AMERIKA forever & everywhere: The Virtual Film Program
With the 8th Werkleitz Festival, we’re testing a new curatorial format for the first time: a virtual film program on the Internet. In contrast to numerous other online festivals, this program isn’t composed of uploaded films, but is rather a compilation of films already available on the Web. As such, we are reacting to new conditions governing the moving image: with millions of movies available for free online, the sheer mass makes viewing a torture; every patron involuntarily turns into a researcher, hunting for a pearl among hundreds of obscure clips. Also, the role of curators is changing. If, up to now, they found rare films and made them available at great expense, financially and organizationally; now they are navigators who invite us to follow their path through the Internet. The title Forever & Everywhere alludes to the fact that the virtual program will be of use far beyond the actual festival, even if forever and everywhere is a bit of an exaggeration: neither will the link addresses be valid for longer periods of time, nor will there be Internet access everywhere that is suitable for film.
The Virtual Film program is particularly suited to the topic AMERIKA, and not only because the Internet was invented in the United States. Under the laws concerning public domain (films contracted on behalf of the American people must be made available for free to them—and to their guests) suppliers like archive.org (http://www. archive.org) are able to offer thousands of films for free on the Web. The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_Copyright_Infringement_Lia…) in turn, makes it possible to screen material on the Web, even if the rights issue is unclear—only if there is an objection does the work have to be removed.
This relatively sophisticated handling of copyright on the Internet threatens to overtake the “Old World” for a second time: Since film archive rights issues are handled much more restrictively in Europe, a large portion of the free film information on the Web (aside from the music video and amateur genres) stems from the United States. This is how American images have come to dominate the Internet as they do in the cinema.
Of course, this program is just a beginning, and in many ways it’s also limited. Some film forms and genres on the Web are very well represented, aside from amateur films, particularly music videos, educational, propaganda, and news. The latter are commissioned works; the creator is remunerated for the work and usually doesn’t hold the rights to the product. The original purpose of the films is usually long forgotten. Artistic films such as feature films, documentaries, experimental films and video art are still comparatively rare, because the producers of these films hope to recoup their costs in the long-run and are often not interested in making the work available free of charge (we deliberately ignore the supposedly endless mass of films on illegal sites, all links in this program point to legal providers). Even if through YouTube & Co., the number of films available on the Internet is virtually infinite, the number of reputable sources for movies on the Net is fairly manageable: Most of the films come from archive.org, and here, in particular, the preeminent Prelinger Archive, from the online portal for artistic film UbuWeb (http://www. ubu.com/film) as well as from YouTube. A few films came from MySpace, Google-Video, millercenter.org and other sites.
Basically, I included only full-length films, no excerpts; I also omitted films that couldn’t be linked without preregistration.
A central and much discussed concern among artists was whether they should make their work available for free on the Web, or inexpensively on DVD. They feared if they did, curators wouldn’t show them in movie theaters anymore. As a curator, I can offer some assurance in that regard; I often show works that I’ve seen through these channels. However, I also have to admit that as a patron I’ve often decided against going to the movie theater when I knew I could see the film on DVD or on the Web. But whatever the case may be, in the future, films will be distributed primarily online, going to the movies will be the exception—especially since most of the works available in the Werkleitz Festival aren’t ever screened in theaters.
Of course, such an online program is afflicted by aesthetic and social loss; the collective cinematic experience is replaced by the solitariness of the monitor. Even television, which households occasionally gather around, can promote a sense of community. The quality of the films on the Web is generally dreadful (the Prelinger Archive is the rare exception), it isn’t even large enough to see the full-sized film on the monitor. Most of the films we see on the Internet are like photos in a tabloid newspaper, wrapped in plenty of junky information.
On the other hand, the viewer gains new freedoms. Films seen before are now available any time. You can share the film with others, forward the links, and download the films. You don’t have to see the entire work, nor view them in a specific sequence, and you can do it anytime at home.
For us as organizers of the festival, we’ll gain access to a new audience. Even if this Virtual Film Program is poorly attended compared to the Web, we’ll still have umpteen numbers of people, visiting us in Halle between October 24 and 26, 2008. It’s particularly appealing to us that we can leave the so-called Western hemisphere and reach visitors from other continents.
The sequence of works presented a particular challenge for me in this curatorial project. Content and dramaturgic form is decisive for short film programs in theatrical runs, the, the films have to fit together, but they can’t flow indistinguishably into one another. Moreover, the moderation plays a central role in theatrical presentations. Since I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to stick to a program sequence I’d proposed, i. e., watching seventy minutes of five or six short films in sequence, I decided on a radical solution: organizing the films in chronological order. This presents an image of America seen through the times, in which the political and social change is reflected as much as the changes of form in their cinematic representation.
A basic introduction to the theme of the festival Werkleitz AMERIKA can be found here. Marcel Schwierin, curator and filmmaker
Curator and Texts: Marcel Schwierin and filmmaker