Sweden's Popcorn Festival: Debuts and Digitals
by Lovisa Kihlberg
Focusing on independent cinema doesn't exactly distinguish a small film
festival today. But Popcorn, a one-year-old Swedish Film Festival which
ended June 5th, has other qualities which make it an interesting
exception to the rule. Whereas many festivals exist for the benefit of
the industry, this eight-day and massive 120 film-long event is shaped
for the audience. By choosing smaller films from larger festivals such
as Venice, Berlin and Sundance, they give Swedes the opportunity to see
films that ordinarily don't get Swedish distribution.
The main section consisted of films restricted to first-time directors
and included, among others, Shane Meadows' "Twentyfourseven", Harmony
Korine's "Gummo", Jesse Peretz's "First Love, Last Rites," and Will
Geiger's "Ocean Tribe." Popcorn also showed a number of directorial
debuts by established film makers such as David Lynch's "Eraserhead",
Jean-Luc Godard's "A bout de souffle" and Lars von Trier's "The Element
of Crime." Petter Mattsson, Festival director, says that in order to
gain a perspective of these first film works they should be screened
alongside the debuts of established directors. Popcorn also featured a
Peter Greenaway retrospective, including some of his largely unknown
video pieces, a short film competition and on the lighter side of
media, a nightly screening of the popular TV cartoon "South Park," which
made its Nordic debut.
The film that finally raked in the audience prize, a glass sculpture
made by Swedish artist, Matz Borgström, was Pedro Almodovar's "Carne
Trémula" ("Live Flesh"). The win was quite unexpected as it's not
exactly as alternative a film as the fest likes to profess in its main
selection. With all of the talk about first time directors, it was
disappointing that a veteran director like Almodovar earned the prize.
Festival Director Petter Mattsson credits Almodovar for his ability to
reinvent himself and exceed the first-time filmmakers by showing the
The winner of the Short Film Award chosen by CANAL+, which will appear
on European broadcast, was "De Suikerpot" ("The Sugar Bowl") by Belgian
director Hilde van Meighem. The jury found the film to be a well told
short story that touched viewers about a good girl gone bad. Van
Meighem will also receive a cash prize of approximately $1,275.
One of the guests of this year's Popcorn was Ian Kerkhof, a director
from the Netherlands, who through his knowledge of film technologies,
explores film as performance art. He has, among other achievements,
made a digital video feature called "Wasted" which he blew up to 35mm.
Kerkhof is a cutting edge filmmaker who perhaps encapsulated the more
alternative edge of Popcorn by arriving with an experimental documentary
about the likewise experimental Japanese musician Merzbow. "Beyond Ultra
Violence-Uneasy Listening by Merzbow" is an uncomfortable portrait of a
man who concentrates on making sounds to which few would ascribe the
term "music". The video is a muddle of images and sounds that sets out
to give you a feeling, not the whole picture, of a man who innovates the
future. Ian Kerkhof wanted to make a video as rich and layered as
Merzbow's work and says that it would be nonsense to make a BBC-style
documentary about him. A scene where a girl cuts her stomach open
leaving all her entrails on the floor certainly makes the video less
accessible. Some fainted, some threw up and a few chose to trash their
Popcorn card after the screening, deliberately provoked by Kerkhof.
Kerkhof also contributed a short film about the digital filmmaking
seminar that Popcorn held last year. The seminar had turned quickly
tiresome and Kerkhof reflected this by showing a mass of faces from the
audience mixed with close-ups of a urinating girl. According to him, it
states everything he has to say about digital filmmaking.
Still, Kerkhof ended up making some vital points about digital
filmmaking: 1.): if you want to make 35mm film then you should not use
digital video to simulate it. 2.) You should try to explore the new
possibilities the media has. 3.) Instead of regarding it as filmmaking,
see it as digital video making. Being pro-digital, according to
Kerkhof, does not mean being negative towards other film formats. It is
only important, he contests, to be media specific. If you're working for
a final result in the cinema you have to work cinematic, but if you know
your work will be stuck on a monitor, stick to a video aesthetic. So the
distinction between the different formats doesn't lie in the way they
are made, but in how they are meant to be screened. One should,
according to Kerkhof, be very accurate and clear about what one does.
Otherwise, says Kerkhof, it's just meaningless.
In addition to the annual festival, Popcorn also arranges a number of
events throughout the year such as Popcorn: Talent Search '98 to seek
out aspiring young film makers and Nordic Films, seminars discussing
today's film scene in the Nordic countries.
[Lovisa Kihlberg is a digital artist, web designer and writer from
Stockholm, Sweden. Her work can be seen at www.mint.se]