directors lounge monthly screening series at z-bar
zerofunctional video work
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Daniel Cockburn often appears in his own films. He is not playing himself, but he enacts the main character of his script. "I am interested in this blank face without emotions. It becomes a projection surface for anything that happens in the film, like the Kuleshov Effect". The early Russian filmmaker proved that the same head-shot can express fear, anger or sadness depending on the adjunct edits in the film and he thus had a strong influence on Eisenstein's theory of montage. Later, the emotionless poker face of Buster Keaton was celebrated as the beginning point of modern film acting. — "And I decided I could do that myself; I didn't need an actor to make the kinds of films I wanted to make," says Cockburn, and he consequently started to explore his own ways of filmmaking.
Directors Lounge presents Canadian artist Daniel Cockburn, a current fellow at DAAD Berliner Künstlerprogramm. His films seem to exist in-between genres. Some of the emotional settings in his films possibly recall psychological mind-sets of science fiction novels of authors like Stanislaw Lem or William Gibson, without having any of the stage designs of Sci-fi films. They do not play in "future times"; however, they envision for example loops of recurring scenes as a maze without exit, or the editing of a film as something the protagonist of the film becomes aware of.
Cockburn graduated from the film program at York University in Toronto, but dissatisfied with his own final project, a 17min film that took him 6 months to finish, he decided to "abandon all that stuff", meaning the conundrum of big film productions like stage design, light design, sound engineer and production manager, in order to make much simpler films based on his own writing. Since then he has realized some 20 short films. Asked if taking on the roles of his main character would be more like Cindy Sherman, transforming herself, or like Woody Allen, basically playing a character out of his own experiences, he replies: "definitively more on the side of Woody Allen". He admits that over the years, his main characters became more and more influenced by autobiographical ideas.
Unlike other experimental films that are set in personal surroundings and where a voiceover often results late in the process of filming and editing, Daniel's films are always based on writing and often on a monologue of his protagonist. It is a strategy of rather strict economical "purety" in the sense of which means and efforts are taken to make a film from the writing, or from the script.
Another strategy of the filmmaker is appropriation. That is most visible in films made of "found footage"; but also in his camera films, he "steals" ideas from other texts, films or music. In his latest project, "You Are Here", a feature film that is starring actors and uses stage design again, finding and archiving material plays a big role in the narration. The activity of collecting seems to be a trap and source of obsession, but in other respects, it may also be a base for resistance, an escape from those powers that seem to have control over the claustrophobic situations his protagonists find themselves in, not only in the feature film but also in his shorts. One might thus reason, that disrespectful appropriation may be the right strategy to trick those 'higher powers' appearing in the film — possibly the same of whom the painter Sigmar Polke reports, "Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!" (Higher beings instructed: paint right top edge black!)
Another border crossing may be Daniel's involvement with performance art. Here, he is even more interested in the self-referentiality of language. Indexicality may be a trap for itself, and in his performances, rhythm, overlay of syllables and the internal logic of language are predominant over meaning; the rather claustrophobical suspense of the films is broken in favour of a presence of voice and body.
The film "Brother Tongue / Langue Fraternelle", however, explores the idea of self-referential, non-signifying language to other ends: eventually, the speaker is left alone, wordless, and the subtitled translation (to French) is left lingering on the screen until the whole image disintegrates into a non-indexical fluctuation of electronic artefacts.
On Sept. 30, Daniel Cockburn will present at Z-Bar the short films in which he took more liberty and a thus more experimental stance than in some of his other films. And we will see one episode of his upcoming feature "You Are Here" as a preview. This screening is in close temporal proximity to a performance/talk at "General Public" on Sept. 28, and there will also be a further screening of a different program of short films at Arsenal in November. At Z-Bar, the filmmaker will be present at the screening for introduction and Q&A after the show.
(Klaus W. Eisenlohr)
Z-Bar - http://www.z-bar.de/
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