by Patrice James
Various experimental filmmakers are lauding and embracing the concept of Expanded Cinema as it relates to film; these avant-garde film artists are leading the charge; attempting to create an antithetical cinematic experience. As the commercial film industries both in North America & globally continue to be the ‘pushers’ of new digital technologies as the most viable mode for both the production & presentation of moving imagery; and while various pundits continue to proclaim ‘the death of film’, there is a resurgence occurring especially in the area of experimental film art making.
In a commercial moving image production and dissemination environment, where the material practice of filmmaking is now under fire; where craft is not as essential as accessibility, affordability, expediency and profitability; experimental film artists are creating an alternative, subversive response to filmmaking. They’re DIYing; creating their own film stocks, bypassing labs by hand processing their film stocks, and creating alternative presentation and viewing experiences, which are posited outside of a conventional single-channel film presentation and viewing experience. These artists are pushing the boundaries of filmmaking by truly engaging with the film material itself. Artists like IFCO’s own Roger D. Wilson and Dave Johnson, are joining the ranks of talented Canadian Independent film artists like Amanda Dawn Christie, and Christopher Becks, usurping control over their engagement with the filmic process, both in creation and presentation.
In the 21st century, independent film artists are carving out a unique niche for themselves; steadfastly standing their ground in an ocean of hyper-digital discourse which has appropriated the identity of film (emulsion) with no regards for the subtlety, beauty, and extraordinary resiliency of the medium itself. Film doesn’t just lay still; images aren’t simply captured in motion; they’re imprinted. You can scratch on film, bury it, burn it, and it still captures an image, without ever having to run it through a camera; even as it decomposes from ‘wear & tear’, film still provides a salvageable aesthetic. And not all film has to be screened in a black box; film can be mobile; site specifically presented and installed; the possibilities are endless.
And even as these artists experiment, they’re not creating filmic experiences in silos; they’re not attempting to confuse or alienate their audiences, on the contrary; the 21st century notion of Expanded Cinema, creates new, exciting and alternative opportunities for audiences to question, observe and engage with filmmakers. They’re not simply ‘eyes glued’ to a conventional movie screen, being ‘spoon fed’ ‘run of the mill’ three or five act ‘storytelling’ with passive appreciation. I’d also dare assert that Expanded Cinema in the 21st century has additionally somewhat democratized filmmaking, in that there are various creative prospects for novice filmmakers to readily engage with the film material outside of the traditional modes of production. As aforementioned, there are lots of ways in which one can manipulate film, without even having to use a camera.
Of course I am not naive, and am not attempting to suggest here that Expanded Cinema practices provide a ‘fail safe’ to the contemporary challenges facing the film medium. We are living in a rapidly increasing digital reality, though this said; there are still several independent and commercial filmmakers who are shooting on film, who are still solely interested in the single-channel presentation experience; who wish to shoot their films and have them processed and transferred by a lab, and these filmmakers can also be perceived as somewhat working within an Expanded Cinema framework, in that they’re daring to work within a medium that is considered by the naysayers as being no longer necessary or popular towards the proliferation of filmmaking and cinema. So as the marketplace and manufactured artistry submerge the commercial sphere of film production and presentation, Expanded Cinema of old, is now in the 21st century vigorously cultivating a new identity.