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- 1.6.2015 14:47 -

True to Film Material

Tscherkassky

Besides the retrospective of Peter Tscherkassky and his film master class from the fall of 2014, we are also bringing you an interview with Tscherkassky and with American filmmaker Eve Heller. Watch the films, read the interview, learn from the master class!

The interview was made by the documentary magazine Dok.revue and is published with the consent of the editorial board. It was made during the 18th Jihlava IDFF which hosted the two filmmakers. During the festival, Peter Tscherkassky also gave his master class on Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine. The film and the recording of the master class are included in Tscherkassky‘s online retrospective which is available until Sunday, May 7 for free.

Interview by: Štěpánka Ištvánková

With Peter Tscherkassky (PT) and Eve Heller (EH) on the functioning of the body of film and the human mind, on the devotion to manual processes of filmmaking as well as on their cooperation.

You are the jurors of the Fascinations section at Jihlava IDFF 2014. What do you think of the concept of a family jury? Are you used to discussing films with each other?

PT: Eve comes from an intellectual family where they were used to discussing everything; which is still obvious today. She speaks more than I do. But I’m always drawn to the debate so we do discuss films; which will probably show in our role of the jurors. As for the family jury, you’re probably used to having families where only one member of the jury is a filmmaker. We consider the fact that we’re both filmmakers an advantage. Moreover, as a curiosity, we met in such a jury fourteen years ago.
EH: It was a jury at Canada’s Media City Festival of Experimental Film and Video Art. When discussing films, we found that we often had a similar opinion and we fell in love.

You are both filmmakers and you both work with found footage. How much do you influence each other’s work?

EH: We met at a time when we already had a lot behind us and our filmmaking styles were already established. However, that does not mean that we do not listen to each other.
PT: Eva helped me edit my latest film. She works really thoroughly.
EH: Avant-garde film speaks in a very distilled language and it must be edited carefully so that the viewers don’t get lost.

Do you see a connection between documentary and experimental film?

PT: In a narrow sense, the definition of the two genres is different. In a broader and less traditional sense, the criterion of their categorization lies in the fact that the films are not abstract but have strong ties to the lived reality.
EH: Besides other things, avant-garde film is interested in other forms of perception; in the ways in which the brain works. However, rather than objective reality, there are many diverse perspectives. Avant-garde film puts material in the foreground. It is often so that even films that are presented purely as documentary play with this. They put form in the foreground.

What do you think about including an experimental film section in the programme of a documentary festival?

EH: I think it’s a great choice. And I really love Andrea’s programme structure. She is a really talented programme selector.
PT: Yes, I completely agree. We know many festivals but we are really surprised by the diversity and quality of the experimental film section in Jihlava.

Have you watched all of the films from the Fascinations section you will decide about as jurors? Can you see some links between them?

PT: We’re only halfway through and we shouldn’t speak about them much yet, however, the individual films are very different. The film selection has a limited time period. The films were produced in 2013 and 214. At the same time, it’s easy to understand why the individual films were included in the section. The filter is set up so that the individual things correspond with each other. Everything is well thought-out. Experimental film is currently a trend among the young filmmakers. Many digital works create their own film language, making use of computer technology.
EH: What is also very common is that many of the screened films are “formally nice“; not only in case of computer-generated films but also in general. They’re not only based on facts that tell us of the world but they also have poetic and aesthetic qualities.

We are becoming an endangered species

As filmmakers, you keep using the same methods, primarily found footage. Do you manage to discover new approaches and principles in the given field?

PT: The material that is available for found footage is inexhaustible. Each film you use as a source brings a new challenge. But of course, particular techniques can become exhausted and one has to come up with new ones.

Your films work with dichotomies such as old material – new use, composition – decomposition. Why do you employ these opposites?

PT: When I’m asked why I make films or how I got to filmmaking, I can think of several starting points and the earliest one I can give you is the following: as an eight-year-old child, I went to the cinema and I was completely fascinated and overwhelmed by it. One can see it as a mechanical toy that a child becomes fond of; later it will come up with the idea that it would be good to see how the thing works and so it will take it apart and thus also destroy it as it is unable to put it back together. The time when I got to filmmaking was aimed against the illusory apparatus, the machinery, Hollywood. Hollywood was an enemy. It was an illusory cinema. Just like all avant-garde artists, when I was twenty years old, I was convinced about my enlightened approach, trying to prove how things really work. Just like a little child longing to dismantle a toy. The avant-garde destroys, too. However, at the same time, it also creates something new. It takes illusory machines to pieces and puts them together to create something new. Rather than merely taking an aggressive anti-Hollywood approach, it tries to be an equal partner. My films are not aggressive but rather intensive.
EH: I am a found footage filmmaker only to a half. But if I do work with found footage, I, too, decompose it and try to get familiar with it in great detail. Then I translate the found footage source into a new language and a new story. This is not an endless game though. I take individual things from a complex language system and turn them into something else. Peter and I do different things, however, they are related in a way.

Your films focus on man. Man appears in various roles, is decomposed, composed, modified. What is the role of man in your work?

PT: I have to be careful about my answer as I definitely don’t want to be compared to Picasso. I’ve never been an abstract filmmaker. However, my focus on the human figure and its following abstraction is a natural solution which can be trusted; since the way our body functions is the most interesting of all. I am interested in the body of film and create metaphorical links between this body and the regular human body. The human body is always a mover, an actor, something that is inside the story. Naturally, a landscape, too, is a bearer of meaning in the narrative context, however, to create a narrative context, there have to be people to carry the narration. The most interesting aspect of film is the interconnection with human figures. They are the objects of identification.

Making found footage films is similar to working at the conveyor belt. One has to paste the individual shots together to reach the resulting meaningful whole. How do you see the possible connection between film and a manufactory, film and a factory?

PT: One of my films is called Manufracture (1985). Again, the title suggests the aspect of breaking, destroying. In general, the conveyor belt is a good metaphor, as I put together the individual frames and that can take hours. There is an apparent line going from the first frame, which essentially includes the original film, to the last black shot. The meaning is shifted even further with the final cut.
EH: We work with analogue film and chemicals. However, there are significant changes going on today and the production of film as such is receding. Chemical plants are being shut down. The production system is changing. Everything is being digitalized. We are becoming an endangered species.
PT: All art media created by man have always been preserved. Substituting an original film medium by another is a completely new experience.

Can you imagine working with a computer and making digital films in the future?

EH: No. I want to make films the way I do as long as possible. Of course it’s possible that the final product will appear in HD quality, as was the case with my film Creme 21 (2013) screened at Jihlava IDFF. But I’m still longing to make films manually.
PT: Material talks to me. It can’t be compared to the computer at all. At the same time, it brings the great advantage of being conspicuous. We are the last of the Mohicans. Some contemporary works I’ve seen here are really nice but they seem to have an artificial flavouring. Making films manually is a game that is inscribed in the material. Transferring something like that into a digital form and screening it in a digital form is almost a lie.
EH: It’s manneristic and odd.

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