Under the tutelage of Ed Webb-Ingall, students on the Film and Screen Studies BA at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London turned their critical eyes to Alchemy Live, the free worldwide stream of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival’s tenth edition.
Alchemy’s own programme notes, including Q&As with many of the artists in the line-up, can be found at any of the pages linked to here.
Reviewed by Martyna Ratnikaitė
‘Show, don‘t tell‘ is the ‘You shall have no other gods before Me‘ of those who wish to write for the screen governed by the rules of Hollywood. Yet all of the screenwriting bibles suddenly fall silent if there isn‘t a thing left to show – they become helpless when confronted with a void of an image. Like the void left by 30,000 people kidnapped from their workplaces in Videla’s Argentina, due to a constantly shape-shifting love affair between capital and fascism.
In his 2020 film Corporate Accountability, Jonathan Perel manages to graciously solve this cinematic riddle, by taking a road trip around his homeland in an attempt to signify these absent spaces. Then, through the window of his car, he points the camera straight towards them – maybe a lonesome Fiat factory framed by a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a Ford’s parking lot glowing in magenta early-morning light – and, while reading the stories of those who are no more, simply lets us watch the break of a new day.
‘It takes time for ghosts to appear,‘ said Perel during his film’s premiere at the Berlinale. But what if it is not the ghosts that need time, but us? Time to become an instrumental part in bringing them back from the dead with the help of our own imagination. Maybe this radical act of imagining will not only let us, the audience, to see the machines of progress in their truest form – as a site of corporate accountability – but finally rewrite the golden rule of storytelling, too: Tell, don’t show. Make the invisible visible again.
Reviewed by Erin Quigley
Autumn demonstrates Daria Elkonina’s take on slow cinema as she instinctively warps the concept of traditional timelines, whilst eluding to a narrative. Autumn is built around the premise of a woman’s (Maria Savchenko) murder which escapes the characters’ memories as much as it evades the audience. Despite the use of the murderer’s chilling narration, his apparent lack of recollection permits the story to stay stagnant as he consistently claims, ‘I don’t remember.’
Whilst the people don’t recall the murder, it can be contended that the place does. The film diligently explores the concept of space as the desolate Russian terrain holds the true memory of the crime. The sound design is elegant as it wittingly personifies the place through stark, eerie acoustics of running water and trees breathing. The sense of nature ebbing and flowing is vigorously constant throughout as birds and fire embers fly, rendering a murder plot peaceful.
Elkonina and Katya Truba’s cinematography further illustrates this, with the film’s natural imagery being inescapable and dominant. The water functions as a mirror as they astutely play with reflections and shadows, casting them over the victim, leaving her blurred, the surroundings remaining the focal point.
Autumn works as a scenic take on life and death as the sentient flow of the landscape effectively calls into question whether something as heinous as a murder could really have occurred there at all.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Review by Mariella Driskell
Nora Sweeney’s short film, screened this year as part of Alchemy Live’s Pastime Present Tense programme, intricately explores the connection between the human body and space. Shot on location in Glendale, California, Birds of a Feather presents the normality and beauty of Maple Park regulars playing card games and dominoes together. Shooting on black-and-white film, Sweeney presents charming images, using a variety of camera angles and mostly close-ups to focus on otherwise seemingly unimportant details within the film’s mise-en-scène such as watches, keys, rings, cologne, score sheets and, largely, the movement of hands. The foreign dialogue between the subjects onscreen is often not subtitled, allowing the viewer to embrace the scene as a passive spectator by retracting the need of knowing the translation. Other sounds are diegetic and slightly unaligned with visuals, almost separating them from each other and emphasising non-speech like laughter, singing, coughing, birds chirping and passing cars. The footage is hand-held, and shots are often over-the-shoulder and over-exposed, providing a sense of gathering and simple truth to the film’s subject matter. The film begins and ends with each player arriving and departing in different directions and in different manners, demonstrating their ritualistic sense of playing in Maple Park. The film comes to a close with a shot of hands flicking through a sketchbook filled with rough drawings of each player, building familiarity between the camera (and viewer) and these men.
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
Reviewed by Natali Dakova
The programme creates a fragmented and non-linear timeline, exploring the idea of the crowd in various social, political and cultural contexts. It begins with A Crowd, a beautiful, almost painting-like sequence by Yeonu Ju, exposing the urban mass and observing how the interchangeable elements in it build up a single-faced character. The crowd becomes a plastic product of its own consumerism fetish and soon the population of the city turns into destructive background noise. Salma Shamel’s Those That Tremble As If They Were Mad questions the memory of the world and challenges the concept of writing and remembering history. Researching the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the short film concludes that there is no one universal archive and that even with technologically-based evidence of events, we still try to rearrange the past in order to create a different future.
And speaking of archive, Jennifer Boles’s The Reversal holds together a brilliant selection of black-and-white photographs of the reversal of the Chicago River. The documentary successfully reproduces the chaos in the nature of humankind, which is driven by utopian ideas that too often result in exploitation and labour. The consequences of the spatio-temporality of capital accumulation continue in Zombies, in which Baloji tells the story of the alienated crowd now. The music videos are bright, vivid, exceptionally shot, yet the reality they report is a poor and distant robotic cubicle. How is it possible that in a world full of so many joys, the light that keeps us most united, is the light of a screen?
I CAN’T GO ON, I’LL GO ON
Reviewed by Vanesa Mitova
The shorts programme I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, which took place on Saturday 2 May, consisted of seven films. Each of them told an intimate and personal story through a mix of gestures and voiceover which once again proved the power of storytelling through film.
The first film was Spontaneous, where Lori Felker charts her miscarriage during the Slamdance Film Festival premiere of her short Discontinuity (2016), highlighting the marked division between her body’s slow-moving tragedy and the film industry celebrations around her. She manages to share her emotional story and make the viewer feel for her through a mix of moving images and still images by using the black-and-white technique which makes it even more convincing.
Ana Bravo Pérez’s Woman with a Suitcase, shot on 16mm, is an eight-minute dream-like visual exploration about the experience of walking towards the unknown. In her film, Pérez explores the topic of the uncertain and unseen, focusing on migration. Here the camera follows a woman with a blue dress who travels across a green landscape and carries a suitcase. There are no explanations and only a few words are spoken which gives a hint of mystery. In The Girl Who Forgets How to Walk Julia Parks reinterprets several poems from the book of Cumbrian poet Kate Davis. By using both black-and-white and colour images, Parks precisely describes the slow process of learning how to walk again. Colleen Pesci’s Cat Secrets explores the frequency and hum of a cat’s purr as a healing method. The film is an emotional exploration of the healing of a human body. The juxtaposed shots of the girl in the bath, the purring and the beautiful trees manage to recreate the feeling of the comfort and warmth one experiences while being alone with one’s own thoughts.
Hannah Beadman’s approach to the body in Aphrodite differs from the other films. Here, through the use of black-and-white film, images of the gestures and movements of bodies, and the singing without words of two women, Beadman recreates a beautiful feeling of intimacy, the gentle space as feminist. In Power Grab Nicola Singh and Helen Collard rely on the movements of the body in order to problematise the traditional beliefs of power in cinema. Here they explore the notion and acquisition of power through a training process inspired by British wrestling legend Kendo Nagasaki. What the camera captures is the archetypal patterns of power in cinema by capturing this emotional performance and the oppositions and harmony which exist in the industry.
In the last film of the programme, Aural Fixation, Svava Tergesen focuses repeatedly on the movements of the mouth in order to show the power of the voice and how it helps us create an identity. The process which involves the movements of the mouth in order to pronounce words sounds and looks even magical. The film depicts the idea that physical gestures of the hands and even the blinking of the eye are nothing without the sounds of the voice.