Irish Film Review: Pushtar

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Jonathan Victory takes a look at Alan Lambert’s film Pushtar, which screened at the IFI’s monthly Irish Focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.

In the distant future climate change has devastated the Earth. Pushtar, a tundra on the outskirts of the Himalayas,
 is home to a disparate settlement Among them, a breed of hypersensitive children acting as weather vanes to atmospheric changes that are guided by 8ft tall ‘Pteradogs’, and governed by a council of Elders.

 

This is one of those films. It’s good but it’s too weird to get the audience it deserves. Experimental film often eschews sequential narrative structure in favour of evoking an emotional journey; the viewer is meant to be engaged by the aesthetic or imagery rather than by the characters or story. Yet the story of Pushtar is not only one that could be followed, it should be followed for its approach to an issue so important yet surprisingly difficult to explore on-screen; climate change.

Acting as his own cinematographer, Irish director Alan Lambert explores the future of Earth and humanity should we allow greenhouse gas pollution to continue unabated. Set in the year 2365, Pushtar opens with space imagery that evokes the spirit of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The planet Earth has changed so much that for all intents and purposes, it is a different planet from the one we know and human behaviour has changed along with it.

Three centuries ago, our culture, technology, lifestyle and language were vastly different from what they are now. So why do films set in the future rarely deviate from characters who talk and behave like we do? Of course, to project what speculated changes humanity will undergo in centuries to come runs the risk of alienating audiences if the characters are too different from us. But that is precisely the challenge Pushtar runs towards.

The context of life is different now that climate change has ravaged the planet. The remnants of humanity live in the world’s highest mountains, avoiding merciless heat, ferocious storms and lethal clouds of methane, as they struggle to survive in living conditions similar to our cavemen ancestors. And that’s the part of Earth that’s still habitable.

The film opens with a group of racially-diverse nomads seeking the titular Pushtar, a community of humans living in a Nepalese cave. Children have evolved the ability to detect changes in the weather, making adults dependent on their guidance for survival. As they travel across rugged mountains, they must avoid speaking to conserve oxygen which is now low in the atmosphere. Much of the film’s dialogue in the first 20-odd minutes is through the sign language of American Plains Indians.

When they finally reach the oxygen-rich refuge of Pushtar and are inducted by an Elder, his deep, Caribbean voice says, “History is Dust” and relieves the tension of eerie silence. This film suggests that we take more than just speech for granted. The Elder outlines how little knowledge remains of the civilisation that came before theirs, intoning that “Passion is Dust. Requiem is Dust. Symphony is Dust.” Theirs is a “scientifically-run society” where survival is such a conscious priority that there is simply no time for prejudices of ethnicity, religion or ideology. Yet their technocratic mindset is itself ideological and leads to tension between those who trust the Children to keep them safe and those who advocate the use of genetically-engineered Pteradogs.

The Pteradogs are an interesting concept but are clearly wolfhounds super-imposed to appear larger. This is one of many times where the film’s budgetary limitations show in its special effects, which often just consist of the imposition of stock footage. At other times, the special effects are impressively seamless. The Pteradogs themselves are a disappointing aspect of the film, moreso for how repetitive they become. They do very little other than stand around panting so we never see them use the abilities they are prized for. Whoever first said directors should “never work with kids or animals” might take some consolation that at least the young cast playing the Children convey so much effectively in their silent scenes.

One could imagine this premise being approached any number of ways such that it would make for a compelling but more conventional genre piece; Some YA fantasy where the Children protagonists realise the Pteradogs are being pushed by some shadowy conspiracy; An eco-conscious Leonardo DiCaprio drama where he’s trying to keep the frayed community together; and so on. This story could have had a big budget to match its big ideas and yet we are presented with a low-budget experimental piece with an ambiguous ending.

At times, it evokes qualities of Terrence Malick and Nicholas Winding Refn. Indeed, its aspirations towards transcendence with its philosophical contemplations, striking visuals and racially-diverse cast, lend it a spirit similar to films like Ron Fricke’s Baraka or Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. The form ends up meshing with the content well. The budgetary constraints may lead to tighter framing but that leads to a greater sense of claustrophobia, intimacy and intensity.

Indeed, a recent talk by Alan Lambert at the IFI revealed more insight into the filmmaking process. The camera is usually static, yet snowflakes and wisps of smoke give scenes a sense of motion and energy. The size of cavernous spaces is conveyed through echoes. The landscape’s shifts from calm to hostile back to calm are conveyed by the pulsing soundtrack and diverse yet consistent changes in colour palette.

And although some vista shots were captured with Australia standing in for Nepal, most of the location filming was actually done on Killiney Hill. A lot of interior scenes were shot in the basement of Filmbase. This is an outstanding contribution to Irish cinema if for no other reason than demonstrating what kind of high-concept genre-piece can be accomplished when funded by no more than crowdfunding and an Arts Council grant.

And what of the film’s message? Does Lambert effectively communicate the dangers of climate change by focusing on how human behaviour would be impacted? When asked at the IFI talk, whether the film presented an optimistic or pessimistic scenario for humanity, Lambert’s conclusion was that the whole point of the film was to depict a society completely different from ours. Therefore projecting our own value judgement onto it would be missing the point.

The film expects a lot from its audience to engage with such ideas on such an advanced level. Pushtar stands out among Irish cinema for its visionary sweep and global consciousness. It is worth seeking out, even if it doesn’t have mass appeal, it has mass relevance. Irish film would benefit from more thought-provoking genre pieces like this.

 

Pushtar screened on Tuesday, 16th August 2016 @ 18.30

 

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Competition: Win Tickets to ‘Pushtar’

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Alan Lambert’s film Pushtar screens at this month’s IFI Irish Focus on new Irish film and filmmakers on Tuesday, 16th August 2016 @ 18.30.

In the distant future climate change has devastated the Earth. Pushtar, a tundra on the outskirts of the Himalayas,
is home to a disparate settlement Among them, a breed of hypersensitive children acting as weather vanes to atmospheric changes that are guided by 8ft tall ‘Pteradogs’, and governed by a council of Elders.

Thanks to our friends at the IFI we have a pair of tickets to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, email filmireland@gmail.com with Pushtar in the subject line by 2pm Monday, 15th August when the Film Ireland Hat will consult with the elders and select a winner,

Director Alan Lambert will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Book tickets here

 

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IFI Irish Focus: Director Alan Lambert on ‘Pushtar’

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Ahead of its screening as part of Irish Focus at the IFI, experimental filmmaker Alan Lambert introduces his film, Pushtar, to Film Ireland.

 

Although I have been using low-budget film techniques and working in non-commercial formats for many years, the origins of my film Pushtar are not to be found along a path of film development, or even in identifiable film formats, but along a path exploring theoretical strands of earth sciences that connect to my film work at a tangent. One such project emerging from these strands is ‘The Seventh Earth’, an ongoing concept driven website project. It touches on aspects of climate change and more specifically the predicted 6 degree global temperature increase, now a barometer for many climatologists.

In relation to The Seventh Earth, I often found myself in discussions with environmental scientists as frequently as with experimental filmmakers and artists. The conversations often followed a familiar path of exploring geo-engineering and practical scientific solutions – flooding the Sahara, draining the Yangtze, or dispersing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere to drop the Earth’s temperature by a degree. Necessary, fascinating and often charged though these conversations were I found myself increasingly aware of the absence of a certain idea within them, the idea that the people that were going to be dealing with these situations in the future were not going to be like us – no more like us than the 19th Century people dealing with the industrial revolution. Their mind-set would have fundamentally changed.

During the same period, I returned to Japan to complete some work after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The society I was greeted with was very different to the one I had left a month before. My friends and clients had not slept properly in weeks. They never knew when to brace themselves for an aftershock, of which they were experiencing four per day. The electricity was only being used at half par – street lights and shop displays were left off – everything was at half par. I felt like I had walked into Europe during World War II. The uncertainty was in itself exhausting. This intensified my feeling that the grand-children of people living with this uncertainty on a daily basis would have to adapt to it, practically and emotionally, in ways that we simply cannot foresee.

I felt that it would be worth using the low-budget film techniques that I had developed, and the non-commercial formats which I was free to work within, to make a film that placed the viewer within that future world – and close to people who regard their reality very differently. People for whom much that we take for granted has been un-learned – for whom the concept of stability itself has become alien.

But I wanted to avoid a certain trap of science-fiction – namely to set a futuristic premise and then simply proceed with a thinly veiled contemporary genre piece. I wanted to give the viewer time to really forget their own daily lives before beginning to feel close to any of my protagonists. I wanted to create a feeling that they were seeing these people and their daily lives at close quarters but also from an immense distance – like observing something in a microscope. And a feeling that it is being observed not entirely consciously, but perhaps through a half-waking, half-sleeping state – as if a film viewed from a higher consciousness, suggesting in many ways that achieving that higher consciousness is in itself the way to adapt – and perhaps the only way…

Pushtar is that ‘higher place’.

The story that emerges follows the path of children that have developed a unique sensibility to weather changes and are used by the elders as natural barometers, to warn of encroaching atmospheric changes – dangerous changes, as a drifting cloud of silent and deadly methane can replace the breathable air around them in moments. These children are paired with their ‘Pteradogs’, 8 foot tall hyper-bred wolfhounds that act as guides, mentors in a world they may intuitively know better.

As their community continues to move to higher ground, these children and animals develop forms of communication un-decipherable to the adults. The final threads of the world as we know it fade away.

As Max LeCain observed, “… ( the film is ) more like part of an eco-system in form than a narrative; something melting, a process… like a documentary inside a dream ” – or a child’s dream of a film.

In keeping with this premise of gradual, organic change, the film was made in a very improvisational and un-structured way. I let the children and the animals lead the way and shaped most of it in editing.

The film features newcomers Dean Cronin and Kashmira Larkin as the leading children, Keshet Zur and Ademola Oladeji as their guardians and Richard Marsh and Niamh O’Farrell as the head priests, with the voice of the master of ceremonies provided by French actor Dominique Monot. The soundtrack was improvised by European Sensoria Band and Guests.

 

The film was crowd-funded on Rockethub and Indiegogo and supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

 

Pushtar screens on Tuesday, 16th August 2016 @ 18.30 at the IFI as part of Irish Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.
 
Alan Lambert will participate in a post-screening Q&A
 
Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477 

 

 

 

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Review: Pushtar

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Maximilian Le Cain reviews Alan Lambert’s Pushtar, which recently won the Spirit of IndieCork Award.

 

At this point in film history, there are few filmmakers whose work can genuinely be described as ‘unique’. So few, in fact, that it is quite remarkable that a comparatively small and new film culture, such as Ireland’s, can boast of one. But it can. The three extraordinary feature films Alan Lambert has completed to date are certainly like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Their immersive, almost musical structures, highly complex layering of time and radically oblique approaches to narrative that often consist of story being mysteriously suspended, are the product of a truly independent cinematic sensibility.

 

Pushtar, his new film, which recently received the Spirit of the Festival Award at IndieCork, has all these qualities. Essentially a work of science fiction set in a future where climate change has led to the collapse of civilization as we know it, it was made on a very small budget indeed. Given this fact, what is immediately striking from the very first shots is its sheer visual gorgeousness and impressive sense of scale as spectacle. However, Lambert’s almost uncanny ability to conjure imagery worthy of well-budgeted sci-fi TV from the simplest of resources might set us off on the wrong track for, as Fergus Daly so aptly put it, “it’s as if Hollywood was suddenly taken over by artists”.

 

The story we assume will start unfolding does not materialise or, at least, not at all as we might expect it to. The wordless first twenty minutes of the film plunge us into the cataclysmic world of an unfamiliar future society and it starts to feel like we are adrift in someone else’s dream, the dream of someone from a culture that is unsettlingly foreign to us, denoted by historical landmarks we are unfamiliar with. And yet the ‘dream’ could also be one we experience having nodded off late at night in front of some old science fiction show on TV, an intensified distillation of the fleeting moments of pure poetry that pop up intentionally and unintentionally in mainstream science fiction. Or perhaps of our childhood memories of these moments retrieved from a time when the world itself could seem as mysterious as science fiction.

 

As the narrative gradually, hazily emerges it transpires that childhood dreaming is in fact a crucial factor in the film and the society it evokes: the decisions of the community’s governing council are predicated on the insights of a group of children with psychic capabilities. The form of Pushtar’s narrative comes as a major surprise. Within this oneiric phantasmagoria, Lambert sets forth what feels like almost a documentary account of certain decisions the council must make. Their debates form the dramatic meat of the piece in a way that strongly recalls a body of work that is the stylistic opposite of Pushtar:  some of late-career Rossellini’s historical television films. This is not only a case of sharing a form in which debate over a society-altering decision is central. What is so compelling about these debates in Rosellini is how alien the ideas at stake can often seem to our culture and this is what connects us with the eras he recreates. By coming to grips with the initially strange importance of these ideas, we enter another way of thinking. Likewise, in Pushtar the discussions around whether or not to allow a breed of giant dog to exist seem slightly mysterious but gripping and oddly real in their otherness.

 

To again call upon late ‘60s/’70s Italian filmmaking, it could be said that Lambert does the opposite of what Fellini set out to do in Satyricon (1969): Fellini described that film as science fiction projected into the past rather than the future. Lambert projects a remote historical document into the future rather than the past. But he does so wrapped in a feverish childhood dream that is at once utterly alien and mysteriously familiar.

 

Maximilian Le Cain is a filmmaker and former editor of ‘Experimental Conversations’, based in Cork.

His new feature film Cloud of Skin will premiere in the Cork Film Festival on 7th November.

 

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‘Pushtar’ Premieres @ IndieCork

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Alan Lambert’s new sci-fi feature Pushtar will premiere at IndieCork, in the Gate Cinema, Cork, on October 11th at 16:30.

The environmentally informed non-narrative sci-fi is set in the 2365.

Climate change has ravaged the Earth’s surface. As sea levels rise, cities are abandoned and people move higher into the mountain plateaus.

One such destination is Pushtar, a place which lies on the edge of the Himalayas, along the ancient migration routes that served civilizations thousands of years ago.

Here they live without technology. Their world is very different as the rising levels of carbon dioxide and dust turn the sky pink. With the depletion of oxygen levels speaking is limited and communication is achieved by body language.

The monitoring of the environment is entrusted to children that show a heightened sense of awareness in a particular field – a child that can feel changes in air pressure with an encroaching thunderstorm, or a shift in a distant mountain range. The warnings they provide are crucial to survival.

To the elders that watch them, civilisation as we know it is merely a distant memory.

To the children themselves, life as we live it is just a story.

 

Tickets can be bought here

Check the full festival programme here

 

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Irish Experimental Film

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Rouzbeh Rashidi & Maximillian Le Cain: Weird Weird Movie Kids Do Not Watch The Movie

 

Alan Lambert explores the current climate in Irish Experimental Film.

 

Experimental filmmaking in Ireland has grown rapidly over the past decade. There are many production platforms emerging for artists and filmmakers working on non-commercial formats, the first edition of the PLASTIK Festival of Artists’ Moving Image is currently under way and the Experimental Film Club still runs every month in the IFI for its fifth year.

 

Last summer Film Ireland suggested to me to write an article about the current state of experimental film in Ireland. The idea was to give a kind of a who’s who of contemporary players, rather than a potted history. At the time I had just co-curated a show for the Solus Collective, in the Loft Project Etaghi gallery in Saint Petersburg. As I had drawn from many of the above groups in my selection I felt that the show was a good representation of current Irish experimental and artist films and I decided to shape this article around that programme. The Loft Project Etaghi show, curated with Russian filmmaker Masha Godovannaya, contained work by Moira Tierney, Maximillian Le Cain, Vicky Langan, Dean Kavanagh, Anthony Kelly & David Stalling, Michael Higgins, Esperanza Collado, Aoife Desmond, Rouzbeh Rashidi and myself.

 

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Hanging the Solus show in Loft Project Etaghi in Saint Petersburg with Masha Godovannaya, summer 2014

 

But before I proceed, perhaps I should furnish the reader with a potted history of some sort, as the Irish experimental and avant-garde film world has been sporadic in its development to say the least – at times discussions have even arisen about whether it exists at all. Esperanza Collado, a Spanish artist that has had a strong and continuing presence in the Irish scene and one of the founders of the Experimental Film Club, playfully described it as ‘being defined by what it lacks’ … namely ‘industry’, ‘common thematic concerns’ and ‘Irishness’. There were independent film clubs as early as the 1930s, like the Dublin Film Society, which tried to import Russian avant-garde films of the day. There was an earlier incarnation of an experimental film club in the form of the ‘Project Cinema Club’ in the late ’70s and before that filmmakers like Bob Quinn, Cathal Black, Joe Comerford, Pat Murphy and Thaddeus O’Sullivan were forming collectives like the AIP (Association of Independent Producers) – more broadly encompassed in the ‘First Wave’. Concurrently there was also a strong Irish contingency in the New York scene, most notably in the work of Vivienne Dick, and later with collaborators like Paddy Jolley and Reynolds Reynolds in the ’90s. Vivienne Dick now contributes to programming with the Experimental Film Club in Dublin.

 

But for more detailed histories of Irish Experimental Film in general and more specifically the Experimental Film Club (EFC) itself you could refer to the following 2 items –

 

An upcoming article on the history of the EFC written by Alice Butler for the March edition of VAN, the Visual Artist’s Newsletter, and an essay on the history of Irish Experimental Cinema, which the EFC wrote for the IFI international commissioned programme, which started touring last year; Absences and (im)possibilities: traces of an experimental cinema in Ireland.

 

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Esperanza Collado: The Illuminating Gas

 

So, let’s talk to some of the filmmakers about their own motivation in entering the field. I asked several people for their memories of their first experience of an experimental film.

 

Fergus Daly, who set up the Different Directions Experimental Film Festival with Tom Flanagan in 2008, begins by rightly addressing the very fluid boundaries of what is determined to be ‘experimental’:

 

“It depends on where the line is drawn between commercial and non-commercial or experimental and non-experimental filmmaking. In which camp does someone like Eisenstein belong? He would’ve been one of the first filmmakers I saw projected when I became obsessed with the history of film as a young teenager in the late ’70s. In Cork there was a film club in the Cameo cinema that showed the kind of films that cropped up on Best Films Ever polls in Sight & Sound (besides Eisenstein you had the likes of Bunuel, Cocteau etc). Then there was the UCC film society which, believe it or not (given what they show nowadays in similar societies) screened all the latest Fassbinder, Herzog, Tarkovsky and so on. If we’re speaking about experimental film ‘proper’ then I would’ve only seen the odd thing at the Cork Film Festival or in the Triskel or the Art School in Cork until Channel 4 started in ’82 and the floodgates opened.”

 

Maximillian Le Cain, Cork based filmmaker and editor of the indispensable journal Experimental Conversations (unfortunately now defunct), reflects on a more domestic introduction;

 

“As I remember, a screening of Un Chien Andalou on British TV when I was about eight years old. I’d seen stills of the famous eye-slitting, so I approached it as a horror movie – but was also somehow savvy enough to realize it had enough cultural respectability that my parents might allow me to watch it!”

 

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Maximillian Le Cain. JR: Dream This In Remembrance Of Me.

 

Moira Tierney, Irish filmmaker based in New York, with whom I set up the Solus Collective in 1998, remembers a trip to the RDS;

 

“They were screening a programme of experimental shorts from the Film Board of Canada and my mother took me to see them; I can’t remember how old I was or what the programme was, but I remember drawings on sand on a beach… My exposure to experimental film was limited from that point on, until I fell in the doors of Anthology (Film Archives in New York) in 1995 and soaked up their Essential Cinema series, which includes everything from the Lumière and Méliès, the Russian films from the ’20s (Vertov, Dovzhenko, Eisenstein et al), the Surrealists and early European experiments, a lavish helping of Bunuel and the American avant-garde of the ’60s and ’70s (Sharits, Mekas, Kuchar bros, Conrad, Noren …)”

 

The absence of dedicated platforms for experimental film can be reflected in these oblique and varied inroads. Similar to Maximillian Le Cain, my own first memory of viewing something that was not like anything I had seen before was a late night RTÉ screening of George MélièsThe Man With The India Rubber Head from 1901. I caught it just before the news sometime in the early 80s. Although not experimental in form, and dating from a period before anything was really determined to be non-commercial or otherwise, it still urged me to get a Super-8mm camera and start rewinding and double exposing film for myself.

 

Ireland was not a great place for non-commercial equipment and facilities and filmmakers had to really do their own research and development and work with limited means.

 

Maximillian continues; “I started shooting stuff around ’93 or ’94 and that was on Hi-8 tape. That was the only format I had access to for about five years after that.”

 

Moira Tierney, like myself, began on Super-8mm; “I got my first camera in a flea market in 1991 or thereabouts; that was my primary medium until Masha Godovannaya procured a K3 (Krasnogorsk) 16mm camera for me in St Petersburg; from that point on I’ve alternated between the two, depending on the circumstances. I’ve shot one project only on DV, due to a lack of lighting at the location – most of the action took place at night and as it was a documentary project, it would have been very intrusive to add the light necessary to work on DV.”

 

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Moira Tierney: Train Station, St. Petersburg

 

Vivienne Dick began on Super-8mm in the late ’70s. Michael Higgins began on a number of formats – Hi-8 Video, Mini-DV, Super-8mm – as did Dennis Kenny. Dennis is one of the longest standing supporters and practitioners in any of the Lo-Fi or non-commercial formats, having helped me to cut my first film on VHS in 1998, and regularly acting as projectionist at events like last year’s Super8 Festival screenings. Fergus Daly began on Digibeta.

 

Masha Godovannaya, Moira Tierney and I all connected through Anthology Film Archives, a pivotal venue for Filmmakers in New York. Throughout the ’90s Irish connections were made in the foyer and on the steps of Anthology’s old courtroom building, linking with other Irish led initiatives, like Dónal Ó’Céilleachair’s ‘Ocularis’ experimental screening programmes.

 

Dónal recalls the development of Ocularis: “ In 1995 I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn which was a hive of alternative art activity throughout the 1990s and founded a cinema-screening and filmmaking collective called Ocularis based at the Galapagos Art space in 1997. Galapagos was a multi-disciplinary space so we found ourselves working alongside, and then inevitably with musicians, theatre-makers and artists working in a multiplicity of styles, genres and mediums.”

 

“Interestingly the majority of work shown at Ocularis in its early years was on 16mm film, while the majority of work shown in its latter years was all digital; mirroring the shift that was taking place in non-commercial audio-visual work and experimental ‘film’-making.”

 

Behind the history of the Anthology events that had been providing such platforms for filmmakers and artists since the ’60s, was the grand old master himself, Lithuanian filmmaker Jonas Mekas. When the Solus Collective collaborated with the Dublin Film Festival to bring Mekas to Dublin in 2008 he took part in a panel discussion with Maeve Connolly, Aoife Desmond, Moira Tierney and Pip Chodorov. This took place in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn, which spawned the idea of resurrecting the film club that ran there in the early ’80s.

 

New York has always had a strong influence on the Irish scene, but one of the most active groups in Ireland in recent years, the Experimental Film Society (EFS), has its origins in Tehran. Four of Ireland’s most prolific filmmakers, Rouzbeh Rashidi, Dean Kavanagh, Maximillian Le Cain and Michael Higgins, all frequently work under the umbrella of the EFS, a society established by Rouzbeh in Iran in 2000.

 

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Rouzbeh Rashidi: Home Sapiens Project 150

 

Rouzbeh reflects, in statements on the EFS website and in Experimental Conversations; “I happened to start making films at the beginning of the millennium, in the year 2000. From the very first day, I thought of only one concept and that was the discovery of what cinema is in this new era. This question has pushed me to continuously experiment and investigate in the laboratory of my filmmaking. The films one makes are nothing but the haunting shadows and light of the films that one has seen in the past. There is no original film, except for the very first ones by the medium’s pioneers.”

 

The production parameters that Rashidi describes can be almost universally applied to all the filmmakers we’re discussing, myself included; “ The equipment used tends to be basic and inexpensive: web-cameras, mobile phone cameras, MiniDV, Super8mm and, more recently, DSLR. Most of the films are shot using available light. Film lighting is rare. Most of the cast and crew are non-professionals. Depending on the situation and circumstances, anyone can participate in a film.”

 

Another strong presence in the group that stemmed from Anthology, Lithuanian filmmaker Julius Ziz, who lived and worked in the West of Ireland for many years before moving to France, expresses simply and poetically; “ I enter filmmaking from the street.”

 

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Dean Kavanagh: Late Hours Of The Night

 

The number of filmmakers in Ireland working in this way has increased almost exponentially since I first started counting heads in 1998, and the motivation always comes back to the same principle of artistic freedom – “ anyone can participate in a film”

 

But equally importantly, anyone should be able to view an experimental film, which is where the collaboration with galleries and institutes is crucial. In contrast to the late ’90s, there are now actually places in Ireland to not only view such films, but to also shoot and process them. Block T run courses in hand processing Super8m.

 

All the independent activity of these artists and filmmakers over the previous decades is recognized within the Irish arts industries. The Temple Bar Galleries and the IFI are both involved in the Plastik Festival’s film programme, which culminates this weekend in Dublin. If you peruse the full programme you will find filmmakers also in the curatorial role, most notably in the case of Aoife Desmond’s ‘Phenomenal Love’, the Cork programme that ran last weekend. Aoife originally assembled the Experimental Film Club in 2008, which became a definite turning point in the recent surge of experimental film activity in Ireland.

 

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Aoife Desmond: Paris Dreaming, Paris Burning

 

The original EFC team, Aoife Desmond, Esperanza Collado, Donal Foreman and myself are all still actively involved in filmmaking. Donal Foreman is now based in New York but frequently screens and hosts discussions in Ireland in relation to his recent feature Out Of Here, and Daniel Fitzpatrick has recently joined the EFC curatorial team. Daniel is also one of the curators of the Plastik Festival.

 

As I personally know all these people and their work I can safely say that there is now no question that an Irish Experimental Film culture does exist. I hope that in this article I have given you a palatable overview of it. Thanks for reading.

 

Alan Lambert is a freelance artist and filmmaker based in Dublin. He co-manages the Solus Collective and the Experimental Film Club.

 

IFI International is supported by Culture Ireland. Solus Film Collective is supported by Culture Ireland.

 

 

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A Double Bill of New Irish Experimental Feature Films

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World Premiere of Rouzbeh Rashidi & Maximilian Le Cain’s
Weird Weird Movie Kids Do Not Watch The Movie

Alan Lambert’s The End Of The Earth Is My Home
presented for the first time with a live score by European Sensoria Band

Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Wednesday August 7th, 7pm, €7

Weird Weird Movie Kids Do Not Watch The Movie is the latest collaboration between Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilian Le Cain. This hypnotic, visually and sonically immersive exploration of a haunted space unfolds in two parts. In the first, a woman (Eadaoin O’Donoghue) dissolves her identity into the ghostly resonances she finds in the rooms and corridors of a sprawling, atmospheric seaside basement property. In the second, a man (Rashidi), existing in a parallel dimension of the same space, pursues a bizarre and perverse amorous obsession.

 

Set in a futuristic Asia of the mind, The End Of The Earth Is My Home is a trippy, visually audacious modern fantasy that takes inspiration from the Asian Monkey King stories and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as well as the writer/director’s own travel experiences. Although rooted in a sci-fi thriller premise, TEOTEIMH is more a sensory experience than a narrative. This special presentation of the film with live accompaniment by European Sensoria Band is therefore an ideal way of experiencing Lambert’s pulsing kaleidoscsope of shifting visual and sonic rhythms, one of the few films to explore the visionary potential of science fiction beyond the boundaries of traditional storytelling. Its international cast is headed by Junshi Murakami, Dominique Monot and Mona Gamil.

 

This mind-warping programme is compelling evidence of a strain of visionary experimental filmmaking currently thriving beneath the surface of contemporary Irish cinema.

 

For more information on the directors:

 

Rouzebh Rashidi- rouzbehrashidi.com

 

Maximilian Le Cain- maximilianlecain.com

 

Alan Lambert- metaldragon.net
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Interview: Alan Lambert, writer and director of ‘The End Of The Earth Is My Home’

TEOTEIMH_Cork_Poster

 

The End Of The Earth Is My Home is a science-fiction adaptation of the traditional Asian stories of the Monkey King and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

 

Written and directed by Alan Lambert, the film tells the story of a young boy, who witnesses a failed assassination attempt at an airport on the island of Hai-Wan.The assassin, a young woman called Mei, abducts the boy and brings him to her superior, the Metal Dragon. The Metal Dragon is the last of an old order of immortals living secretly in Hai-Wan. He resides on the top floor of the Gold Hotel, from where, via ‘all-seeing’ security surveillance, he presides over the four dragons of the island’s districts. These dragons are mortal men. Despite Mei’s objections the Metal Dragon imparts the secret of long life to the boy before banishing him onto the streets of Hai-Wan

 

The film has been described as a sensory experience rather than a narrative one and is an intense trip into a stunning visual and auditory dreamworld.

 

Steven Galvin caught up with director Alan Lambert to find out more about this unique colourful audio-visual experience.

 

How did The End Of The Earth Is My Home originally come about?

The origins of The End Of The Earth Is My Home go back quite a long way and have several inroads. Firstly I was making low-budget music videos and live visual mixes for Irish techno acts in the late nineties, but I was simultaneously doing most of my commercial artwork in Asia. So all of the footage I collected in China and Japan, which was all Super8 and Hi8, provided the backbone for my video work. After a few trips, and a lot of time spent in hotels in Shanghai, which was only just opening up to the West at the time and was undergoing massive reconstruction, I reckoned I could shape a film of some sort from the footage I already had if I set it in hotels and mostly at night. But I would need some sort of premise that would let me have a lot of my characters simply viewing all the outside action on screens in rooms. That would enable me to reshoot all my Super8 from TV monitors and shoot the actors in hotel rooms in Dublin. I also wanted to avoid the constraints of a shooting schedule. I wanted to be able to work on it bit by bit. So I needed a premise that could provide 3 or 4 distinct environments that could be mini-projects in themselves.

On the last Shanghai job, in ’98, I picked up a paperback copy of‘Monkey, and read it on the flight. Monkey is the legend of the Monkey King that we know better as the famous Japanese TV series Monkey Magic. It gave me everything I needed. The Buddhist world of the stories provided 3 separate time zones, with the differences in time between Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. The immortality of the characters gave me the freedom to move them around from one time zone to another without continuity problems. And the abstract nature of many of the environments that Monkey happens in – mountain plateaus, cloudbanks and so on – made it easy to translate the basic situations into dark hotel rooms.

As a director you take a very poetic approach to the material…

The poetic approach to the material comes partly from a very tangential method of adapting the material. Although I had referred to Sid Field’s famous script paradigm. I didn’t really want to go down the road of tackling a script head on as that wasn’t really where the project was coming from. So I took a much more holistic approach. I simply went through Monkey (and I added Dracula to it because I was reading it at the same time and it overlapped in many areas, particularly in terms of immortality) and I underlined anything that caught my attention and copied into a word document, without any notes or formatting. I then discarded the source material and regarded that wall of text as my first draft. On reading that, any thematic or stylistic threads that started to telegraph through I then identified as characters. Go through that a few times and then re-format it as a script and you will have something that works almost entirely as poetry. And the abstract nature of the environments I had already established lent themselves well to this oblique approach.

What influences were at play creating the film?

Apart from very obvious filmmakers like Kubrick, Lynch and Kurosawa, my main influences in terms of film are much more experimental. I’ve always loved re-cutting commercial films, making found-footage collages (which does touch on live visual mixing ) and one of my favourite experimental filmmakers would be Joseph Cornell. He made a wonderful, seminal experimental film called Rose Hobart, which is a Hollywood movie East of Borneo, but with all the action cut out. So, all you see is what precedes and follows the action – a door beginning to open, a shadow disappearing from a balcony. Watching it really heightens your awareness, you look at all the details instead. You also lose your sense of time because, like many experimental film practices, you are not given the normal cues that audiences are accustomed to in a commercial film that tell you how long to expect the film to be. In The End Of The Earth Is My Home I think I wanted to create something like that, a film which, although containing all of the above, would also give the viewer a sense that they were witnessing all this from a unique perspective. Almost like a film flipped on its back, wearing all its subtexts and stylistic devices on its sleeve with the main storyline submerged.

Can we talk a little about the international cast you use and the locations of Japan, Egypt and Dublin…

Yes, to backtrack a little bit –  what I have discussed above was the first incarnation of the project, around the turn of the millennium, which only resulted in 3 music videos. I actually then shelved it until 2010, by which time I had also expanded my commercial work, and experimental film curation work, to North Africa – Egypt in particular. With a bit of a break from the project, I had moved on from the Asian footage I had originally collected and felt that a more international mix was better, the source material was after all, changed beyond recognition. And as a visual artist I found the prospect of blending Far Eastern backgrounds with Middle Eastern ones irresistible. There were all kinds of little juxtapositions that I found interesting, like seeing a Japanese street but hearing an Arabic song on a radio – or seeing an Egyptian marketplace with a traditional Chinese Er-Hu playing somewhere in a side street. It does remind one of that other very obvious point of reference and classic hybrid, Blade Runner.

Junshi_Murakami_Teoteimh

Junshi Murakami

In terms of the cast, I was very happy with the cast I managed to assemble. They are all based in Ireland, or have Irish connections, but of course bring something of their own cultural background into the mix. Not all of the cast are professional actors, but they are all involved in the arts in a professional capacity so we were always able to find a common ground. Junshi Murakami and Mona Gamil are both performing artists, so I related to, and worked with them, in mainly visual terms. I found that they both moved very gracefully and their expressions were subtle but clear, and I built the shots around that quality.

Mona_Gamil_Teoteimh

Mona Gamil

Dominique Monot does a lot of voice-over work, and I gave him all the dramatic and romantic Bram Stoker dialogue – which perfectly suits his continental delivery. I gave him points of light beside his eyes, so even in the dark hotel room you can see where he is hovering as you hear the disembodied voice. Keshet Zur is also a performer and fine artist and I trusted her and actor Ademla Oladeji to get a chemistry of their own going as the younger generation of characters. But then in another more authoritative role, similar to Dominique’s character, I let Fionnuala Collins bring her own flare to the Police Chief, the only character that I thought it would be fun to make clearly Irish (in keeping with the Hollywood tradition that New York cops are Irish).

Dominique_Monot_Teoteimh

Dominique_Monot

Vicky Langan I probably trusted most of all to simply bring her stage presence as a performance artist into the mix, which she does, holding down the final dinner scene with a steady gaze. Some of the best portrait photography I’ve done in my career so far I think I achieved in this film, with the help of this particular cast.

Vicky_Langan_Teoteimh

Vicky Langan

The film was made on a super micro-budget, with funds raised entirely from a crowd-funding campaign, which you were one of the first to do – how did that work out?

That worked very well, it ran very smoothly. Everybody got their rewards and I only went over schedule by 3 months. The nicest thing about it now is that it has come back to me again and again that the funders did appreciate the film and funded it not only because they appreciated my project and wanted to support me, but because they also actually wanted to see the film. They liked the idea of it and they did watch it when they got it. So it works as funding and distribution all rolled into one.

Can you tell us a bit about the production techniques you used for the VFX sequences in the film?

Most of the artistic experience in my life so far I have acquired without computers, so I tend to try to solve problems in real space, not in software. So, although there is some green screen in The End Of The Earth Is My Home, most of what you’re looking at is achieved in camera – with back-projection, models, or just lighting and atmospheric sound. For example, there are scenes where you see Junshi Murakami ( the boy character, based on Monkey ) speeding through a tunnel on an unspecified vehicle (the cloud which Monkey flies around on). He is simply leaning forward towards a windscreen with the tunnel footage projected onto a screen in front of it, with hairdryers below the camera line blowing back into his hair, and I’m shooting it hand-held over his shoulder. When he looks back to see two bikes following him, they are static models, with small key-ring torches fitted inside them. They’re standing in front of a projected background and then I’m shooting it hand-held from a low angle and shaking the camera to create the impression of motion. In other sequences we see what appears to be a vehicle turning a corner in a psychedelic Chinese street. What you’re looking at is actually a simple matte technique ( achieved mostly digitally now ). A still of the street is simply printed out, the area of action cut out and then the same key-ring torch is shot through it and then recombined with the original shot. These are all simple photographic techniques that were practiced in studios for most of the last century – this is how the Méliès was making films in Paris over 100 years ago – and this is how Charlie Chaplin worked. Screens, lights, stands, cutting holes in things, turning the camera upside-down. In other words, Fun!

Filmmaking has to be fun!

Check out this video outlining some more of the VFX techniques:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N5_wMwWVWw

The soundtrack is integral to the film’s experience  – how did you end up working with  European Sensoria Band on the film?

European Sensoria Band are Dave Carrol, Anto Carrol and Fergus Cullen. I knew Dave and Anto from their first band ‘Wormhole’ – we used to jam together and we had a joint release as the last release on the Dead Elvis label in 1999. I met up with the lads again around 2008, after they had formed ESB. We did another gig in The Shed, joined by Gavin Duffy from Thread Pulls. We improvised for about 2 hours and that reminded me of how well we had clicked years earlier and it really gave me the taste for more live stuff.

So, for the last DEAF festival in 2009 we did a similar improvised set in the basement of Filmbase (where I shot some of the film). This time we were joined by harpist Junshi Murakami, who wasn’t attached to my film yet. It was a great gig and Junshi’s presence, combined with some kind of zither type slide guitar contraption that either Gavin or Fergus had rigged up on stage, set Asian undertones and a vibe that was as oblique as a ‘Rose Hobart’ – and I came away thinking, I should just lay that gig down on the timeline of my editor intact and start to build the film on top of it, which is pretty much what I did.

The film is screening at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City – what are your future plans for the film?

Well, each time I’ve screened it so far it’s been a slightly different version, and each time it has been a different but equally ideal context. I was delighted to be able to Premiere it at Darklight last year, it was the perfect platform to launch it and they did a great job of integrating it into the VFX themes of last year’s festival. When it was invited to the Kerry Festival it was in the inflatable cinema, which really extended the atmosphere of the film out into the screening venue, with subtle Christmas tree style lighting across the arched ceiling over the screen. But the Cork screening will be the first screening of the newly finished sound-mix.

So, for the future, I have several discussions going in terms of international premiere, most likely an Eastern European screening in September, collaborator TBC ( and will probably involve some sub-titling ) or an NY premiere in early 2014, again, collaborators TBC.

But the most immediate next step is to do a 20 minute cut for Super-8, subtitled, for club and party screenings with live soundtracks, and to arrange another event in Dublin, perhaps in one of the haunts that spawned the project in the first place.

What other projects are you working on?

I want to keep the momentum going, and I want to build on both the crowdfunding model and the lo-fi VFX techniques. But now I’d like to make something less psychedelic and a little bit more drama driven. So, my next project is also a Sci-Fi, but it’s based on the possible future of climate change, and is loosely inspired by John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

It’s called Pushtar and is set in the Himalayas in 350 years time. I’ve started another crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub to run over the summer. I’d call it an environmental sci-fi.

 

You can find out more about Pushtar here:

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/26350-pushtar-an-environmental-sci-fi-film

You can watch the early music videos ( for D1 Recording artists ) at this link – just scroll down the page:

http://www.thearchiver.net/data/video/video.html

 

The End Of The Earth Is My Home is screening on Friday, 31st May 2013 – 6.30pm at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City.

For screening details and to book tickets, please visit:

 

http://triskelartscentre.ie/events/2339/the-end-of-the-earth-is-my-home/

 

Websites: TEOTEIMH: http://www.teoteimh.com / METAL DRAGON: http://www.metaldragon.net

 

NOTE:

THE CORK SCREENING IS IN COLLABORATION WITH BLACK SUN CINEMA AND IS ALSO SUPPORTED BY DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

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