There is a strain of cinema that is often overlooked – or misunderstood – by the mainstream and experimental film worlds alike. If the mainstream view can be summed up as a belief in the equivalence of cinema and storytelling, then the experimental view is an opposing belief in the openness and plasticity of the medium, and a commitment to critically exploring this, taking nothing for granted.

“Experimental narrative” filmmakers – such as Philippe Garrel, Tonino di Bernardi or José Luis Guérin – can seem to fall short of both these standards. They rarely tell stories – favouring figurative cinema’s ability to capture nuances of light, texture and behaviour over its capacities of illustration – but they do appear to take certain things for granted: characters played by actors, representational imagery, etc. And so one side sees in these films incompetence (as if they just didn’t know how to tell a story), while the other (admittedly smaller) side sees conservatism, a failure to rigorously investigate the medium’s properties in the way that experimental film (eg, the cinema of Sharits and Brakhage) is expected to.

But I believe Garrel and company explore a set of principles entirely distinct from the cinema of storytelling, and ones which I also see implicit in my own filmmaking (and that of my colleagues in (An)Other Irish Cinema):

1. The distinction between fiction and documentary is meaningless.

2. Each image is a singular event.

3. The camera is always part of the scene.

4. Cinema is a dialogue between will and reality.

5. Be, don’t illustrate.

6. “In narrative cinema – and all cinema is narrative to some degree – it is the type of image produced that determines the narrative, not the reverse.” –Raul Ruiz

I propose these six principles as the foundations of a different way of making and thinking about those films that seem to straddle the fence.

Originally published in the February 2013 edition of Nisi Masa's Mas y Mas Newsletter.


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