Four Top Experimental Filmmakers from the UK and America

Daniel Robin is a contemporary filmmaker who is given to experimentation.  Often, his films blur the line between fact and fiction.  A classic example is the film My Olympic Summer, which won the Best Short award at Sundance Festival in 2008.  In the film, Robin attempts to simulate truth in such as way that “audiences are filled with mixed feelings after learning that the personal story he tells is an invented one.  Robin examines his own divorce by dissecting his parents’ troubled relationship. He uses Super 8mm footage of the couple intercut with footage from the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, where his father was part of the Israeli team taken hostage by Black September. Well, that last part isn’t exactly true.” (Filmmaker, 2008, p.62)  Robin had previously made three 16mm short films that were all semi-autobiographical.  He employs a unique narrative angle in the making of My Olympic Summer: “I wanted to try to figure out a different point of entry. My parents had given me these old Super 8 home movies several years ago so I decided to create a fictitious storyline about them. There’s no relationship with the Olympics at all. There are kernels of truth throughout, but I wanted to create a more lyrical truth than a literal truth.” (Filmmaker, 2008, p.62)  Hence, what emerges is the experiment to combine literary aspects of Jorge Luis Borges to Woody Allen’s Zelig, whereby he’s pushing the boundaries of the documentary genre.

Matt Wolf is another promising experimental filmmaker, who came to prominence through his Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell.  This artistic documentary craftily weaves together the scarce video footage of iconoclastic New York composer Arthur Russell.  This made Wolf to invent “his own visual language to bridge the gaps in the recorded history of Russell’s story. Lyrical and emotional moments-listening to mix tapes on the Staten Island ferry, running through Iowa cornfields, the act of musical composition itself – are represented with elements as disparate as Super 8 re-enactments and abstract VHS inserts.” (Filmmaker, 2008, p.63)  The plot follows key moments in Russell’s life, from these early days as a sensitive country boy to his sudden interest in music to Buddhist influences in his life to the influence of Timothy Leary.  The film is in a way a tragedy, for though Russell’s compositions are now seen as avant-garde and he received fame posthumously, he met a premature death due to AIDS.  In Wolf’s own assessment of the film:

“I’m not an identity politics junkie or anything, but I do think of the film as a queer film.  I made this film to be accessible to all of Arthur’s fans and hopefully introduce him to a completely new audience. A good story can transcend any ‘scene,’ and that’s what I’m hoping to do now.” (Filmmaker, 2008, p.63)

Maya Deren is an influential feminist experimental filmmaker, who was a pioneer in the genre in the 1940s.  She is seen as the inspiration for contemporary stalwarts like Barbara Hammer, Shirley Clarke, and Su Friedrich.  Deren’s films showcase the feminine touch to direction, in terms of her vision of what was important in both the narratives of the films she made, as well as in matters of lighting, shot construction, camera movement, editing, costumes, and the use of sound and music. Such deviation from the norm is evident in her classic pictures In Land (1944) and Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).  Deren was a key contributor to Feminist film theory which evolved into “method of explaining this difference in the cinema, along structuralist, psychoanalytic, Marxist and purely historical lines.” (Foster, 1995, p.40)

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