youthful abandon and societal fears converge. (Andrei Tănăsescu, BIEFF)