The creators of the Darklight Festival have reached a milestone in development, releasing a DVD collection of animation, film and video works to inspire and entertain. Since Darklight’s foundation in 1999, they have continued to bring stimulating works to audiences in Ireland and internationally, and this DVD goes one step further in making these challenging works accessible to the public. The collection has attempted to capture the diversity of the programme, and since it is volume one of a series, it contains a fantastic mix of regular contributors, Darklight alumni, and even some new works.
This beautifully presented compilation attempts to span many disciplines, and even manages to push the boundaries of what these disciplines might usually contain. By including influential pieces and balancing them with new work and Darklight favourites, the curators, Nicky Gogan, Gavin Murphy and Andrew Keogh, contrive to give the broadest spectrum of contemporary film techniques.
This attention to detail in choosing interesting pieces pays dividends, and gives the DVD collection a continuance of creative stream. This in turn makes the DVD equally pleasurable to watch in both a continuous flow, or in taking on piece at a time.
On a black screen white text gives us an introductory quote, leading us into a different world:
mf… for me life consists of black and white only…
rs… I think there is just the in-between…
From there the words dissipate as colours and music swell, fingers of paint spreading across the screen – giving us that ‘in-between’. As an expression of emotions and memories resulting from a car crash, _grau envelops you in colour and noise… Mountains grow and fade, branches stretch and wave, leaves swarm through darkened forests, and all the while the music hypnotises and engulfs. Perhaps best viewed on a big screen, a smaller TV doesn’t quite do justice to the intensity and power of the visuals.
Captivating almost immediately with a technically astounding circular shot, Revolution charts a community fete from the air and at ground level in one long take. An almost Lynchian undercurrent of unease pervades the scene as we take in this small group of people hip-hop dancing on stage, conversing with gorillas in a high room accessed by ladder, or reading aloud from a book via megaphone. Filmed at a slower speed, the circular shot supports the feeling of being trapped in a loop, giving added timbre to the dead dog and crushed figure.
An unusually placed set of subtitles draws your attention to the upper left of the screen, reading downwards as the aging face of our narrator fills the view. He discusses how his browser has come to represent him, and will do even after his life ends. Sometimes the camera focuses on an eye, or his mouth, but mostly his earnest, wrinkled visage holds court. A very short piece illustrating man’s reliance on technology for comfort, this is an affecting work.
The first short on the DVD from Ireland, Naughtixis a visual and audio piece that successfully marries the two senses, as though one could not exist without the other. Shapes grow and shift across screen – using a programme for creating computer screensavers – as the music pumps and pulses. Hypnotic to watch, Naughtix could probably do with being a few minutes shorter, but is nonetheless worth a view.
A short movie centred around Craig’s quest to alert Tracey to his love for her… Tracey being a checkout girl in his local supermarket. Craig sweats in the car park writing a letter to give to her, before venturing in to hand it over – after many false starts. A fantastic performance from the lead, Craig epitomises the torture of teenage love, and the angst of communication. A wonderful short, though certainly a tad cringe inducing.
Microfiche: Diamond Trade
David Philips and Paul Rowley
In a short inspired by the 1974 IRA stealing of paintings from Russborough House, a microfilm of images flutters back and forth across screen. A soundtrack of the robbery plays in the background, as newspaper pictures flit before your eyes, piecing together the events of the night. Haunting in technique, the thrilling sound of footsteps eventually draw your reluctant eye away from the colours onscreen, to focus on the recurring face of a woman.
The Confession Sessions
The longest full short on the DVD is also the most humorous, with a lonely dishevelled character entering confessional booths around the city of Dublin, detailing a made-up sin of stealing money. His reasons become more elaborate, from stealing money to buy new shoes, to stealing for a parachute jump. The responses of the priests are the most amusing, more so since they have no idea of the taping and are completely earnest. An extremely enjoyable watch, if only for the characters amusing made-up jobs of lifeguard, monkey-trainer, clown, etc.
An emotional experience, Stars was my favourite short. Combining technical experimentation with an emotional resonance, it captures the imagination almost immediately. Sophie, a young woman with a terminal illness, suffers treatment-induced hallucinations, to which we are privy. She also has synesthesia – a condition where one sense is confused with another, you see sounds and taste touch. Her journey through this amazing world, as she begins to face her mortality, is moving and intense. The feelings are played out in exploding animations, switching from 2D rotoscoped animation, to full CGI, to motion graphics in order to fully realise her experience. Sophie’s comment that the ‘first thing I see is the sound of you breathing’ encapsulates the experience of watching this amazing short.
Purporting to be a journey from life to death and back again, what Butterfly really feels like is a unification of the senses as sight and sound become one, and you can almost feel each passing moment. Radiations of light become wings, as the music swells to a steady stream, and a kaleidoscope of colour and sound fill the screen. The images and explorations are amazing, with astounding illustrations created by single specks of light evolving into forests of frozen butterflies. A visual, aural and emotional indulgence.
Sketches: Alfons, Thierry, Gundance
Steina & Woody Vasulka
This piece is sectioned into three films showing the works of these technical pioneers. From footage of a face blurring and moving under manipulation onscreen, eventually breaking free of the electronic imaging, to manic jittering of camera simulating the growing madness of a man with wires streaming from his head. Their exploration of the link between artist and technology is most visible in the thoughtful ‘Interface’, which hypnotically shows a dancer onscreen, flailing with electronic shadows of herself. In the mid-1970’s the Vasulkas developed electronic tools specifically for use by artists, so the films have a slight tendency to appear like teaching videos, but are worth watching purely for the imagination and inventiveness on display.
Perpetual Motion in the Land of Milk and Honey
Al & Al
Taking the viewer with them for the ride, Al & Al journey into the heart of technology. In this smorgasbord of hallucinations, they have created a world of simulated realities, which we begin to view through a simple hole in the wall. Travelling through their vision of technology intertwining with human needs – want, love, and even sexuality – people dance by on stormy seas, while a mild old man waits in a laboratory for results of his experiment. Brimming with inventiveness, the visual theatre on display is enchanting, and the importance the filmmakers place on producing their own music to interconnect with the visuals make this a truly unique work to view.
And The Red Man Went Green
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for best short film at the Tehran Film Festival, and of the Canal Plus prize at the Brest Film Festival, When The Red Light Went Green is a beautiful study of fear and optimism. An old woman negotiates busy streets, terrified of being knocked down by the fast cars. Her anxiety is represented in the darkness of the day, the noise of the traffic, and her own fearful face. With trepidation, she pushes the button and waits for the green man so that she can cross the road. In the following simply-presented moment – which I won’t divulge for fear of ruining the experience – hope and relief are injected into the film. A wonderfully simple study of human frailty and the healing ability of hope.
The Darklight Compedium Volume is now available to buy on the Darklight official site as well in Dublin at Laser & the IFI bookshop.