Interview with Experimental Film Society (Part One)

in collaboration with Federica Iodice
On this blog it is available an Italian version, translated by Silvia Tarquini: 
This interview is part of an Artdigiland project supported by Academy of Fine Arts of Naples, Italy 

The Experimental Film Society is an independent collective of people who work in the field of experimental cinema,  founded in 2000 by the Iranian director Rouzbeh Rashidi, and based in Dublin.  EFS is a project which brings together filmmakers from all over the world, with a common interest in researching "alternative" cinema.


What do you mean by experimental film?

Maximilian Le Cain: On the one hand, it’s sort of a good shorthand way of telling an audience that what you’re going to get is something unusual. It’s not going to be a traditional narrative, it’s not going to be a documentary in the sense that most people understand it. It’s going to be something hopefully unexpected. But, more importantly, the way we work is quite experimental. We take the elements of cinema and we play with them and rearrange them and work on them in such a way that, speaking generally, we really only know what our film is going to be on the last day of editing. So it really is a process of experimentation. And Rouzbeh goes even further, he’s often compared himself to Dr Frankestein!

Rouzbeh Rashidi: If I were to add anything, it would be something like Jonas Mekas always says: if you think narrative cinema is like a novel or literature, experimental film is something like poetry where we have atmosphere, where we have ambiguity and obscurity. Vagueness, I suppose. This is a very straightforward, simple answer but I think it works. But, as Max said, it’s a very complex question.

Le Cain: I think this approach is also connected to the fact that we’ve never accepted that the process of inventing cinema has come to an end. We’re still trying to find out what it is. And it’s not just a case of technical development, how things are used. It´s experiments in perception and in montage. The whole field of cinematic language.

Rashidi: And it’s about making personal films. Again, this is a very simple way of looking at it, but it works. If you truly are personal, true to your senses and to your metabolism in the way you make films, there is a purity in this. You make your films first of all for your friends and for yourself and only then think about a wider audience.

Le Cain: In making personal films in the way that we do, we sort of treat ourselves as material for cinema to perform experiments on as much as us experimenting with cinema. We put our subjectivity in the Petri dish, inject the cinema virus, heat it up a little and see what effect emerges. In this way we find out something about ourselves and hopefully something about the nature of cinema, too.

Who are the current members of Experimental Film Society?

Rashidi: Well at the moment we have nine filmmakers but Experimental Film Society also works with a large number of people beyond that. We have worked with large group of filmmakers from all around the world. At the moment we have Max Le Cain and myself. We have Dean Kavanagh, Michael Higgins who are both in Ireland, Esperanza Collado who is based in Spain, Jann Clavadetscher who was based in Switzerland but is now based in Dublin. We have Bahar Samadi. She used to be in France but now she’s moved back to Iran. And there’s another Iranian visual artist with us, Atoosa Pour Hosseini, and she is based in Ireland. And there’s Jason Marsh in Wales. So, nine of us.

What persuaded you to join together in this ‘research group’?

Rashidi: It's a good question. I started Experimental Film Society in 2000 in Tehran. When I wanted to make films in Tehran there wasn't any kind of film collective active to join and make experimental films. There was a very strong traditional documentary filmmaking practice and also a narrative filmmaking one but there wasn't any kind of pure experimental film collective. Also there were artists who were producing moving image art, video art. But I didn't feel any kind of affinity with any of these groups. I wanted to have something that is purely related to the history of experimental cinema and comes from a very cinephilic background. So I decided to form this society. That was the main reason. But it grew. It grew from a very individualistic origin with just myself. It grew when I found like-minded people. In 2004 I came to Ireland and I brought it here with me. And in 2010 I met Maximilian Le Cain and we’ve been collaborating with each other ever since.

Le Cain: I guess what the group has in common is a certain sense of personal filmmaking. But there are no hard and fast regulations about who joins. It´s really something that has grown quite organically. And that has changed quite organically over the years.

Your catalogue boasts roughly forty movies available on video on demand. An actual visual memory of your project. How did this archive arise and develop?

Rashidi: Well, the work catalogued on video on demand on Vimeo especially favours feature length and medium length filmmaking done over the past five or six years. We have other short films available elsewhere online as well. Each of us has developed a very personal and unique system of filmmaking that is completely organic as Max said, completely independent. I felt that perhaps if you could get all this in one place and release it all as video on demand, it would be a nice thing to do. We do a lot of screenings and our main priority would be ideally to screen these films in a cinematic space or in a gallery or in a museum. But because of the fact that most of us are very prolific we don´t have a chance to show many of our films, so I thought it would be interesting for the audience to have everything accessible in one catalogue.

Le Cain: And those 43 films on VOD are only a portion of the Experimental Film Society’s output. And only the work of four Experimental Film Society members. There’s so much other activity. Other films made by current and former members just to start with. There have been installations, expanded cinema performances, exhibitions, albums… Just about any direction it could go in, it's going in or has gone in at one stage or another. So the VOD films are just one element of it.

Rashidi: Exactly.

The way of approaching moving images has completely changed in the digital era. You use both: old formats, such as analogue film, mini-DV and VHS, as well as DSLR. How do you decide which format you'll work with?

Rashidi: It really depends on each member, on the practice that each member has developed through the years. I, for example, can only speak for myself. I'm deeply interested in digital technology. I started with VHS filmmaking in the late '90s, and I was always really fascinated by the new technology. It’s really something that I can own the camera and do everything myself without having to rely on anyone. So from the very beginning I knew that video and digital filmmaking would be my main focus, so I always tried to kind of push this idea of how to explore it. The camera for example: the camera that we use for filming now, these days, is digital so therefore it's very interesting to me because it’s contemporary. So I just wanted to push the limits of what I can achieve with it, like for example colour rendering, internal color rendering. Finding different aspects of the digital camera that are unknown to us because it's very new technology. But, obviously, other members have different practices. For example, Esperanza Collado exclusively works with 16 mm and celluloid material because the nature of her work dictates it. It varies from member to member. But we welcome both, we welcome everything, every system of capturing the moving image, we treat them all the same, we don't have any kind of nostalgic attachment to anything or favour one thing over another.

Le Cain: What I would say is that each member has a very particular approach to different formats. I don't think anyone involved in this makes something on a given format just because it's the easiest available one. There’s always some sort of conceptual or personal take on why it's being used.

Reminiscences of Yearning by Rouzbeh Rashidi

Reminiscences of Yearning by Rouzbeh Rashidi

Rashidi as it happens in Reminiscences of Yearning, your cinema is made of doors which open other doors, it looks like you're always trying to exceed the limit. Could you tell us about your point of view?

Rashidi: Yeah, it's a good question. I think the subject of all my films and everything I have ever done is cinema itself. It's about the medium, the history of cinema. So I think all I have been doing from the very first day of filmmaking is reacting to and interacting with the history of films. I don't use cinema as a tool to tell stories. I simply don't have the ability to do that. But what I have been doing and what I am capable of is… When you watch a film you digest information, audio and visual. So I have to digest and then I have to release this process back on to the screen. What I have been doing is finding ways to do this. Finding forms and visual poetry, if you want to call it that. Some of it is more aggressive, some of it is more subtle. But basically all I have been doing is playing with the history of cinema and the history of my own limitations as well. So what you said about the phantasmal quality of film is very important for me. All my films are about ghosts: the supernatural aspect of cinema, if you want to call it that. It’s like a seance: everything that has been lost forever cinema can bring back to life again. I have always attempted to do something that I don’t fully understand myself. It's about discovery, it's about exploration, bit by bit. If I tell you that I fully understand what I’ve been doing up until now, it’s a lie. I really don't know. You know, I get signals, I trust my subconscious, and I also trust my technical approach as well. It's really about the craft for me. I’m like a musician who plays piano each day, not necessary creating masterpieces but in order to practice and perfect and enhance his quality of creating music. I ‘play’ cinema that way. That´s why, for example, I have Homo Sapiens Project. It´s like a constant way of finding new techniques.

Damp Access by Maximilian Le Cain

Damp Access by Maximilian Le Cain

Le Cain, your camera is physically connected to the body. It’s an eye that seems to look for a new dimension hidden in the dark night. Could you tell us about your idea of cinema?

Le Cain: I guess the question there is to what extent is the camera actually an extension of the body and to what extent does it become a sort of an intermediary between your perception and what is around you? This is something that interests me very much. Sometimes I shoot in very different ways and I allow this to be dictated to a great extent by the technology I’m using. Also, I often find that I’m looking for accidents. I am almost looking for the camera to tell me what to do. For instance, I might be filming something: set up a shot, do something, move the camera, do something else and perhaps accidently leave the camera running while I was repositioning it. And it´s the section that was filmed accidentally while the camera was being moved that I end up using. I think all the way through the process of making a film, I want to be constantly surprised and hopefully surprised by what I end up with. So I guess I’m looking for ways to almost trick the camera into giving me something slightly different than what I expected. But I’m very interested, especially at the moment, in the notion of the camera as a sort of consciousness in itself. For example, I recently wrote something about some films a friend of mine has made and this writing goes into quite a bit of detail about home videos. About the way that maybe you find a video shot by someone and you don´t know who it is. You watch it and perhaps there’s not that much happening in it. But there’s a strange tension in someone maybe just walking around shooting one thing and another. They’re not a professional filmmaker so they’re not thinking in those terms, they don´t have that sort of discipline. In one sense maybe nothing happens, but in another sense you don´t know what’s happening and you don´t know where this person is coming from. Who is making the decisions? Who is regulating the time spent on each shot? Who is regulating the rhythm? I’m very interested in these sorts of ambiguous areas. And maybe that´s the strand of my work that relates most to what you are asking?