National Cinema Canonization at Film Festivals in the Netherlands and Austria

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curating for Festivals
By Manuel Götz

Eröffnung-03-c-DiagonaleMaul
©Diagonale/Maul

This text aims to discuss notions of national cinema canonization through film festival programming, in comparison to curation employed by festivals striving towards an international film selection. In doing so I will look into the cinema of two countries, the Netherlands and Austria, and contrast the representative festivals, as both communities see their moving image output depicted in both national (Nederlands Film Festival, Diagonale Festival of Austrian Film) and international (IFFR International Film Festival Rotterdam, Viennale Vienna International Film Festival) festivals. I will delineate in how far the branding of films as symbolizing a state of a cinema of a specific country is appropriate in the age of globalization.

Liz Czach, when talking about the canonization of Canadian cinema writes, in quoting Christopher Gittings, a scholar on Canadian cinema that “[…] the delineation of a canon was a proof-positive that [Canada] had a national cinema.”[1] At the same time, and she stresses that throughout her piece, the establishment of a cinematic canon is an arbitrary and subjective process; one that, for film festivals, lies in the hand of a very few number of responsible individuals. An immediate question that comes to is if there would be no national cinema, if there would be no framing as such. Here, a look at the situation in the Netherlands proves to be illuminating.

The NFF, the festival for Dutch national cinema, already in their mission situate Dutch films in an international perspective, pinpointing them “between the local and the global”.[2] Due to the diversity of Dutch filmmakers, their manifold backgrounds, their different relationship to the country and the nature of their stay in the Netherlands, linking ‘Dutch national cinema’ to any geographic heritage does not function well, in that such a selection would leave aside important work that might have a very close connection to any instance of Dutch culture. This is true not only for the NFF, but also for example for the current Dutch media art exhibition at the EYE, where the curators decided the selection must be based on any connection of the filmmaker’s side to the Netherlands that should not be further defined.[3] Hence, for instance many of the represented artists only stayed in the country for their study and continued to live elsewhere after.

Furthermore, one could challenge the general necessity of Dutch national cinema programs at festivals. Considering that the cinemas in the country rarely show Dutch works in their everyday programming and the general movie consumption is coined by European and (for the most part) American films, where is the ‘critical capital’ Czach is talking about to be found in this example?[4] Furthermore, what is a Dutch production that is financed by money from transnational companies, as it is common practice for most contemporary productions? I believe, that, as she already suggests, the success of these programs is to be found in their assimilation, their inclusion in international selections, as therefore they are constructing a more representative framework.[5]

The situation in Austria is a slightly different one but still allows for comparison. While the Diagonale also embraces the fact that many ‘Austrian’ films are produced with foreign money, the geographic (and also institutional) backgrounds do play a role as selection criteria. In their mission, they state to strive towards a representative selection through selection of a few examples.[6] Hence, we see a program that displays diverse works (narrative, experimental, documentary, media art, expanded cinema) through a very narrow selection. It seems that an encompassing representation through a fraction is a paradox. This means that the films are not only a reflection of a certain quality, but at the same time possess the notion of standing for something bigger, ascribing them essentially a political character. I think this becomes complicated when for example considering (or not considering, as for the Diagonale and most other indigenous film festivals) amateur films as substantial players for the creation of national cinemas. For this film form, quality (as defined in relation to film language) does not work as a suitable tool for measurement. Auteur cinema is the opposite of amateur cinema. The latter have, in most cases, their initial function as personal memory rather than ‘film’ and create their statements rather quantitatively, through their sheer mass.

In both, the IFFR and the Viennale, we see national cinema embodied in an international perspective. While the Viennale has a program section entirely devoted to Austrian filmmaking, the IFFR does not and curates Dutch films and international films in direct contrast to each other.  Likewise, some Viennale awards (which does not have a main prize) are only awarded to Austrian films whereas the IFFR does not have an award reserved exclusively for Dutch films.

In the (declared) age of postnationalism, what is the path national film festivals should choose? Does this development call for an even tighter affirmation of the existence of national cinema canons or should they be found in a full assimilation in a globalized film world? It is clear that film festivals do possess a political power, one that should not be underestimated.  In that regard, they have to manage an area of conflict of a globalized economic market and national cultural agendas, imposed by government states. With quality as a tools of measurement abolished, this discussion requires the uttermost ethical care from the side of the curator.

References
[1]
Czach, Liz. “Film Festivals, Programming, and the Building of a National Cinema.” The Moving Image 4:1 (2004): p. 80.
[2] Missie & Visie. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from https://www.filmfestival.nl/publiek/over-nff/missie-visie/, author’s translation.
[3] Opdam, C. (2016, March 4). Close-Up. Lecture presented at This is Film! Film Heritage in Practice at University of Amsterdam.
[4] Czach, p. 83.
[5] Czach, p. 83.
[6] Mission Statement. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.diagonale.at/, author’s translation.

 

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