AV Festival 2012: a preview

18 January 2012

Double Tide
MP here

In a bout of double procrastination - I have two assignments due in this Friday, while a long-neglected review of Spielberg's amiable enough War Horse is on its way - I thought now's as good a time as any to write a few lines on AV Festival 2012, the fifth edition of the ever-expanding biennial festival of contemporary art, technology music and (of course) film. Usually a ten-day stint, this year's festival - titled "As Slow As Possible" after a 1987 composition for organ by John Cage - lasts the full 31 days of March across Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

As I wrote here, the festival features over 100 artists, more than 20 exhibitions, 70 special events and five (slow!) weekends of concerts, films, talks and walks... to say nothing of a 744-hour continuous online radio. All in all, slow or not, fun is to be had, and the multimedia platform ensures the box most sought after by funders - "engagement" - is very much ticked.

This being a film blog, though, the month has an especial appeal. Between March 4th and 29th, at both Newcastle's Tyneside Cinema and Star and Shadow Cinema, there are over 30 film screenings that, as the site tells it, "provide an introduction to slowness and cinema from across the world including many regional previews plus rarely seen and undistributed films".

On opening weekend, Fergus Daly and Katherine Waugh introduce their 2009 film The Art of Time, which offers a view on current artistic notions of time, including interviews with Chantal Akerman, Stan Douglas and Alexander Sokurov among others. (What's more, the screening is free.) Two other filmmakers, both American, also introduce their films on the same weekend: James Benning will be present with his Nightfall (2011) and Sharon Lockhart will be in attendance with her 2009 film Double Tide. (You can see both films for the price of one.)

As for regional previews: Béla Tarr's supposedly final film, The Turin Horse, which Srini already reviewed here; Bruno Dumont's Hors Satan; Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which sounds and looks as exquisite as anything he's previously made; and Aurora, the new film by Cristi Puiu, whose 2005 film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu made my Top 100.

Syndromes and a Century

To these we might add slightly more familiar titles: Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark (2002); Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979), which I saw at the Baltic in 2005; Abbas Kiarostami's Five (2003); Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth (2006); Pablo Giorgelli's Las Acacias (2011); Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (2007), which I saw when the Tyneside Cinema temporarily moved over to Gateshead's Town Hall whilst its Newcastle residence was under renovation; Jia Zhang-ke's Still Life (2006); Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century (2006), which I also saw during the Tyneside's temporary tenure south of the Tyne (the film also ranks highly on my Top 100); and Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring (2003).

Barring The Turin Horse, attendance to any of these films is rewarded with a stamp on your Film Loyalty Card, obtainable for free at either cinema: basically, buy tickets to four films, get the fifth free.

Not included in that offer but covered by its own pass is the Slow Cinema Weekend, which runs from Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th. To Béla Tarr's film, add works by the Argentine Lisandro Alonso, the German Fred Kelemen, the Filipino Lav Diaz and the UK's own Ben Rivers. What's even more impressive is that on the morning of the 9th, these last four filmmakers are joined in person by Jonathan Romney, George Clark and Matthew Flanagan for a discussion panel on slow cinema's current trends (I spoke briefly of Romney and Slow Cinema here.)

Overall, the strand boasts twelve rarely seen, undistributed films, each with an intro and/or Q&A: Kelemen's 1990s trilogy Fate, Frost and Nightfall; Alonso's Liberty (2001), The Dead (2004) and Liverpool (2008); Lav Diaz's work-in-progress Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution (2011), the 480-minute ("with refreshments"!) Melancholia (2011) and the 360-minute Century of Birthing (2011); and Ben Rivers's Slow Cinema (2010) and Two Years at Sea (2011).

Intriguing indeed!

Finances permitting, I'll be seeing the vast majority of these. Watch this space for follow-ups.