When he was appointed Curtocircuíto’s new artistic director in 2013, Pela del Álamo had literally weeks to knock its 10th edition into shape. The resulting festival, which takes place each year in Santiago de Compostela, the historic pilgrimage city in Galicia, was understandably limited in scope. But its lineup belied the resources with which del Álamo and his close-knit team had put things into place, demonstrating a canny knack for curating thematically coherent shorts programs that emphasized quality over quantity.
Last year, del Álamo and company, working a kind of guerilla operation, moved the festival from December to October, and built on prior achievements with a more ambitious program that included a retrospective of works by Mike Hoolboom, the Canadian avant-garde filmmaker. This year, the festival’s ever-expanding roster of international guests featured two veteran directors, whose work del Álamo has long dreamed of programming: Denmark’s Jørgen Leth, and Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki. With both of these charming, generous directors present in the city where Buñuel made The Milky Way, the international, cinephilic ambitions of this finely organized, seriously minded annual showcase of short films seemed entirely vindicated.
Among Curtocircuíto’s highlights this year was Volonté, a collective effort credited to seven directors, interweaving images of industry and port activity in A Coruña, a city on the Galician coast, and practice sessions by the eponymous experimental noise band. Though shown digitally, the film was clearly shot on 16mm, and the blemishes and scratches here lend a physicality that is perfectly in sync with the central theme, which emerges gradually over its haphazard half-hour running time—namely, the transportive, metaphysical qualities of material labor. The musicians’ penchant for experimentation informs the film’s own structure, as sequences of percussion practice are juxtaposed with aerial shots of a city dwarfed by belching chimneys. Seemingly arbitrary in its arrangement, the film nevertheless boasts an infectious energy in those fleeting moments when it all seems to make sense.
Borja Santomé’s Brain Story at once chimes with and departs from Volonté’s themes. Silhouetted figures move in recognizable but passing gestures against a cityspace, one whose monochrome rendering would suggest a noir-like encroachment if it weren’t for the constant visual slippage on display. An abstract city poem that blends photography with animation and what appear to be water-based paints, Santomé’s film manages to embed the mechanisms behind its making into the finished piece, so that we’re seeing both the process and the product simultaneously. It’s a clever, engaging work that articulates both a fluid urban space and the ways in which our lives and the everyday locales we inhabit constantly reformulate themselves.
As one half of its title suggests, Marcos Nine’s Rorschach #1: Points of Authority takes a basic inkblot image and develops it into an audiovisual narrative comprising similar illustrations, all divided down the center of frame and edited together in rapid-fire succession. Flux is the key word across these eight-and-a-half minutes: Just when you feel you’ve discerned the point at which Nine is prolonging his temporal stretch by looping his visuals, you begin to question if any two stills are the same, as the blotches penetrate the retina in an abstract assault that’s at once disorienting and transfixing. It’s not just the visuals, either, as an increasingly maximalist soundtrack, consisting of polyrhythmic clock ticks, serves to further immerse and discomfit us in equal measure.
If Rorschach #1 trades in horizontal symmetry, the principal concern in Moon Blink, by Austria’s Rainer Kohlberger, is vertical movement. Or at least that’s how it seems upon first appearance, as code-generated lines, stretching across the screen, shift upward, like on an analog television set. As Kohlberger’s frequencies change, however, so do the audiovisual textures: Lines become dots, noise becomes music, abstraction becomes narrative—and, due to the imperceptible way in which each molecular element evolves, it’s increasingly difficult to discern if we’re imagining the changes, imposing our own need for optical fluctuation onto the work, or if the lines really have dissolved into something much fuzzier and more colorful. At any rate, this cleverly conceived idea is an algorithmic delight that demands and elicits unadulterated ocular attention.
In stark contrast to Moon Blink’s code-generated textures, Resistfilm and The Liquid Casket / Wilderness of Mirrors are both products of more transparently analog techniques—though neither film is any less dizzying for it. The former work, by Argentine cinephilic polymath Pablo Marín, accumulates a ceaselessly bedazzling succession of Super 8 imagery—of prisms, forests, foliage, rivers, landscapes—by means of in-camera superimposition. Filming multiple times over his own footage, Marín creates myriad complementary surfaces, which are thickened and intensified atop one another like some kind of image-based soup, thrown together with all the aggressive care of a magician.
Similarly, The Liquid Casket consists of in-camera superimpositions made with a 16mm Bolex. There’s nothing that isn’t deserving of attention for San Francisco-based artist Paul Clipson’s camera: railway tracks, overhead cables, raindrops on a window pane, commuters, shadows, water ripples, bird’s-eye-view shots of urban landscapes, and more. The filmmaker weaves his way into a frenzied rhythm, segueing from black-and-white imagery to a more colorful swell, as we’re compelled to find grid systems in things as disparate as butterflies, neon nightclubs, brickwork, the human eye, and a spider. This is delirious and delightful stuff—a schizophrenic 10-minute collage cohered by the cosmic-sounding backbone of a distorted drone. The suggestive, associative qualities of such works really do lend them a riveting beauty.
Curtocircuíto runs from October 6—11.