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Viennale Book Highlights

Excerpts from three new books published by the Vienna International Film Festival, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
Notebook
The following texts are taken from the three different books that the Viennale is publishing to coincide with its 60th anniversary: two new additions to its ongoing TEXTUR series, which are dedicated to Darezhan Omirbayev and Alain Guiraudie, and a collection of conversations, interviews, and essays about the past, present and future of film festivals.
***
The first text is taken from Viennale 60: On Film Festivals, which was edited by Rebecca De Pas and Eva Sangiorgi and features contributions from some of most prominent artistic directors and festival programmers working today. It is a newly revised translation of a text by Hans Hurch, who was the Viennale’s director from 1995 until his death in 2017.
THE FILM FESTIVAL AS A SPACE FOR EXPERIENCE
Notes on a Possible Festival
By Hans Hurch 
The question of the function and future prospects of film festivals is difficult to answer in general terms. I think it has to be posed specifically and examined on the basis of concrete examples. The respective definition and self-definition of individual festivals is too multifaceted; their political and cultural mission and its associated interests are too contradictory. The various motives that determine the work and appeal of film festivals range from political self-portrayal to touristic profitability, from corporate interests to cultural information, from commercial market orientation to radical self-organisation, from regional development strategies to media event necessities. And even these are only a few terms and inadequate generalisations that are constantly shifting and intermingling.
In order to avoid falling into the trap of generalisation or assertions about what is ideal or typical, it is easier to describe the specific work and intentions of a festival. Let’s take the Viennale, the Vienna International Film Festival, as one example among many others. This is not because it functions better or worse than other festival, but rather because I am familiar with it through my work as its director and can draw on the first-hand knowledge this entails
As banal and perhaps backward-looking as it may sound, the basic idea of the Viennale is to preserve and defend the form and dispositif of cinema and to uphold it as an essential element of modernity—and to do so in a sensual, articulate and specific way. In other words, it’s not about legitimising the cinematic experience through mediation, blending, musealisation or other cultural-political strategies, but rather maintaining it in practical terms as an autonomous, historically conditioned and at the same time very much vital form of individual and collective experience and cognition.
What objectively benefits the Viennale is the relatively low level of political and strategic interest in the festival on the part of the public authorities and festival sponsors. This more than modest degree of cinematic awareness has historical causes in Austria, but going into detail here would take us too far off-topic. I will say this much though: The relatively unwavering media and public interest in the cultural forms of theatre, opera, musicals and large, representative festivals has generated a set of extremely contradictory conditions for film and cinema in this country. A small, but unusually diverse, differentiated and lively film culture was able to develop in the face of comparatively little public funding and therefore also lower commercial and political expectations. A kind of cinematic laboratory emerged in this free space defined by scarcity, non-interference and a lack of calculation. Living proof of this can be seen in the country’s fairly small-scale but multifaceted film production, the specialised distributors, subsidised cinemas and a number of non-commercial film-cultural facilities and institutions. This does not mean, however, that the large, overarching field of cinema and distribution is not still dominated by the usual market mechanisms and commercial interests in Austria, just like it is in all other countries.
The idea of the Viennale positions itself within this paradoxical state of affairs. The festival takes place in a series of well-preserved cinemas with the support of a few independent distributors and in collaboration with the well-functioning Film Archive Austria and Austrian Film Museum, meaning it can afford the relative luxury of being a largely independent film festival. This necessary luxury, or rather the backward-looking utopia of modern cinema means that:
  • The festival is a social space of collective cultural experience that doesn’t have to submit to the pressure of commercial interests.
  • The festival is a space for the public for forms of cinema that receive little publicity because they doesn’t  belong to the commercial media context. 
  • The festival is a social space that keeps alive a specific idea of cinema that isn’t subsumed by the media. The idea here is to create a form and an experience that exists in purely cinematic terms.
A future film festival cannot legitimise itself as a market, or as a media event, or as an act of cinematographic musealization or as mechanism to generate additional cultural-political value, but rather in its work in bringing the cinematic into the public sphere. Film itself is the additional value and event here, that special something that a festival always creates again and again. Publicity, information, access to little-known cinematic works, the ability to make comparisons and connections between historical films and more recent ones, possible encounters with filmmakers, an accentuated picture of the current state of cinema—all this is what a festival can produce. A film festival creates a living context, a whole condensed reality similar to the cinematic realm itself. A reality in which viewers simultaneously recognise, lose and find themselves again. This space of experience is what we call cinema.
***
The second text is taken from TEXTUR #4: Darezhan Omirbayev, which was edited by James Lattimer and Eva Sangiorgi: a poem by Georgian director Alexandre Koberidze on Omirbayev’s The Road (2001).
THE ROAD
By Alexandre Koberidze
A man is a banal being.
 
A man is a banal being.
He will do banal things.
He will speak banal words.
Every step—the wrong direction;
every word—a meaningless sound.
 
BUT
 
Every man carries a letter.
A Mongolian soldier standing in for Genghis Khan,
a traveller on a train who bought a melon from children at a station he didn't even
know existed and who didn't give them money,
a little boy travelling in the back of a van carrying film rolls…
Are they every man?
                      Almost.
 
A man must read this letter.
Once he reads it—he will change,
change for good—
his every step will bring him home,
his every word will be a word.
 
Night, on a train, a kitten sits in the corridor,
lit up by the compartment,
the light goes off and on—
we see a kitten,
we do not see a kitten,
we see a kitten,
we do not see a kitten,
we see a kitten,
we do not see a kitten.
In the compartment behind the kitten,
a man turns the light off,
a girl turns the light on,
a man turns the light off,
a girl turns the light on,
a man turns the light off,
this man has not read his letter yet—he wants it to stay dark.
 
When you wake up: “T _ _ S _ .”1
 
A man who once was a boy and travelled secretly in the back of a van carrying film rolls has taken a road. He didn't want to, but—his mother knew what he needed.
 
Is he carrying a letter?
                                 Yes
Will he read it?
                      Yes
 Does every man carry a letter?
                                                     Yes
Will every man read his letter?
                                               No
Who writes these letters?
                                            /---/
What does a man have to do to find the letter he is carrying?
                                                                                    Take a road2
1. Fill in the gaps.
2. To take a road does not always mean to move horizontally in space (mostly it does not). If so, every tourist, every traveller with a backpack would have found his letter, which is not the case. Every horizontal journey has to end with a vertical journey—vertical roads matter.
***
The third text is taken from TEXTUR #5: Alain Guiraudie, which was edited by James Lattimer and Eva Sangiorgi. Catalan director Albert Serra writes on Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical (2016).
STAYING VERTICAL
By Albert Serra
Staying Vertical is one of my favourite films of the last years and is perhaps the best made by its director. Bold and willing to take risks at a level of both form and theme, it represents the best of contemporary cinema. No one but Alain could have made it.
I like its impossible combination of tones, the fact that it contains several films in one, at once a personal drama, a social drama about a country that has lost its sense of psychological direction and an allegorical fantasy. I like its precise, relentless description of the concept of the “provincial”—perhaps the film’s central theme—and its visionary idea of a society of the future in which the concept of what is “social” has disappeared for good, in spite of all progressive degradations. All of this is crafted with simultaneous humour and seriousness, but without tenderness or sentimentalism. The world is what it is—we have to accept it and stay on our feet. It’s an unpredictable film that avoids all clichés, a film of impossible characters who might seem moronic and full of false desperation to most, but who are actually surprisingly active and sexually advanced. There is no sexual identity, no victimisation, everything is interchangeable with total ease, and all risks are taken; everything is friction and also pleasure, and this pleasure cannot be destroyed even by the “mediocrity” that lies in wait for us all. Everything is in motion, the hierarchies between characters can be upturned with total ease (the power of money is relative…) and this has an effect on their intimate being, although no drama whatsoever ensues—they recover, nothing more. Everything is accepted: death is a part of life, both in the animal kingdom and our own. And yes, sex and life are intimately linked (those wonderful images of childbirth), but so too are sex and death, transcendentally, grotesquely, as we are violently reminded throughout the entire film. And this reaches its climax in the unforgettable scene of the “assisted suicide,” which is currently trending again thanks to Godard, who was also just as bold, unpredictable and precise. In a world where everything is a justification, Alain moves on to the act of the visual and practices it in any which way, just as his characters do. And this organicism, this artistic ability to make us believe anything, is what liberates us and makes us recover a sense of excitement for these exultant, sordid images of a future cinema and perhaps—since life imitates art—for that wild, carefree world of the future too, like the world of Staying Vertical.  

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ViennaleViennale 2022BooksDarezhan OmirbayevAlexandre KoberidzeAlbert SerraAlain Guiraudie
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