by Marina Butt
Following the first screening of the Vanity Fables compilation, AMIA-UVA caught up with IFFR programmer-curator-researcher extraordinaire, Edwin Carels who talks us through what it takes to present archival film in a festival environment!
Marina Butt: Thank you for joining us today. Could you tell us something about the process of planning and programming a compilation like Vanity Fables?
Edwin Carels: First of all, the festival has had this section, Regained, for many years. This is the section that deals with the history of cinema or the memory of cinema or recycled and reinterpreted cinema. There’s so much of that and for the past ten years,
we’ve been keeping some kind of slot open for those kinds of films, so in principle, we’ve already been interested in this.
Every year, I’m on the lookout for what’s out there, what’s been restored and what’s being made. I really wanted to have contemporary stuff. I hope that it’s not purely celebrating the past, but very much relevant to now. I prefer works that are reinterpretations than to those that are restorations; although occasionally that does happen.
How to make a programme? By plain personal curiosity! I think about the things I want to see and then I assume, that if I want to see them then maybe other people have the same curiosity. You want to share that.
Budget – we’re only allowed so many slots and only have so much money, so you have to balance all these things. How many world premiers can you have? If there are three coming from Asia, then that’s really expensive for plane tickets (laughs) so maybe we should just do two. It’s a very prosaic way of thinking about it, but these things also come into play.
The festival wants premiers for the new stuff. I’m not saying that it has to be a premiere or you don’t get in. Actually, I cheat on that a bit: I even have a film from 2013, which is old for a festival, but if it’s relevant… that’s how the programme grows.
I don’t want to impose a theme on Regained, because then you’re really filtering too much of what is being made. I start with what is made…it’s like picking flowers for a bouquet; what works together. It works like this with a simple complication like Vanity Fables, but also for the whole Regained section as a whole. Of course Regained is not the only section that deals with these films with footage. The Short Film section also features works using found footage so it doesn’t have to become part of just one category. But, it does help to signal, – literally ‘signal’ – that there is a lot of that type of material being made.
I used to programme a section here called Cinema Explosion, which dealt with New Media, so that’s kind of the opposite. For me though, it’s kind of the same. For both, I’m interested in documentaries, shorts, installations -‐ conceptual art might be too big of a term -‐ but basically my frame of mind is such that I don’t only value traditional film. For this Regained section, what’s important is this reference to the past or to memory. If there were one continuity or motif, it would be that.
MB: For the Vanity Fables subsection, you mentioned that the title was taken from the Mark Rappaport video essay. Could you maybe elaborate on that a little?
EC: Sometimes you have an idea for a compilation programme. It’s also about making choices because there are so many short films in the short film section, that I’m not allowed to do too many compilations in my section; that’s a kind of practical, pragmatic thing for me. Mark Rappaport – I’m particularly pleased with because he has been making very important films; these kind of longer movies, like Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) or From the Journals of Jane Seberg (1995) which are these beautiful, classic pieces, but kind of disappeared because of issues with rights and who holds them. He had a kind of public fight over the internet with somebody who stole his films, so that kind of depressed him and put him down; withdrawing into making short digital things and last year I saw a whole series of photo collages he made and though “these are actually pretty good” and I decided that he needed to make films again, so I urged him to.
MB: Is this is the whole drama with Ray Carney?
EC: Yes – following it, he kind of withdrew for a while
MB: Doesn’t Carney have quite the reputation for this sort of thing? Like with Cassavetes’ Shadows?
EC: That’s right – Although, we screened the original Shadows cut here at the festival many years ago and we invited Carney to talk.
MB: No way! I thought the original Shadows print was a myth?
EC: No it’s real! You can find information in our archives.
MB: Do you have any advice for students of audio-‐visual heritage?
EC: It’s about luck but also about finding opportunities and making opportunities for yourself. Don’t sulk and don’t complain! Just do what you can do. Work with the means you have. Nowadays, there are so many more means. Get the ball rolling, maybe just a little marble, but get it rolling! You have to start somewhere; it’s only by doing things, do other things come to you.
MB: Finally, what do you have lined up in the future? Any upcoming projects we should watch out for?
EC: Projecting film! I mean how often is actual film projected these days! I project films here; I mean my programmes contain celluloid. I have also programmed Bruce McClure, which is also a kind of anachronistic practice, in the day and age of the digital. I’ve been following him and programming him for a while. He considers the projector his instrument, so in that way he’s a magic lanternist, and following that kind of tradition. At the same time, projection in a simplified form is also about coded information; it’s light pulses going on and off, light/no light. It’s a very simplified form of data transmission so conceptually you can also say: “Here you go, at least it’s more material; you can locate it and see it in the performance space” It’s a good antidote to the completely ephemeral digital media (they are all material anyway, but we don’t pay attention to that and that’s a whole different issue) so having this basic hefty, rudimentary materiality makes a difference. I also project super 8 films. I have another programme called Scopitone where I programme music documentaries. Do you know what a scopitone is?
MB: Some of our AMIA-UvA members are actually covering that programme but no, I must say I myself am not that familiar with it?
EC: Well, it’s a jukebox that also contains short films and video clips, but shot on film and then transferred to Super 8. So if you push B5, you get a clip! We have one that’s still in operation so people can actually play around it; it’s full of super 8s!
MB: That’s fantastic! Well thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it and look forward to following your work in the future.
EC: You’re welcome!
MB: Could we take a picture of you for our website?
EC: (laughs) Of my back? No problem!