New York Film Festival's Projections 2017

The movies in the experimental program of the New York Film Festival look for the possibility of change in daily actions.
Almudena Escobar López

MUBI is partnering with the New York Film Festival to present highlights from Projections, a festival program of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be. Five short films from this year's selection will be paying on MUBI from October 16 - November 29, 2017 in most countries around the world.

Wherever You Go, There We Are

Projections, the festival-within-the New York Film Festival dedicated to experimental cinema, expands the moving image as a critical space. Curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Dennis Lim and independent curator Aily Nash, Projections has become a survey of visions that explore the endless possible relationships between images and the subject.

Since its reconception from “Views of the Avant-garde” to “Projections” in 2014, the festival has taken a decisive curatorial turn: from visual perception to projected visions. Its move from “viewing” to “projecting” was one step forward towards situating subjectivity at the center. The work shown at Projections not only suspends the structures of vision; the new move is about viscerally confronting the viewer with other perceptions of reality without the possibility of mastering them. In this sense, Projections is not only a space of experimentation but also a space of analysis and political exploration. 

The critical engagement during 2017 Projections was focused on how we relate to the world. How we see is important, but how we learn and affectively relate to our community was the main question of this year. The year that truth became outdated and reality has been revealed as something deeper: Something intangible and fragile that requires more than direct observation; an affective emotional force that connects us with one another, making us what we are. The works this year looked for the possibility of change in daily actions, making broader questions. Can history be revisited with sensible learning? Can our actions, our way of feeling and acting become the seed of new reality understandings?  

How we imagine and compose prefabricated versions of reality is at stake in Jesse McLean’s Wherever You Go, There We Are (2017). The film combines a succession of static postcards portraying North American landscapes with text from spam emails. The postcards are old photochrom images produced from black and white negatives from the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century with a direct transfer onto color lithographic printing plates. What interests MacLean is the subtle relationship between the constructed realities in these two forms of correspondence. Although the postcards are seeking to portray realistic images, their appearance is closer to a fantastic vision of landscapes. The artificial creation of reality results in something fantastic in outcome. In contrast, the spam email is autogenerated writing, presented as a human production.  The postcards are composed based on photography, the genesis of mirroring reality, and through the process of colorization they move further from reality. While the spam email originated artificially gets personalized, moving closer to reality. Continuing with her interest in the liminal space between the front and the back of the screen, McLean creates a carefully crafted path between images and text connecting the different compositions of reality within these two forms of communication.  


Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Filter (2017) is also concerned with the constructiveness of representation in visual culture. The film takes as a referent for its analysis the use of filters to give the “analog look” to film and their relationship to nostalgia examining the construction of memory. Pallasvuo documented his travels from Europe to the United States, and from New York to Syracuse though his iPad, using a vintage-looking filter. Winona Ryder in Reality Bites (Ben Stiller, 1994) and the band Filter’s music video of their single Take a Picture are integrated in the essay side by side with Pallasvuo’s experimentations in 3D. This juxtaposition of critique and visual culture investigates the influence of media culture in the understanding of temporality, questioning the very position of the viewer. The film includes an appendix where a friend of the director watches the first part of the film, analyzes it, and questions its critical function. This last section works as a self-critique that becomes a critique of a critique of postmodernism.


From the irony of constructed reality and memory to the media literacy and image learning. After the presidential election in November 2016 and the subsequent political climate in the United States, there is a renewed interest in the relationship between media and truth. A few films in Projection this year dealt with this liminal space between media literacy and media construction in relation with political economy. Anthony Svatek's .TV (2017) traces the connections between climate change and network domains, unveiling the political economy connections between both. Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation of only ten square miles that is about to disappear under the ocean as a consequence of climate change. The leasing of the official Internet domain extension of the country, ".tv", is one of the main sources of income of the country. The film meanders between paradisiac images of the island and its blue waters, aerial views of the area, and online footage from some of the websites that lease the .tv extension, viewed on the screen of different electronic devices. Svatek envisions a future where Tuvalu disappears but where its domain is protected by the thousands of websites that use it. The images that live in the .tv domain become more important than the land and the inhabitants of Tuvalu. The virtual image in this case gains terrain over the real community of the island, becoming the ultimate trace left of the country.  

Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant

A different take on political economy connecting the environment with technology and more specifically with the production and distribution of images is Jodie Mack’s Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant (2017). The film explores the aesthetics possibilities of technological landscapes. Mack continues experimenting with objects and frame by frame animation playing with the material qualities of the objects and their light reflective possibilities. Her previous Something Between Us (2015) combined close-up images of costume jewelry with shots of natural landscapes. Wasteland No. 1 uses the same structure, interlacing close-ups of discarded computer parts with close-ups of poppy flowers, and landscape images of colorful poppy fields. The reflection of the light over the computer parts explores their sculptural properties transforming them into indefinite landscapes, simulating tinkle stars in the dark sky or the eyes of an animal stalking in the night. As the film develops, Wasteland No. 1 functions as recycling space where the hardware that once served as a tool to access distant places acquires the very same qualities of those landscapes. If .TV explores the external relations between the environmental crisis, capitalist political economy and image consumption, Wasteland No. 1 offers an internal dive into the non-apparent connections between technology and the environment through a transformative, sustainable process of recycling.  


But how these images impact the everyday life of the subject? How do we actually consume these exasperating images of the ongoing environmental, social and political crises? disruption (2016) by belit sağ composes a canvas with images of Turkish news combined with popular films and clips that gradually communicate with each other. This mosaic is superimposed on first-person footage of the filmmaker’s feet as she walks from one building to another. The intertwined relationship between the found images and the pacing between point A and point B are enclosed loops that relate to the overwhelming feeling that the saturation of images in the media provokes in everyday life. disruption is focused on the ruptured feeling that the confrontation with the media and its narrative structures provoke in the subject. Sağ’s personal approach to media consumption explores the hierarchical structures of image production. By means of image re-contextualization and found footage techniques, sağ questions the intake of images, their impact and their later processing by the subject.  


IFO (2017) and Tonsler Park (2017), both by Kevin Jerome Everson, also ask questions about visibility and the hierarchy of images, but by means of the gesture and its intangible trace. IFO, which stands for “Identified Flying Object,” compiles the accounts of UFO sightings in Mansfield, Ohio both told by African Americans and by the report filed by two US army officers. The report, following the requirements of detailed transparency required by the government, is precise, wordy and contains too much spatial and visual information. While the oral accounts from African Americans are much more direct, intuitive and are repeatedly accompanied by a gesture with the hands raised in the air. The official history only recognizes the language of the report, ignoring any other form of testimony. Everson quotes side by side both forms of testimony, tying the UFO sighting memory to the African American’s perceptions and their body. Tonsler Park is an observational account of the past Election Day in 2016 at a local polling station in Charlottesville, Virginia. Everson shows close-up of the predominantly African American workers of the station using a telephoto lens, with a unsynchronized, wild sound recorded on location at a different time of the day. The long take portraitures of the workers are momentarily interrupted by people that passes in front of the camera. Not all the bodies are visible but their presence is visible by means of the gesture. While we are not able to see and hear everything, we are able to directly connect the images given with the current political climate.

Shape of a Surface

Nazlı Dinçel’s Shape of a Surface (2017) is also focused on the physical qualities of the body, exploring its displacement within neoliberal society. Dinçel’s films with her camera close to her body while wondering around the ruins of Aphrodisias, an ancient Greek city named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love situated in Anatolia, Turkey. Dinçel films both the images that surround her and their reflection on a pocket mirror that she carries. She combines images of a classic torso with images of a real male torso “completing” some of the classic sculptures from the city with real body parts. The images are contrasted with an intermittent audio recording of the ezan, the Islamic call to worship. Dinçel’s work performs an intimate relationship between her body and the physical qualities of film as an extension of it, while penetrating the public sphere and reclaiming it in her own terms. The space of Aphrodisias was the ancient city of love, where the body and its sensuality was publicly present and accepted. Dinçel revisits this sensuality buried by new social structures that undermine the body, specially the female body, under patriarchal capitalist structures. 

Rubber Coated Steel

Rubber Coated Steel (2016) by Lawrence Abu Hamdan investigates the stratified distribution of physical perception, questioning the prevalence of vision over the other sensual perception. The film presents the imaginary trial of the real murder of Nadeem Nawara and Mohamad Abu Daher, two Palestinian teenagers who were killed in May, 2014 by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. The case was never brought to court but Defence for Children International, a human rights organization that defends children’s rights, made the case public using Abu Hamdan's forensic audio analysis proving the guilt of the soldiers. In the film, Abu Hamdan shows his spectrograms displayed on moving targets in a dark room that appears to simulate a shooting range. Defence for Children argued that the soldiers used live ammunition after shooting rubber bullets to hide their actions, adding that it is a common maneuver to murder Palestinian protesters. Instead of using the actual footage or the sound of the event, Abu Hamdan, who is also a forensic audio analyst, shows spectrograms of the sound done by the rubber bullets and the live ammunition and uses subtitles of the trial transcripts. Abu Hamdan's use of the visual representation of sound investigates the hierarchies of sound and silence in relation to human rights politics.

Dislocation Blues

If Hamdan is invested in the different modes of sensual learning, Sky Hopinka questions the anxiety of transparency and totality of knowledge of Western culture. His film Dislocation Blues (2017) addresses knowledge under the point of view of community and the interpersonal relationships that develop within it. The film is an observational account of the community formation at Standing Rock that emerged during the 2016–17 Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests. Hopinka includes two accounts of the protestors, Cleo Keahna and Terry Running Wild, intercutting them with fragmented footage of Standing Rock. Hopinka rejects the spectacle quality of the protests that the media widely reported, choosing to focus on the filial spirit of solidarity that emerged during the protests. Hopinka focuses on how the story of Standing Rock “needs to be told by multiple people” as Keahna claims in the film, confronting the presumptions of the totalizing point of view given by mainstream media.

Fluid Frontiers

Ephraim Asili explores communal processes of knowledge from the point of view of memory. Fluid Frontiers (2017) is the latest of his five films exploring the African diaspora. The film connects the history of the Underground Railroad with the work of local artists from the Detroit area, and poetry published by the Broadside Press from writers such as Haki R.Madhubuti and Dudley Randall. The film opens with an image of the wax figure of Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy Henson displayed at the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site at Dresden, Ontario. Asili then includes low angle shots of local residents reading for the first time poems published by Broadside Press from Asili’s personal collection of original publications. These moments capture the first contact of the readers with the words and sentiments of the Black Arts Movement through the act of reading and their physical contact with the original materials. Asili explores the resistance history of the border region between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, questioning the linearity of history and envisioning an open concept of memory where affective connections between subjects are at stake.

Fantasy Sentences

Dane Komljen is also interested in this elastic concept of memory and its internal structures. Fantasy Sentences (2017) borrows its title from an experimental text by Walter Benjamin that explores children’s approach to language. Benjamin was interested in the new constellations of meanings that can emerge from an aleatory use of language. Similarly, Komljen constructs a nonlinear consecution of images that invite to actively build a network of contextual connections. The film combines what it seems to be found home movies footage with shots of abandoned buildings taken over by nature after an environmental catastrophe. By projecting into a fictional future, Komljen reflects on the structural foundations of memory recollection, questioning the subject’s relationship with perception.

Overall the works shown at Projections this year explored knowledge as a process, opening up the possibilities of collective critical thinking. 2017 seems to be flourishing as a new 1968, a new moment of crisis of subjectivity that shakes ideology to its bone. Affective connections between subjects are the seed of change, opening up memory to nonlinear structures of thinking originated in sensual immediate experience. 

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NYFFNYFF 2017ProjectionsProjections 2017Jesse McLeanJaakko PallasvuoAnthony SvatekJodie Mackbelit sağKevin Jerome EversonNazli DinçelLawrence Abu HamdanSky HopinkaEphraim AsiliDane KomljenFestival Coverage
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