Author: darkvoltage

G. Aravindan’s magic opens Electric Shadows

With two of his films, Kummatty and Thamp, the second edition of Electric Shadows Asian Film Festival zeroes in on the work of G. Aravindan, one of the great innovators of Indian cinema.

Kummatty like Thamp creates a playful choreography of gazes”, says film historian Amrit Gangar in a conversation with G. Aravindan’s favorite cinematographer Shaji N. Karun. In both instances, a local community in a small Indian village encounters an outside presence, provoking a sense of wonderment. Songs, dance performances and acrobatics enchant the characters, while G. Aravindan captivates his spectators in a feast for the eyes and ears.

In Thamp (1978), a travelling circus sets down in a village where people have never before seen a circus, or a film crew. G. Aravindan originally set out for a documentary film but ended up with a largely improvised interaction between the camera, the villagers and the circus artists. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, filmmaker and founder of the Film Heritage Foundation, regaled about Thamp: “The beauty of the film lies in the reflective silences, the deeply observational, but delicate gaze of the camera, juxtaposing the pathos of the circus performers as they go about their everyday tasks and more starkly in impassive close-ups as they speak directly to the camera, against the innocent wonderment of the captivated village audience, in black and white imagery that stays with you long after the big tent has folded up.”

Kummatty (1979) too shows a wonderful disruption of everyday life. When a magical bogey man (kummatty) arrives in a village, the children are smitten. While playing with him, the children are changed into animals. One of the kids, who is transformed into a dog, runs away before he can be turned back. To the tunes of enchanting folk songs, Kummatty delivers an ode to folklore and fabulation.

Without formal training in film making, but with a background in painting, theatre and music, G. Aravindan made his debut film, Utharayanam, in 1975. Making both documentaries and fiction films, he nurtured a personal approach to cinema, one that is equally improvisational, contemplative and playful. “Film after film,” writes film critic and cineaste C. S. Venkiteswaran, “G. Aravindan excavated new experiential terrains, unfolded new connections, transgressed boundaries between genres, forms and styles.”

Announcing the full program

In eleven film programs over four days, Electric Shadows Asian Film Festival invites curious cinephiles to discover a diverse selection of wilful films from Asia.

We open with a restored classic: Kummatty by Govindan Aravindan, a key figure of Parallel Cinema in India. Together with Thamp, another Aravindan gem, it gives new insights in the legacy of Indian cinema. The closing film of the festival will be The New Old Play by Chinese artist and filmmaker Qiu Jiongjiong, who explores how artistic independence and shifting political powers intertwine in Chinese history.

In between opening and closing film, Electric Shadows serves an abundance of surprising perspectives on what film, and Asian cinema, can be. We focus on little screened house-hold names such as Tsai Ming-liang and Nguyen Trinh Thi as well as on up-and-coming cineastes. You can find the entire program here.

You’re welcome to join us…

All eyes, all ears

How to Improve the World

During the first edition of Electric Shadows in September 2021, we presented a retrospective selection of short and mid-length films by essayistic filmmaker Nguyen Trinh Thi. Works like Vietnam the Movie (2016) and Fifth Cinema (2018) examine how images, ideas and words connect and clash, shaping the troubled past of her home country Vietnam, with aftereffects in the present day.

Using a multitude of materials – historical footage, postcards, Hollywood movies and much more – her films embody the complexity and continuous restructuring of history. Until August 31, Fifth Cinema is part of the online program at e-flux.

Previous films already questioned the dominant presence of imagery in our view of the word, Vietnam in particular. With her latest, How to Improve the World (2021), part of our second edition, Nguyen reflects on the differences in how memory is processed between the culture of the eye and that of the ear, while observing the loss of land, forests, and the way of life of the indigenous people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

On her website, Nguyen says: “As our globalised and westernised cultures have come to be dominated by visual media, I feel the need and responsibility as a filmmaker to resist this narrative power of the visual imagery, and look for a more balanced and sensitive approach in perceiving the world by paying more attention to aural landscapes, in line with my interests in the unknown, the invisible, the inaccessible, and in potentialities.”

Electric Shadows returns, with Tsai Ming-liang

In exactly two months’ time, the second edition of Electric Shadows will open at De Cinema in Antwerp. Starting today, we’ll gradually reveal the films to be screened between 29/9 and 2/10.

Last year’s festival ended with a screening of Tsai Ming-liang’s latest feature film Days (2020). We’re happy to announce that his work will return during our next edition. A program of his most recent shorts accentuates Tsai’s continued focus on patient observation within small-scale projects.

The Night (2021) offers a look at street life in Hong Kong after the sun has set and the frenzy of the city Tsai calls the Pearl of the East has subsided. Local music played a vital role in the creation of this short. It did too for The Moon and the Tree (2021), in which Tsai films two performers: ‘Moon singer’ Lee Pei-jing and actor Chang Feng.

Both shorts absorb the rhythm of their locations and the people inhabiting them. In Wandering (2021), Tsai revisits his well-known Walker series at an exhibition at the Dune in Yilan, Taiwan, where the eight films featuring actor Lee Kang-sheng as a slow-paced monk were being shown. Their static shots of slow movements in a high-speed environment have become an embodiment of Tsai’s aesthetical and philosophical approach.