Dear visitor,
This website will cease to exist by the end of this year.
See you at

Experimental Documentary channel is curated by Chilean filmmaker and researcher Pablo Carrera. He reviews new forms of experimental film dealing with non-fictional representation of reality.

Since the last ten years, the digital revolution lead by the propagation of Internet and the growth of the production of digital images has expanded our world of images. Just by looking at websites like Daily Motion, Youtube or Vimeo, we find tons of films of all sort and kinds. Many of them are quite hard to classify in a specific genre and it is even harder to determine the reason why they were made. In this unruly jungle of videos, it is therefore also hard to define which films are genuinely experimental and which are just a bluff. This occurs especially in some documentary sub-genres, such as web-based found footage films and more personal documentaries made with amateur cameras without any budget. In both cases the quality of the images relies on the attempt to explore certain layers of reality, so the films don’t need to be photographically outstanding in order to define their artistic value. Therefore, in a first glance some of them may not seem too different from average amateur videos or amusing mashups, but is it only that after a closer look we realize they express much more than that.

Though experimental documentary online is a new tendency, this genre outside the Internet is nothing new. On the contrary, it’s probably one of the oldest and more consistent forms of experimental cinema. Its history can be tracked by looking at Dziga Vertov’s first Kino-Pradva (1922), Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice (1930), Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests made in the sixties, or Jonas Meka’s still ongoing personal diaries. What is common in all these works is the attempt to explore a reality that exists outside of the maker’s internal worldview, but showing it as a means for expressing his/her subjectivity and personal impressions.

The films selected in this channel follow the traces of experimental documentary into this new medium. More specifically, the selection of films represents a sample of what is being done nowadays in the realms of the Internet. These films were gathered by systemic searchings in online broadcasting platforms like Vimeo, blogs about cinema like Blogs & Docs (only available in spanish) and Online Film Festivals such as Youtube Biennial or IDFA’s section Paradocs.

This curatorship is part of a more extensive research project developed by Pablo as part of his research master Artistic Research, at the Art Studies department of the University of Amsterdam.

Finally, Pablo likes to thank all the filmmakers who accepted to be part of this channel and share their films with the community of Instant Cinema. He also likes to give a special thank to Christine Muller, his friend and partner, who assumed the role of editor in most of these articles.

If you want to watch the latests posts, just click here.

There seems to be no logical reason for Noël Loozen -the artist and main character of this video- to jump fences across Europe. However, reasons have never been the main dish of experimental films. Impulses might be a better word. Impulses that try to break free from the feeling of alienation that sometimes take over the so called modern thinker, the civilized artist.

Too much.Too much discussing, too much complexity, too much of deep interpretations surrounding a few sketchy art pieces. That is the feeling I often get when I try to experience contemporary art. That is why sometimes I appreciate this kind of punky attitudes, specially if they go straight to the point, have a spark of humor and moreover use nice landscapes for a setting.

As a character, Loozen is a lousy fence-breaker, which makes him look funny. As a performer, he has the virtue of laughing about himself without making it too complicated for the viewer. This straight-forwardness stays also for the experiment that the film tries to test on its go: to follow a primal drive and stick to it no matter what the final result will be. By playing this game the work becomes something personal.

Here some words of the artist:

If you out of desire want to achieve something, you will only succeed if you are certain you can achieve it.

Doubt is fatal.

Insight in your own possibilities and limits therefore defines what you will achieve.

But who provides that insight? Yourself of course, but does that mean you can make all your desires, your wants, come true?

PS. If you liked this video you should also check the Wegrenfilms by Dutch artist Lonnie van Brummelen (see first 3’ of this documentary). There you can taste a similar mood, but, of course, from a different era.

An interesting starting point to get deeper into Auspice is the following exercise: look into your memory and see if there had been any moment you’d really perceived TV as is shown here. Think on the last time you had a cold and drank so much cough syrup that the only physical movement you could still do while lying in your bed was pushing the buttons of the remote control. You see? This film is neither a metaphor nor an auspice of times ahead. It’s the pure reality of our times, just a bit “out of tune”.

Nonetheless, this psychedelic version of TV News certainly holds a critical element that deserves to be to discussed. The content of this critique seems to become overly clear when we see the newsreaders singing the same droll melody one after the other with only slightly changing the tone of their voices, One could call it a funny way to say that “all the news repeat the same amusing crap”. However, that would be a common fallacy. Looking closer, all the footage used in this film comes from U.S. television and moreover, mainly from Fox News. This is one of the most conservative news broadcasters in the U.S. and well known for shady practices such as the early announcement of George W. Bush elected for president in 2000.

An auspice is a sort of omen that comes from observing our surroundings. The word has a latin origin and means “one who looks at birds” to predict the weather or the arrival of unexpected visitors. Hence it isn’t merely a coincidence that in this film the newsreaders sing. However they don’t do it as well as birds, but more like a choir of boring old-fashion teachers preaching about the meaning of life.

Auspices are not communicated in a clear informative way; they must be found in the behavior of the world around. Birds don’t sing the omen, but we can read it by watching them sing. A News show can provide clear information about what’s happening in the world, but that doesn’t mean that such information contains all the important issues we should address as society. One could say that news bringers have become auspices of our future because they choose the affairs we will be discussing for the time being. This is an illusion of truth but, nevertheless, our reality.

So the critique in this film is not so obvious as it seems to be at first glance. For me the moral of the story is: 1) don’t underestimate funny videos, especially not if you find them roaming the Internet and they look cryptic and no-budget and 2) don’t watch Fox News. But if you do, first be sure to drink at least three bottles of cough syrup, lie in bed and.... sing along.

“Breed crows and they will peck your eyes” is the translation of a Spanish saying that tells people should be careful in which relations they invest their trust. This is also the subject of the installation and film In Ictu Oculi (from the Latin expression in the blink of an eye) by Spanish artist Greta Alfaro. It’s a very simple and poetic experiment in which a big fancy looking meal is set in a piece of land while vultures fly over. With a documentary policy of non-intervening the situation once it had been set, she puts the camera in front of the table and lets it record what happens.

And something does happen. It doesn’t take too long before some vultures gain confidence and land on the table. Quickly they start pecking some pieces of food. Gigantic, noisy, miserly and recklessly aggressive, most of them start fighting each other to get their own share of the feast. The more food they get, the less is left on the table and the more they get into wrangles over the leftovers. We’re watching vultures, animals, but it reflects something deep inside of us. Therefore In a way this scene shows the darkest side of human behavior and the more pessimistic -and widespread- theories on our nature. Like the canonical Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. It says that humans are solitary, nasty, brutish and narrow-minded when there is no social order established. Again, animal behavior has proven to be quite effective in mirroring something of the basic needs and intentions of humans.

The big meal is a symbolic place for feeling safety, trust and connection to other people. A place where stories flow at the pace of wine, and where a stream of food made with special care is never ending. However, we all know that behind that facade a seed for insecurity might be hidden: the intention of something unspoken that suddenly, in the blink of an eye, may reveal the vultures we have inside.

Alfaro says:

I am interested that the work is kept simple and easy to refer to timeless themes, which are also relevant today because they are inherent to our human condition, and place the work not only in the present, but within a tradition.

Born and raised in Spain but now based in the UK, Alfaro has been able to be part of two different cultures and learned that each of them has their own social conventions and ways to hide the chaos and vulnerability that, in her words, underlies everyone’s life. In Ictu Oculi is an attempt to grasp that hidden world in western society.

Three films with two common elements: natural landscape and wide open space for free interpretations. All this in one piece called Minispectacles, a few samples of a larger and still ongoing series of cinematic haikus by Finish artist Maarit Suomi-Väänänen. In each of these pieces she introduces minimal events of nature and daily life adding a small drop of narrative intentions. But more than stories, they appeal to our senses by showing how small things can also be perceived as big spectacles. Therefore it would be too much to say these scenes have plots, but fair enough to related them with the narrative detour of a daydream.

The first of the three films, named Touché, observes a bunch of plastic bottles trapped in a swirl just under a river fall in the city. We see them dipping in the water by the effect of the stream, maybe trying to dance the atonal melody played over and over by an accordion.

The second film, Douche, is about a rock that unexpectedly explodes in the middle of a deserted landscape. No explanations attached. After making some inquires about finish stones, I still don’t know if the event is caused by the effect of nature or someone’s intervention. The scene is quite baffling, not only because of the dubious nature of the event but also because the style of the film differs completely from its sib Touché. Whereas one is made through a sequence of recklessly framed shots, the other consists in one fixed image, carefully composed, running in slow motion. Two different worlds, like taken from two different films. However there is something in common and that is the main characters’ non-animated nature: a bunch of plastic bottles and a rock. Think about it, but not too much.

The third piece is called Souche and, again, is something else. From what seems to be the point of view of someone filming family videos, we see a flock of ducks hidden behind some bushes in a small forest. A woman says to someone else -probably the person who holds the camera- that she is gonna sit down so please do “not ball it up”. They seem to be waiting for the moment when the ducks fly away, which eventually happens.

Trying to connect Touché, Douche and Souche, I would have imagined the latter without any human presence, only with the ducks quacking behind the bushes, embodying an intriguing presence that we would grasp only to see it fly away. But that’s just my drift. Souche is a cinematic haiku itself and can be appreciated as it is. However, in relation to the scenes we watched previously, it looks more like a making of.

Minispectacles is a film that moves in mysterious ways. There is something tricky in that. Not in the scenes, but in the sense we try to make from them. It’s like those puzzles for masochist which pieces have shape but no illustration. You can spend your life trying to make one and still not loosing hopes. Maybe that’s because this series of short movies resist from making any sense, which suggests that its focus may be somewhere else, maybe in the realms of emotiveness. However, the emotions here are not so clear, which suggests the focus could be somewhere else.

But maybe the focus is not important at all. Maybe each of us can have their own unique experience and interpret these films with his/her own world view. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. What I am just curious about is if there could be any possible connection, whether thematic, methodological, ethic or aesthetic, between the three pieces. Who knows. For me that’s the big mystery of this piece.

Human kind is full with contradictions: technology is at the cost of social alienation, democracy is in many countries a disguise to hide injustice, and our sense of reality is more and more based upon virtual media. No Comment is an experimental documentary that explores these subjects through a wide range of images covering a broad range of topics of life, taken from TV and the web. Together, at the rhythm of a musical piece by the great Max Richter, they show the grim reality that hides behind the prettiness of media images.

Gioacchino Petronicce, the creator of this piece, makes very peculiar visual and sound associations between the images he selected. For example, a whale under water that twists heavy and slowly within an uniform portion of ocean; next to it, as if the image shifts its shape but keep its pace, a huge spaceship turns in the sky in slow motion. Another example is an electric storm where we see an enormous thunderbolt in a gray landscape; right next to it, while the thunder’s roar still is there, followed by a missile launcher in the battlefield, we flick to a group of africans carrying missiles and then see a missile launcher shooting at the gray sky and releasing a deafening sound. This associative stream of images is most of the time comparing the natural world with human technology; the beauty of nature with the ‘beauty’ of progress. But Petronicce makes clear that there is no harmony in between these two and that the ‘beauty’ of progress is no more than a stylization of something that is too horrible to show without a mask. Therefore, he doesn’t allow concealments when introducing the dark side of progress; the side of unfair wars, massive killings, discrimination and irreversible damages to our environment.

Most of the images are of a neat photographical treatment and often in slow motion, which is common in advertisements in angle to idealize products and evoke a sense of living in a extraordinary world. In this film that element can be considered as an attempt to show the holes in our system using the same medicine the media uses to hide them: stylization, emotiveness and lightness. However, there is nothing here to advertise except for hopelessness. At the same time the tempo of the images simulates the experience of TV zapping: we could keep watching the film over and over again and feel hypnotized by its massaging effect, but as opposed to TV zapping, there is nothing easy here to see. We find ourselves being confronted with some of the worst catastrophes from the last century, like the WWII holocaust and the 9/11 attack.

Summing up, No Comment is a film that shows a dystopian view of progress based on the images we see everyday on TV. Albeit the good intention, it doesn’t exempt from critics. The film could as well be perceived as a somewhat of a gimmick or be accused of sensationalism, since it only focuses on the dark side of human progress pursuing a very confrontational but also very simplistic dramatic style, using sad music and advertising technics. I wont defend that. However, gimmicky or not, it works and, moreover, it does it for a noble cause.

I couldn’t tell you clearly what is that cause, but here is the message I grasp: Think in the present, even though we live in times when we are more compelled to envision the future.

The branches from a tree move smoothly on the waves of a breeze. A psychedelic sitar and banjo start to play. While the music gathers its pace, the camera moves in extreme close up over the striped pattern of the clothing of the listener. The camera explores the visual patterns of the clothing, the neck and later on the hair. The viewer becomes piece by piece familiar with the character. At the height of the ears we notice the person is a young woman. She is listening to a piece by American musician Hala Strana. Her face makes it clear that this moment is all about contemplation and sensorial joy. This is Trance nr. 3.

Trance is the name of a series of 10 experimental documentaries made by Chilean filmmaker José Luis Torres Leiva. In each chapter he shows someone’s experience listenening to a song for the first time in its life. He defines his work as a very modest gesture intended to archive the music I admire and the faces of people that surround me and that I care for. For Torres Leiva the experience of recording these fragments of pure reality represents a cinematic act itself, independent of its later existence for public screening.

Torres Leiva’s films are often observational in nature and very much about experience. They are letting things happen without any intervention shown from an authorial point of view and based on personal feelings. In Trance 3 for example, he decides to blends his own experience of the ‘first time’ moment with the experience of the girl listening to the song. Slowly we cross over from his experience towards the experience of the character; we get to see more from his or her face and expressions while listening to the song. In this series Leiva shows how different viewers experience listening to a song for the first time in a different way. Each film captures a unique moment and experience and becomes therefore a unique and un-repeatable piece in itself. The whole series together shows a group of people like society, and lets the viewer get along in their unique moment and experience. 

Torres Leiva is mostly showing his films and projects within new media like the web. Looking at the series of Trance, this film is more suitable within this medium than an old medium like theaters. An online surfer can choose the song and the film he or she would like to experience. The web is connecting people’s personal experiences and this project offers online surfers to share this personal music experience.

My favorite Torres Leiva film is Women Workers Leaving the Factory, a fictional short film that tells the story of a group of female factory employees who decide to go on a holiday together. The characters hardly speak at all; the story is mostly told by very delicate observations of the characters’ actions. This films reveals Torres Leiva’s deep fascination for film history and photography. Already the title is an ode to one of the first films made by the Lumière brothers.

Check also his list of favorites at youtube, with quite interesting films from all times, most of them very unknown. Likewise you can check his blog on photography, one of the most surprising and comprehensive collections of authorial photography I’ve ever seen available on the Web.

How to portray reality from the perspective of another culture? This is a question that began to rise in documentary makers by the mid fifties when the notion of visual anthropology became popular in western society. Within this frame of mind, people like Jean Rouch, John Marshall and Robert Gardner started doing films they called ethnographic documentaries. Endorsed by the idea of a universally objective camera, they tried to represent rituals and world views of african communities in documentary narrations. These experiments where the first actual attempts to use film in angle to portray a culture from an inside and non-western perspective.

The short documentary Table Talk is a current example of this genre. Director Yanara Guayasamin is an ecuadorian documentary maker with degrees in both anthropology and film. Here she works austerely with the camera and introduces the testimony of a woman to portray a local tradition that honors the dead every 1st and 2nd of november.

The Day of the Dead is tradition where families gather to remember and pray for those who have passed away. Based upon pre-christian beliefs, one celebrates the visit of the dead in the world of the living. To receive them, families prepare a special meal, so they can share and engage in spiritual dialogue with their visitors.

In this case, the camera’s point of view seems to be more than just aesthetic. The one fixed general top-shot pointing at a dinning table plays the role of an omnipresent observer able to see the world of both the dead and the living. This results in understanding the ritual from an inside perspective and not as an outsider watching an exotic practice.

While the main character, the woman of the house, sets the table, she explains some parts of the ritual and talks about how afterlife is a better place to be, something she is looking forward to. Slowly she starts talking about her deceased husband and members of her family which died, making the viewer realize that many of her close relatives are gone. It almost seems to be the explanation of why she is waiting for her moment to come. In her stories and her loneliness the one can recognize it’s own grief and loss.

Guayasamin uses a local tradition to face universal themes of death and loneliness. To believe or not to believe in spirits or to be part of one or the other culture doesn’t make any difference in the end: the personal story transcends people’s background. That’s why this documentary is not only portraying a specific cultural tradition, but it also establishes a human connection between the portrayed and the viewer that goes beyond world views and the boundaries of cultures. Therefore, Guayasamin succeeded in crossing cultural borders and making the viewer experience the story from within.

Jean-Gabriel Périot’s “Les Barbares” is a cinematic essay that stalls in the obscure political ambience we are living in and mostly perceive throughout the media. Based on press images, he tries to unveil the thread we perceive everyday from political institutions but that we usually try not to hear: if we don’t comply with the system, we’ll become barbarians.

Périot describes his work as political in a profound sense. He doesn’t refer to any particular sort of militancy, but to a more essential question: with all the social turbulences happening now, how can we still live together as a community?

The hundreds of images contained in Les Barbares -all taken from the press or Internet- give us some hints. Using a particular editing style based on an accelerating stream of still pictures, the film creates a language that inquires the idea of institutional order and social resistance. By contrasting institutional images of families, high school students and sport teams with individual pictures of people demonstrating in the streets, the film shows the decision we must take if we want to exercise our discontent as civilians: to combat big institutions has become so complicated that the have lost our faith in the system. By opposing we can break the pattern, just like the images of demonstration do in the film.

Les Barbares is not a film that calls for a solution to the current problems in western society. However it is direct and somewhat pedagogic in the way it describes the social situation: institutions want us to believe that breaking the order they have established is not a civilized way of political dialogue. They might call us barbarians, but that is in fact nothing more than a strategy for their own protection.

Since the last 50 years, we have been experiencing an overpopulation of images that has affected our sense of reality in ominous ways. The philosopher Jean Baudrillard explained it well in his theory of simulacra: there was a moment when images stopped being loyal to the reality they portrayed and became a device for the creation of new realities. In other words, images sometimes betray our first impressions and show things we misunderstand because we simply ignore their existence.

This idea of simulacra becomes clear in Josh Bricker’s "Post Newtonianism". In the film he splits the screen and shows two different orders of reality which look fairly identical from the shell. On one side he shows real people, dying victims of the artillery deployed by military warplanes attacking Iraq and the Persic Gulf. This footage is classified material from the U.S. government that Bricker obtained through Wikileaks. On the other side of the screen we see exactly the same, only the images stem from the video game Call of Duty 4. They are accurate computer-simulations from the viewpoint of a jet fighter at war. It is remarkable how similar the pictures from both sources are.

Josh Bricker’s experiment is a simple but effective analysis of why images should be watched with a certain suspicion. The documentary value of this film is not only on what we see, but on how incapable we are to recognize the origin of the images our own society produces.

For those interested to see more similar explorations and the reality of simulated images, I strongly recommend to check Harun Farocki’s oeuvre. Especially his last series of film called Images of War (at a Distance) is closely related to this piece. More about Brickers impressions and intentions can be found at Youtube.

Experimental cinema is mostly about exploring. That’s why a big part of the works labeled in this genre have the tendency to reflect about their own materiality. The camera, the celluloid, the pixel, the footage are some of the elements where experimental filmmakers usually dwell, explore and make their inquires. With the arrival of video sharing communities on Internet -like Youtube and Vimeo- and the pilgrimage of visual artists and filmmakers to the web, new features have been added to this list. One of these are amateur videos.

Margaux Williamson’s Dancing to the end of poverty is an interesting experiment based on amateur videos as a form of anthropological research. Here she collected a large group of Youtube movies about teenagers dancing in front of their webcams to later edit them in one musical piece. The result is a half funny/half mellow film where we can see a mosaic of people’s private life, all dancing along with the same song, all in their own way and in their own surroundings. This editing style is usually known as ‘mashup’.

Mashup is an Internet genre that consists of gathering images and sounds from different sources -normally Internet- to be edited in a way that the original materials were reinterpreted and together formed a new meaning. In artistic terms mashup videos can be very surprising, specially because there are no big expectations on them.

In Margaux’s film the option for mashup is also an artistic statement. As she says in her website, what she uses ordinary human gestures from amateur movies as if they were a palette of natural colors which she wants to use for a painting. She called it Dancing to the end of poverty, I assume because the images are about people dancing and the song -performed by Tomboyfriend-is called The end of poverty. Hence everything in this video points at a very refined form of mix.

Different than many mashups, this video doesn’t lead to a self-referent interpretation or an elaborated joke. On the contrary, it explores the outside world, the private life of people beyond their role of cybernauts. What Margaux shows us is a collection of human traces from the digital age we belong to.

Ever since the format was invented the creative freedom of music videos has been the main attraction for young experimental filmmakers. There are no rules here except the one of establishing a visual connection with the music. Rather than a burden, this tends to be a playful goal and in many cases it serves as inspiration for those who didn’t feel comfortable with the social circuits where experimental cinema is usually shown, like art venues, musea or people’s houses.

Though music videos may always have been experimental, they are still often submitted to the commercial role of music. But what happens then when the music is not pop? When the image has its own autonomy? When does the image achieve such autonomy? Nowadays a part of it evolved into a serious path of experimental cinema, especially amongst young filmmakers.

One reason for this is the arrival of the Internet. Before that, TV-stations had all the power to decide wether a videoclip was to be shown. Nowadays, the web allows all kind of music videos, including those that transcend the term videoclip.

El Cliente is one example of this endeavor. The music, an electro-ambient composition by Sensorama 19-81, has no singing, no solos, no sticky melodies. Therefore it creates a unique ambience that allows the images to exceed the traditional functions that one might expect from any traditional music video.

But the video also has a documentary stem and a story. It’s about a group of tourists taking a trip to the Chernobyl ruins 24 years after the disaster. The main characters are a couple teenagers who roam the place taking pictures and checking the rests of what resembles the town’s daily life. We see an abandoned wheel in what seems to be an amusement park. Inside the houses, old newspapers, books with the images of Lenin and other leaders are spread everywhere. We feel like intruders in this world, but we also get a universal feeling of nostalgia. In a way, watching the ruins of our own times is the clearest evidence that times goes faster than we think.

If you want to see more videos like this, maybe you'd be interested in visiting the website of El Buen Tiempo, the production company that made this video.
  Getting more posts...
Artist - Title (2009)
About this work · 4 comments · 244 views ·