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Creative documentary cinema and the "New Periphery": Curators Luke W Moody and Nico Marzano talk to us about new film festival Frames of Representation



From this Wednesday until 27 April the ICA presents Frames of Representation (FoR), a new film festival dedicated to recognising the ongoing evolution of documentary as an art form and highlighting new cinematic hybrids of fiction and documentary. The first festival of its kind in the UK, FoR will focus on the theme of the ‘New Periphery’ and cinema’s role in bringing the excluded and marginalised to the centre of the conversation. The audience will visit new hinterlands - across continents - from fascinating fringes, to societal fault lines, to the edge of reason. Clare Callan caught up with curators Luke W Moody and Nico Marzano about this aesthetic and ethical journey.

 

Why did you feel it was important to create a new film festival dedicated to creative documentary cinema - are we seeing more of these 'new forms' emerge?
LM: Both Nico and I work with and encounter films at different stages of their life. From my work at BRITDOC supporting the financing of projects in production to Nico's film programming at the ICA, we've recognised an increasing confidence in documentary as cinema. Documentary as a genre was traditionally stigmatised as something with poor production values and factual, message driven storytelling that doesn't belong on the big screen. Of course historically there have been filmmakers that break this mould, offering masterful works that are now accepted in the broader canon of cinema, but in recent years there has been something of a movement of support for creative documentary cinema. The industry has contributed much to this development with festivals like True/False (USA), CPH:DOX (Denmark) and Punto de Vista (Spain) - each of them proving that documentary cinema given the right attention can reach a wide public audience. In London cinemas like the ICA, Bertha Dochouse, Regent St Cinema and Picturehouse central are also showing great numbers of theatrically released documentary through the year. We wanted to harness this audience and share with them a very focused programme: something that offers a reflection on a subject matter with strongly curated content and context that gives viewers a way into this theme - essays, director Q+As and debates. In that way we wanted to differentiate our programme from more general documentary festivals: we want the audience to have a way into this single theme, to be wrapped with multiple voices and perspectives: a place for reflective dialogue with the craft and subject of the films on show. In some ways we are both bursting with lists of great documentaries we have seen over the last years, this is a way to share those films that otherwise don't get wider distribution - these aren't simply the best documentaries we've seen recently, they are the best films we have seen and want to share them with a British audience.

What kinds of cinematic hybrids can we expect to see in the festival?
NM: The festival offers a broad spectrum of creative approaches: from the highly poetic landscape imagery of Behemoth, to deeply collaborative work in The Other Side. These are filmmakers who question and debate the notion of representation through their filmmaking, through their cinematic frame. They ask us how to respond to the subjects we see on screen? How do we look at the margins of society without feeling excluded or exploitative? What creative method can be used to bring forth the story of a marginalised subject? Again I think this reflects the increasing confidence of filmmakers to play with the idea of what a documentary is - and a huge part in this confidence is their trust of the audience. Recent cinema releases like The Look of Silence, The Arbor, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Bombay Beach, Manakamana and more recent Berlin Golden Bear winner Fire at Sea have done much to lay the grounds of a broader understanding and appreciation for what documentary on the big screen can be.

The curatorial theme for this inaugural edition of the festival is the “New Periphery”. Does this refer in part to this type of cinema being on the fringes, not fitting neatly into a genre or having a clear “place” in the cinematic canon?
LM: For us this is very much about the subject matter, we wanted to offer these 8-films on a specific theme, in a sense it is comparable to Cabinet Magazine, which I'm a great fan of, through the creative approach to the subject provides a very different perspective after seeing three or more films in the programme there is a collective experience for the viewer to think about - how does the edge of US society compare with the fringes of Italy? What do people in a small town of Mexico and their marginalised experiences compare with those of workers in Mongolia? Of course these films operate on some traditional genre borders too - but we are optimistic and would love to see this creative exploration of the documentary form being very much a central practice of future filmmakers.

Tell us more about the theme as it refers to the location of these films. To which hinterlands we can expect to be taken?
NM: At one point in our programming period there was a danger that this became a festival of the Mexico/US border - it seems to be an incredibly rich liminal zone for filmmakers to explore right now. We feature three films just either side of the border - Kings of Nowhere set in a partly submerged town in Sinaloa state, Northwestern Mexico, plus The Other Side and Uncertain: powerful character driven stories from small town Louisiana and Texas. Brothers and Lost and Beautiful transport us to the peripheries of Eastern and Southern Europe, whilst Behemoth digs deep into industrial destruction of Mongolian prairies. Finally Fragment 53 is very much a film about both a physical and philosophical periphery - it takes us to a place of war and also the edges of reason: what makes a human participate in war?

As well as the eight feature length documentaries being screened the festival programme includes five masterclasses – why did you feel it was important for the festival to also be a platform for discussion, sharing and learning?
LM & NM: This emerged very much from our desire to give the audience other means of engaging with the films, to engage with their subject matter beyond 'film appreciation'. Documentary operates in this unique space where you can engage with what you are viewing as something cinematic, but also as something authentic - a story that is artfully told but is out there, affecting the world we share. We often leave screenings with a desire to read further on a subject matter, and to better understand how or why a film was made - we really wanted to harness and serve this kind of audience participation - to offer as much space as possible for engagement with the filmmakers and for writers to address each film in our programme giving further critical context.

Good luck with the first Frames of Representation! Before we go, any ideas or hopes for the future of the festival?
LM & NM: Throughout 2016 we'll be popping up here and there with further one-off screenings to continue reaching new audiences. There will definitely be a 2017 edition, we are discussing the thematic approach presently and would love to hear from potential collaborators.

 

The first edition of Frames of Representation film festival runs 20-27 April at London’s ICA. For more info visit ica.org.uk.