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Rotterdam panel explores crossover between art and film worlds for finance, exhbition

Panellists include artists-turned-directors Nicolas Provost [pictured] (The Invader) and Wilhelm Sasnal (It Looks Pretty From a Distance).

The crossover between the art world and the film world will be increasingly important as new financing and distribution/exhibition models are devised in coming years, said expert panellists at an Art: Film discussion at the International Film Festival Rotterdam today.

CPX DOX festival director Tine Fischer noted that their symposium in 2011 showed a lot of interest from both worlds to work together more. “We had museums there, including MoMA and the Pompidou, and asked could they see themselves working more actively with these films, for production and exhibition. All of them could, but they don’t have a model right now.

She continued: “It would be a good idea to find allies. You don’t have to use just traditional film financing, you could also work with people and ideas and funding from the art world.”

“Now we concentrate on the white cube and the black box, it will be interesting to think about the grey space in between,” said Bartomeu Mari, director of MACBA, Barcelona’s museum of contemporary art.

Stuart Comer, film curator at the Tate Modern, agreed: “There is a lot more common ground than we realise. It’s very interesting right now as we’re trying to sort out that grey area.”

Still, they are still separate worlds right now without much overlap and without common terminology.  Fischer said one idea to improve that would be to have national film funds collaborate more with national art funds.

UK producer Simon Field of Illuminations Films said: “You have to learn to work completely different rooms. These are two different types of worlds in which you have to exist, so that can be difficult.”

Field has direct experience crossing those lines – he worked with Thai director Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul on the art project that ultimately led to the Palme d’Or winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Weerasakthul got funding for a transmedia and gallery installation entitled Primitive, and some of that funding was used later as partial financing  (alongside more traditional film finance) for the related feature film. “Joe was always thinking of the Primitive project also having a feature film component,” Fields noted. “We were walking with that project on both sides of the tracks.”

Two of the panellists are artists who have debut feature films screening at Rotterdam this year: Nicolas Provost with The Invader, and Wilhelm Sasnal with Tiger competitor It Looks Pretty From a Distance (co-directed with Anka Sasnal).

Their diverging approaches to film point to the fact that there is not just one single model of artists moving into narrative features.

Provost said: “I decided if I made a feature, I’d make a mainstream film to reach as many people as possible. If you make a feature film that smells arty you have no chance at all to distribute it…As an artist you are always a storyteller. I’m always very aware there is an audience in front of me that I try to charm.” He made the film with traditional film financing sources.

Meghan Torreo, project manager at New York’s Anton Kern Gallery, explained how the Gallery put a split of profits from the sale of Sasnal’s visual artworks in a fund for film related costs for It Looks Pretty…  “With painting and film, I want to separate those two activities,” said Sasnal. “I don’t know how far we can go with it…We would to make films for ourselves, just to be selfish.”

“It’s not mainstream,” he noted before adding that he hadn’t worried about distribution of the film while making it but knew that it would be for cinema, not gallery, exhibition.

Distribution of traditional arthouse films is getting tougher and tougher, much less distribution of overtly arty or experimental films. So museums and galleries getting into more distribution/exhibition could be one helpful way forward, although there are many challenges to consider.

For museums to work more closely with the film industry there will have to be shifts both ideologically (the museum promotion model is around months-long exhibitions) and also technical challenges such as museums and galleries not being built with special attention to sound, or having inviting cinema spaces.

Comer of the Tate Modern said: “Museums have a lot of catching up to do…the cinema as a space has mostly been ignored by museums, unless you look at MOMA or The Pompidou.” The Tate Modern is in the process of building more spaces that can be used as cinemas, and eventually having a small screening room.

Mari noted that his museum was likely to end up managing Catalan cinema works. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to lose focus [of the museum], but we are close in objectives,” he noted.  “Cinema is the most powerful mechanism to transmit and aesthetic experience.”

Panel moderator Mike Goodridge (editor of Screen International) noted that more galleries could participate in film financing by pre-buying a film for their collection. Mari said for this to work more in the future the art world “would need to change the way value is constructed around art.”

MACBA was one of several art institutions that invested in the Artangel art/film project 1395 Days Without Red, by Šejla Kamerić & Anri Sala and starring Maribel Verdu.

Comer added that some art world patrons and investors had started to become more interested in backing films. “They really love the engagement, they can take part in a more active way in the production process. I hope we’ll see more of that from more sophisticated areas of the art world.”

The discussion is particularly relevant in Rotterdam, which is known for showing challenging films and also has a long tradition of running art exhibits and installations alongside its film programme.

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