“Some Thoughts on Film Submissions & Experimental/Artist Film Programming”, May 2016

Originally published on 26 May 2016

So many open calls for artists moving image and experimental films claim to be looking for films that interrogate the medium, that are breaking boundaries and exploring the possibilities of what moving image work can be. Yet when you read the submission guidelines you very often find that they impose several limitations and preconceived ideas onto what kind of work they want. Most commonly they only want short films (usually under 20mins) and often have a theme that the work should relate to.

It’s frustrating that festivals, galleries and film events don’t realise how this is actually a form of censorship and that they are imposing an agenda and a limited idea of what an experimental film is. For those of us making feature length experimental work, where duration is an important aspect of the work, there are very few places open to showing our films.

I get the impression that most of these events only want short films due to three main reasons:

1 – They want to show as much work as possible in an event so as to have a bigger audience (even if only the filmmakers come, that’s already a guarantee of more people)

2 – They don’t trust the audience to want to sit through something experimental that can’t be easily digested. If an experimental film is longer it usually asks more of the audience and programmers are keen to please audiences so that they come back.

3 – Laziness: I do wonder if a lot of times people just get stuck thinking that experimental film means short film and that programmers just fall into easy habits.

The problem with themes is that the programmers have already decided beforehand what ideas are new and relevant, they don’t first look at the work and see what’s being made and what themes connect them. It puts the programmers’ intentions before the artists so only artists whose work fits with the programmers’ social, political, creative viewpoints gets a chance to be shown. The artist working truly independently, following their own path, will always be outside of this.

I believe if someone is truly interested in showing new, unique and exploratory artist films, they should minimize the limitations on submissions as much as possible and try to be open to the fact that artists are exploring the possibilities and limits of the medium, that their work may not fit into a preexisting form and that they may be experimental in a way that the programmers can’t even conceive.

Often I see these open calls and am unable to submit because my work does not tick the boxes, and it always seems to be the same boxes. Later when they publish the programmes, the works selected are presented as ‘the best’ and ‘most innovative’ of current artist cinema but what they don’t publish is that the selection was made using a restricted process that fits the work into their idea of what is innovative and what is the best.

Good experimental cinema programming takes risks, it shouldn’t even be about showing what is best, it should be presenting what is interesting, strange, confounding, surprising and challenging. Cinema is still young, anything is possible, those of us who make and love experimental cinema have a passion for discovery, we don’t always like what we find but we are nourished by seeing a myriad of possibilities.