Berlinale's fluid Forum mixes media

Cinema a 'starting point' for fest's avante-garde sidebar

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MUNICH -- When does cutting-edge go over the edge?

Forum, the Berlin International Film Festival's avant-garde sidebar, has for the past three years developed an avant-garde of its own -- Forum Expanded -- which leaps across the boundaries between the gallery, the performance space and the movie theater.

"Cinema is the starting point," Forum Expanded organizer Stefanie Schulte Strathaus said. "But this is not a form of cinema. It's a fringe where really important things happen."

This year's fourth edition of Forum Expanded will feature the first-ever public exhibition of the oeuvre of painter, photographer, filmmaker and clock collector Ludwig Schoenherr, a crossover visual artist who created a series of "electronic films" in the 1960s and whose work explores the "peculiarities" of Super 8 and 16mm film, and television. "Stupid Structures, Happy Structures: Films, Installations and an Exhibition by Ludwig Schonherr" is on view at the studio Halle A/14 as well as in the Filmhaus.

In another tribute to crossover video art, Forum expanded has invited Canadian artist and filmmaker Michael Snow to be this year's guest of honor. Snow's "Wavelength" (1967), a 45-minute pan across a loft interspersed with narrative suggesting a murder and ending in a photograph of ocean waves, was a vastly influential piece of art cinema. His latest work, "Puccini Conservato," features extreme closeups of musicians, audience members and even loudspeakers, and will have its world premiere as part of Forum Expanded.

While both the Toronto and Rotterdam film festivals feature similar sidebars, and several biannual art festivals – most prominent among them Germany's Documenta – have been including crossover video art for decades, the Berlinale is the only film festival that treats these moving image art forms on a level with mainstream cinema.

"If we leave the cinema space to be able to include works that are not just for that space, and we enter the gallery world because we think that it has a lot to say about film, then (we find) that that comments back on cinema again," Strathaus said. "There are too many works that are necessary to understand cinema that you would remiss if you weren't doing this. It's not just an accompanying program, we consider all of these works to be cinematic."

Not only is Forum Expanded bringing crossover art to film lovers, it's also attracting art aficionados to the Berlinale. The section's events bring in equal numbers of festivalgoers and gallery hounds, Strathaus said, and the number of visitors has consistently grown.

That's also partly due to the efforts of Forum Expanded organizers to educate their public, most notably through gallery bus tours with a "performative twist." These unusual trips feature actor guides whose careers have been peppered with roles in video art and who are members of performance art collectives. Their goal is to bring the passion they deliver as actors in this medium to everyone who sits on the bus.

"It's an extremely personal approach to the art scene," Strathaus said.
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