“Experimental filmmakers are kinda the poets of the film world,” says Bryan Konefsky, founder and director of Albuquerque’s long-running Experiments in Cinema festival. He goes on to namedrop “mainstream” filmmakers like David Lynch and George Lucas who cut their teeth on experimental film. “Films like Pi, Everything Everywhere All At Once and Requiem For A Dream were heavily influenced by the visual poetry of experimental film,” he explains, proving that no art exists in a vacuum and that non-narrative “art” filmmaking isn’t just for academics and museum exhibits.
Every year Experiments brings “the international community of cinematic un-dependents” to Albuquerque for “a film festival that is designed to inspire a new generation of homegrown media activists to participate in shaping future trends of cultural representation.” The event is put on by Albuquerque’s long-standing community-based arts nonprofit organization Basement Films (for which Konefky serves as president).
Experiments in Cinema is a non-competitive festival. There are no prizes, no red carpets, no VIP passes. This year, however, it celebrates its 17th anniversary with a host of unique screenings spanning 100 films from 30 countries. EIC v17.2 also features special lectures, curated programs and workshops.
Thanks to the ongoing COVID pandemic and the difficulty of flying in artists from around the world, this year’s EIC is going virtual once again. On May 9 through 23, all programming will be available free and online through the experimentsincinema.org website. “The upside of going virtual,” says Konefsky, “is that normally we attract about 500 attendees at the Guild, but our online festival attracts about 3,500 viewers!”
Over the last 17 years, Experiments in Cinema has grown considerably in terms of global recognition. Last year Senses of Cinema magazine identified EIC as one of the top 10 experimental film festivals in the world. “I think streaming services—YouTube, Vimeo and others—have given this somewhat esoteric form of cinema new platforms and access. In other words: I am hearing less and less that experimental film is akin to dental surgery,” jokes Konefsky.
Experimental filmmaking itself has also evolved over the last couple decades, driven in large part by the growth in media-based technology. Thanks to smart phones, most people have a film studio right in their pocket. “I am fascinated by technology and the creative spirit,” muses Konefsky, who taught moving image production and critical studies through the Department of Cinematic Arts at the University of New Mexico for some 25 years. “I have often thought, How is it possible that we can be creative using tools that are so predetermined to ‘see’ the world in particular ways (cameras, editing software, etc.)? And, to take it one step further, how can we be creative using tools that had their roots in the military industrial complex, the National Football League (fast film stocks were developed for instant replays) and the pornography industry (VHS technology)?” What Konefsky sees in this profusion of technology is “the democratization of all things cinematic. These days it seems that any consumer product has the capability of shooting video. I’ll bet that an inventive filmmaker could use a toaster to make a movie as all consumer appliances have the capability of retrieving information about the user and sending it back to the manufacturer. That is a version of ‘seeing.’ “
As far as what mind-bending audio-visual treasures this year’s EIC has in store, veteran New York experimentalist Zoe Beloff will be screening her new feature film titled A Tramp’s World. That 60-minute piece of speculation imagines the real-life relationship between poet James Agee and Charlie Chaplin. (Agee had written a screenplay for Chaplin that was never produced.) Beloff has worked with the experimental theater troupe The Wooster Group, which has included such actors as Willem Dafoe.
EIC v17.2 also features a project curated by Chip Lord, the founder of famed San Francisco avant-garde art collective Ant Farm (of Cadillac Ranch fame). His 60-minute submission is titled Exquisite Moving Corpse and was derived from the Surrealist parlor game called The Exquisite Corpse, in which artists or writers build on previous entries with little knowledge of what came before. “For Lord’s film, artists were given only the last frame of the previous entry and asked to respond to that image in a 1-minute video,” explains Konefsy.
More often than not, experimental film embraces all aspects of “multimedia,” utilizing physical film stock, video recording, still photo projection, live music and more. Colombian artist Margarita María Milagros, for example, will be performing a “multimedia dance performance” titled Ayer (Yesterday) that was inspired by interviews Milagros conducted with women about displacement, violence and poverty.
This year’s Experiments in Cinema is made possible with the generous support of The National Endowment for the Arts, New Mexico Arts, The New Mexico Humanities Council, The McCune Charitable Foundation, The Albuquerque Film Office, UNM’s Department of Film And Digital Arts, Instituto Cervantes and the Albuquerque Community Foundation.
For a complete schedule of screenings and other events, go to experimentsincinema.org.