In Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Phantoms of Nabua, streetlamps flicker and lightning flashes in the soft dark of a playground at night. As boys kick around a burning football, the lightning is revealed to be a film itself, projected onto a screen that is set alight at the culmination of the game. Commissioned by Animate Projects, Phantoms is part of Primitive, a haunting, multilayered series of films that sees the Thai director exploring Nabua, in North-Eastern Thailand. The history of a brutal military occupation in the area sparked Weerasethakul’s imagination, leading him to cast Nabua as a place in which to examine the shifting nature of memory, illustrated via the overall theme of light and its properties. In the Primitive installation, which is the director’s first in the UK, ghosts and spaceships appear alongside footage of Nabua’s teens, as day turns to night on two parallel screens, encouraging the viewer to adopt a constantly shifting perspective.
This invitation to reconsider our viewpoints, and our ideas of what constitutes normality or truth, resurfaces throughout Abandon Normal Devices, a new festival of film and digital culture taking place in North-West England this September. While subsequent festivals will happen in Manchester, Lancaster and Cumbria, 2009’s is centred around Liverpool, a city that festival director Kate Taylor feels has a ‘strong collaborative network and spirit’. AND has, she explains, engaged with the city in a number of ways, supporting emerging filmmakers and artists, and making use of the city’s iconic Waterfront area, where DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation, a ‘remix’ of DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, will take place. Meanwhile, Centre of Attention’s Action Diana, which recreates cult 1960s film Darling shot by shot, using non-professional actors, is the culmination of a process of improvisatory filmmaking that began when Pierre Coinde and Gary O’Dwyer were artists in residence at Liverpool John Moores university earlier this year. ‘Half of Liverpool got filmed reading the dialogue from idiot boards, with that beautiful slight unease of being new to camera’, says Taylor. ‘Hopefully the premiere at the festival will be buzzing with everyone coming to see themselves.’
The festival’s hybrid nature – combining film, media art and ‘salon’ discussions involving people from science and sport as well as the arts – reflects the work of FACT, Cornerhouse and folly, the three main organisations that have come together to programme it. Screenings ranging from new Canadian horror film Pontypool to Lynn Helton’s comedy Humpday take place alongside exhibitions and installations, including the work of pioneering feminist filmmaker and performance artist Carolee Schneemann, who will give a performance lecture. While much of the programme displays strong social and political engagement, Taylor stresses that this is not her first priority when responding to film, and points out the variety of ways in which the artists demonstrate this engagement, from Krzysztof Wodiczko’s War Veteran Vehicle, in which he collaborated with local ex-servicemen and women to develop large-scale projections, to The Yes Men’s humorous critiques of capitalism, here the subject of their first UK solo exhibition. ‘Ultimately, they are all about people, but they communicate in indirect ways rather than laying out polemic.’
Two iconic figures of UK cinema – Nic Roeg and Ken Russell – will take part in Q&A sessions, and, most excitingly, reveal new work. As Taylor points out, Russell has ‘a unique insight into digital culture as someone who has taken to using a digital camera to make personal, un-funded films’. Developments in technology and the role of both film and art in the digital age crop up throughout AND, not only in conferences and workshops, but also in Dark Fibre, a part-fictional thriller, part-documentary film about a young technician working on Bangalore’s unregulated cable networks. In a logical progression from his 2006 work Steal This Film, director and producer Jamie King is to release the film both online and via India’s cable channels and pirate DVD industry. ‘We could either ignore this, condemn it, or choose to engage with the conversation’, says Taylor of these seismic shifts, and it’s clear that AND has chosen the latter option. ‘The models for filmmakers to make money and sustain themselves using these new distribution tools are still at early stages. The exciting thing is that filmmakers are engaging more directly with audiences, and the people who are coming up with cool new strategies are the filmmakers themselves.’
Read our article on Jamie King and Peter Mann’s Dark Fibre in the autumn 09 issue of Electric Sheep. The focus is on religious extremes on film from Christic masochism to satanic cruelty with articles on biblical hillbilly nightmare White Lightnin’, Jesus Christ Saviour, a documentary on Klaus Kinski’s disastrous New Testament stage play, and divine subversives Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger. Plus: Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, political animation, Raindance 09 and louche mariachi rockabilly Dan Sartain picks his top films!