A couple of years ago, I had an audiovisual exhibit at Parque de la Memoria de Buenos Aires, a place that is dear to my heart because it represents, through that seemingly endless monument, the unanchored grief set adrift that those of us who were not able to bury our dead were thrown into. However, despite the breach of the pact humans have with earth when we give it our dead to care for, which the dictatorship fractured with that sinister figure left as an imprint on our bodies – the desaparecidos – art has been (is) one of the ways to reconstruct that pact, to keep on living. At that moment, when I put up those works, several filmmaker friends teased me because, supposedly, I had abandoned cinema in favour of video art; a genre that reminded them of a lesser thing, as if I had left the elegant cinema for an unruly, annoying girlfriend called video. That difference they pointed out in fear still seems funny to me.
Each time I start a production, I try to use film stock; the question of whether we could cover some part of the shooting in 35 mm, 16 mm or Super 8 mm is ever-present. The answer’s structure has varied, but it is always a negative answer, and in recent years we are already at “there aren’t even any labs to develop the stock!” That brings me to insist, saying that the Kaurismakis have a 16 mm lab in Finland and that, because they are 16 fans, they even hop onto some projects as producers so people can start filming in this beautiful format again. “Finland, Albertina!” is usually the final phrase in my conversations about film stock. Perhaps I like a problem, and that is why I always complicate everything. Although I do not believe it to be that literal, or that I like problems, or that I always complicate everything. The path I try to trace is on impossibles and phantasmagorias that perhaps have some relationship to memory and grief and the lights and the shadows that screens project onto our bodies. Vital forces of these times.
To me, cinema is an organic thing. The blocs of movement-time Deleuze wrote about to describe cinema are applicable to a body; the speaking body that haunted Lacan could be read as one of those blocs of movement-time that haunted the other one. What is a body? What can a body do? Those are some of the questions philosophy has been asking since the Presocratics, and psychology since its beginnings; the answers are varied, depending on the epistemological system the question is tried upon. But there is a system of thought that I am interested in getting close to, Spinoza’s, to understand a bit of what a body can do and to think about cinema – even though such a thing did not exist during his time – as the becoming of the sacred from our purely profane nature. The devil’s cinema or the monster of novelty, pregnant with fast-transforming heresy, according to that extravagant filmmaker and philosopher called Jean Epstein.
The differentiation between cinema and video art, and the extinction of film stock are experiences I place side by side to give an account of the constant transformation cinematography has been exposed to. From its origins up to the present day, it has been a kinetic, technological media that has been reformulating itself as humanity develops. And the curious thing is that the techniques used by the cinematographer are always related to humanity. The soldiers of the first and second world wars clashed in the trenches, exposing their bodies on the battlefield. In the same fashion, our movies were filmed with cameras that weighed as many tons as those machine guns, and we went to movie theatres as the nurses tended to the wounded during those wars: present in body. Technology has been different for some time now: cameras are minimal, they use GPS, have night sensors, and we no longer print on a physical medium that will be later treated chemically, but instead, the information goes to a codec chip, unknown to most of its users. The same way that the conquering of domains and ideologies are settled in a different manner: from screens, in control rooms that see images through drones operated by a mere handful of humans, or control rooms that are still unknown to us.
What will become of cinema? That is the slogan of this text in a moment when we ask out loud and in our virtual communities, this is, in image and bodyless, what is in store for the world? Will we turn into images? Our bodies have become killer virus transmitters, will they be definitively removed from the scene, and will we become thought only, at least in social life? Will our voices through virtual platforms be our new bodies in this era? Removed from the scene, what is the scene, the stage we are removed from by the capitalocene with this new stunt called “pandemic virus”? For starters, it removes us from marching on the streets, from partying with friends, and collective kissing; from group scenes transpired by rage or joy. Of those, for now, we are on the outside. An outside that is an inside. An inside filled with images that get to us through platforms, legal or illegal, but still get to us. Therefore, I think cinema will keep on rewriting and refounding itself through all the technological devices that exist, and the ones that are probably being designed at Palo Alto. It has been doing it since its beginnings, and its mutating capacity and implication on human life have been proven.
My concern is not about formats, I have lived through 35, 16 and Super 8, I have even filmed in Double 8 mm; used VHS, Betacam, U-matic, DVD, Mini DV, Beta Digital, SD, HD, Full HD. I have seen movies in all of these formats and also on LaserDisc; on screens of a thousand different sizes, projecting on fabric, on walls, with bees creating shadows with their flight on some screens of the cinemas in Corrientes Avenue. Does anyone remember that spring when an invasion of bees came to Buenos Aires and, looking for who knows what, they went into movie theatres and painted the films with their little black shadows that grew as they threw themselves towards the projector’s light? It was not just that I got used to it, but that I am not afraid of the hesitant configurations cinema exposes us to. My concern is about language, although formats and language are directly related, because cinema has been modifying itself throughout its history by broadening its techniques, I can also recognise its destructive capacity since the cinematographer was invented. That is why my sorrow is always the same sorrow, the one that drags me to keep on making movies: which are the invisible images, those that are not on any platform nor any screen? The biggest punishment this era subjects us to is disappearing from images, if we are not there, we do not exist. The famous to be or not be has become to be or not to be an image. Our existence has become dependent on that monster of novelty, pregnant with fast-transforming heresy. Cinema has modified our bodies and our existence; our ways of life.
How will all these techniques that have modified our subjectivity impact our bodies, isolated from that social body that makes a community? I do not know, but I believe that if cinema has always had a pivotal social role, now more than ever, it has a great civic, poetic, and social responsibility in its hands. Its great political responsibility. A year ago, at this festival, I made a call to create crabs cinema,1 a cinema inspired by a logic of contagion that goes into the interstices of the unsaid, the non-hegemonic; a cinema of disobedience. I still think that is what cinema should aim for, the desperate, breathless search of its sacred becoming from its deeply profane nature. Let cinema accompany the breath of singularity in each body and the possibilities of being part of a social body exposed to extinction; so that, perhaps, through that powerful tool, extinction may fly to the realm of fiction.
- At the 2020 Mar del Plata International Film Festival, the author made a call to create crabs cinema (cine ladilla), to be and create as that revolting, adulterous parasite that subverts normality. ↩