Get experimental at Edinburgh International Film Festival

There's plenty for experimental film fans to get excited about at Edinburgh International Film Festival, from Shirley Clarke and Barbara Hammer to the sharply curated Black Box strand

Feature by Ben Nicholson | 19 Jun 2018
  • Ornette: Made in America

“Right now, I’m revolting against the conventions of movies,” said New York filmmaker Shirley Clarke when making her first feature, The Connection, in 1960. It was a drama claiming to be a documentary that blurred the lines between reality and fiction and Clarke engaged with similar concerns through her career, perhaps most famously in the provocative Portrait of Jason (1967). Her final film, Ornette: Made in America, saw her combine performance, landscape, and reconstruction to portray the life of jazz musician Ornette Coleman and it is just one of a number of formally creative and challenging works worth checking out at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Those familiar with the Edinburgh line-up will know that the Black Box strand is usually the place to be for experimental film. That’s once again the case this year but the Time of the Signs strand is also fertile ground for more unconventional work featuring the aforementioned Ornette alongside work from Lizzie Borden, Faith Hubley, and Barbara Hammer in the American Woman section.

Barbara Hammer is an icon of queer cinema, with a 50-year career that has seen her make more than 80 moving images works and several shorts are playing together in a programme called Defiant Bodies. The screening will explore this singular artist’s haptic explorations of sexuality and physicality: from her challenge of western ideologies around death in Vital Signs (1991) to an intimate portrayal of a relationship in Superdyke Meets Madame X (1975). In concert with Hammer’s own work is a programme of shorts by contemporary artists dealing with similar themes, called Resistant Bodies.

The Cosmic Eye (Faith Hubley, 1986)

Another radically feminist filmmaker of American cinema is Lizzie Borden. She’s most famous for her monumental sci-fi exploration of race, class, sexism, and sexuality, Born in Flames (1983). Playing in EIFF's American Women section is the film she made three years later came her next film, Working Girls (1986), which provocatively presented the career paths of a group of upper-class prostitutes in a Manhattan bordello as an ’economic choice’. From the same year, there's also Faith Hubley’s rarely-screened animated feature debut The Cosmic Eye, a psychedelic, jazz-inflected take on the evolution of the Earth featuring the musical talents of Dizzy Gillespie.

Over in the Black Box section are a range of new films for fans of dynamic experimental cinema to sink their teeth into. The world premiere of Josh Gibson’s Pig Film is perhaps the obvious stand-out as the key feature-length work on show. Billed as a “genre-bending mystery” it is the story of a woman (played by Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey) who's alone in the world, but still mechanically continuing to maintain a pig farm. Originally pitched on its Kickstarter as a musical documentary about the systems of an industrialised hog farm (then called Pig/Pork) it would seem to have become something more elusive during production.

Elsewhere Zoe Beloff returns with another take on Bertolt Brecht – following A Model Family in a Model Home and Two Marxists in Hollywood – in the mid-length feature Exile. It sees Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht re-incarnated as young Iranian and African immigrants to America. An essay film combining re-enactment, straight documentary and archival material, Beloff draws parallels between the present US and the fascism Brecht and Benjamin fled in the 30s.

The real meat of the Black Box strand, of course, comes in the shorts that offer enormous opportunity for formal and visual ingenuity. Among a wealth of talented filmmakers on show, make a beeline for Simon Liu’s Star Ferry – a febrile and visually stunning neon trip through Hong Kong and Tokyo by day and night.

Ornette: Made in America, 23 Jun, Filmhouse, 6.05pm

Defiant Bodies – Celebrating Barbara Hammer, 28 Jun, Filmhouse, 8.50pm
Working Girls, 23 Jun, Filmhouse, 1pm
The Cosmic Eye, 26 Jun, Filmhouse, 8.20pm
Pig Film, 22&28 Jun, Filmhouse
Exile, 25&27 Jun, Filmhouse

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