Engaging with the world that surrounds us

People whose lives we pass by merit our solidarity for no particular reason. Before I became interested in cinema, I had lived far away from my native culture for quite some time. In such a situation, exposure to a different language and another way of being generates reflexivity. Paradoxically, being an outsider on the fringes of the Balkans often made me feel a mixture of freedom and rootedness. With my acquisition of the language, these sentiments grew deeper, and the landscape of salty shores and mountains became a possible image of home. Personal fulfilment through creativity was a possibility that I caught glimpse of during those years. I discovered the works of numerous artists in exile, a self-imposed or forced situation of being outside of one’s own culture, whose art echoed a sense similar to mine: the sense of longing for home.

I never wanted to leave a place where I belonged, the way a child doesn’t want to grow up, sensing what the world of the adults is like. But there are desires that make people change place. Love, curiosity and cinema were the driving force in my case.

Nikos Papastergiadis drew my attention to John Berger's writing on home. He writes "[…] home is no longer a place in the past or a fixed geographical spot but rather a horizon that recedes into the future." This is how I perceive my films and early video poems: as I shift my weight from one step to the next, the focus of my work shuffles between the place we call home, the place that was home and the act of constantly inhabiting a place.

The metaphor of an infinite, ongoing, essentially personal and cosmic body of work emanating from a single author is a tempting one. We are all making but one work all of our lives.

From Direct Cinema to Embodiment

Like the Parisiens in Chronique d’un été (1960)¬, who are confronted with the naive question of Jean Rouch after the screening: did you like what you’ve seen?, in a film that was supposedly about them, I was struck by the effect of how audiovisual representation translates into a mediated in-between reality. It felt very real, and I was surprised how such an apparatus can become a kind of confessional, with the camera acting as the screen between the parties: confessional screen, sensor, filmstrip – the metaphor lends itself regardless of digital or celluloid-based media.

The first experience of this kind made me see films in a different light. The illusion of transparency was shattered.

Over time cinema manifested itself to me as medium to forge a bridge between what the body knows (intuition) and what one’s sensorium and cognition derives from an experience (meaning). Or, to quote to naïve enthusiasm of early American experimental filmmakers:

‘When film-makers discover the true Ianguage of the film medium, as only a few have begun to do, and succeed in expressing themselves as film artists in that universal language, the film will become the most potent means of communication among human beings.’ (Ian Hugo, 1957)

I share that primal joy of the American avant-garde, where I still go back for inspiration. This happened long after 1989, the political changes in Central-Europe were generally thought to have been accomplished, post-modern cinema had been popular for quite some time, and 9/11 had been transmuted into the new reference point after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

My first two independent films (Five Lives by Silence, The One To Be Taken Home) were conceived intuitively. They are raw, unbound and disinterested in writing themselves into a tradition. Their ethics are gut-felt, the themes humanistic.

A certain fascination with the male character goes into Five Lives By Silence (HD video, 2012, 13’), set in the serene landscape of the Turku archipelago. I tried to translate the pro-filmic experience of the shoot - an intense boat journey with strangers, the occasional interference from an inexperienced production team, the expectation of a narrative documentary - into visual, auditory and cognitive terms, through the involvement of the Finnish poet Ville Hytönen. The ambition to move away from a documentary tradition where speech means narrativity, towards something more primal, is already present in this work.

In my next film, The One To Be Taken Home (2013), I used a radically different approach to both form and content. The operating system of the project was defined by my refusal to write a script, the disregard of the principles of traditional ethnographic film, and the choice of an unknown location and an outdated, fragile medium (HDV). The final work brings invites the audience into a distopic streetscape to spend time with children, and we are guided along for twenty minutes by music, performance and car traffic. The fact that the film does not want to validate itself according to genre or format places it in the vicinity of experimental cinema [1], with undertones of post-modernism – the author is present only implicitly in the image and never in sound, partly through the metaphor of projection.

These two films were steps towards discovering my body in cinema and cinema in my body. Touch, movement, smell, vision and gestures were all present in the pro-filmic and meta-space of an emerging personal cinema. My initial curiosity was of a social nature, I saw film as a function of collective identity and social critique by giving access to a new form of knowledge. Later I became critical of (documentary) cinema’s claims of producing truth or knowledge, and turned my attention to how the technology of cinema affects the choices of a filmmaker, and how these choices are often culturally defined.

This essay will discuss some aspects of my film practice. I am equally interested in theory and practice, but only while making films do I experience flow – a positive engagement with my whole being that generates great amounts of energy, satisfaction and enjoyment. I have been drafting a personal manifesto on cinema, which I use to structure my writing below. The manifesto’s subjective statements serve as personal beliefs behind my work and are published in five parts in this section of the blog.

[1] - Peter Kubelka talks about his dislike of the term “experimental”, since it discredits the original meaning of the craft of a film-maker. Experimental is a category of film promoted by a commercial discourse on cinema, in which the right kind of films are not experimental, as if experimental films were never finished.