Avant-Garde Shining in Iowa City

April 18-20th brought a packed weekend of experimental nonfiction documentaries that showcased the art of avant-garde filmmaking . The film festival ICDOCS(Iowa City International Documentary Film Festival) shined a light on filmmakers from all over the world, which allowed their films to be apart of the 16th year of this Iowa City festival. Overall,The way the programming was created in a way that mixed the individuality of each film while also showcasing the importance of why certain films were in each program. There were clear standouts in the festival, and while some weren’t able to receive an award, all of the films screened had qualities to admire.

Festival winner, The Air of the Earth in Your Lungs by Ross Meckfessel is a film that bridges landscapes with the twenty-first century. By incorporating pixelated shots of nature, as well as shots of a drone and a virtual reality headset juxtaposed with a grassy backdrop, Meckfessel is showcasing how technology has taken over the human experience and how obsessed we have become with seeing the world in an artificial way. The concept Meckfessel is trying to bring to light comes through in a way that does not hit you over the head, but is rather subtle Another shot had a person dressed up as a robot dancing followed by two women dressed up with sparkly outfits and bright lights with the audio sequence of Kanye West’s “Fade”. This sequences reinforces this idea of an artificial spectacle that emphasized the different world we live in because of technology. It is clear that this film deserved to win at the festival, although, there were some films that fell just short of an award but exceeded in the audience’s perception.

The Air of the Earth in Your Lungs was able to standout due to its interpretation on how people interact with technology. Another film that was a standout for bridging together the ideas of authenticity and creation was Thomas Hakim’s Hearths(English Title: Foyers). This film’s audio track contained interviews with arsonists while the shots included long takes of residential areas as well as a prolonged shot of a couch going up in flames. The shot of the couch burning was interesting to watch because it emoted contrasting feelings simultaneously. At first it is eerie to see a couch burn inside a room while nothing is being done to stop it, but it is also beautiful to watch the situation play out and it puts the viewer in the arson’s point of view and allows the audience to see fire and destruction as something to appreciate. When the camera pulls away and we see that the fire was in a made up room in the middle of nowhere, it forces the audience to question the validity of how the fire was perceived and if the beauty from the fire is authentic is created.

There were 45 films screened at ICDOCS, many deserving praise, but what this festival and these films are doing in the cinematic field is something to give recognition to as well. The festival creates a concentrated environment in which to see the latest innovation in experimental film, and also brings big name filmmakers to Iowa City. Molly Bagnall, one of the programmers for ICDOCS said it perfectly: The importance of film festivals like ICDOCS cannot be understated in a film community as strong as Iowa City’s. Experimental film has an established home at the University of Iowa and the festival draws on that history to bring important and cutting edge filmmakers to the community for a weekend of celebration for the cinematic form that given rise to cinema’s most noteworthy filmmakers in history. The festival puts an emphasis on the emotional, bodily, and visceral of the cinematic viewing experience. The films often do not have narratives, do not have characters, and are not didactic in the way conventional documentaries are, but rather get at a higher form of consciousness that transcends the restrictions of conventional narrative. Experimental film can change a person’s mind about what cinema is and can be, and can even change the way one thinks about and experiences the world."

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