It’s hard to go a day without encountering a news story related to the environment. Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, the rise in support for Green parties throughout Europe – it’s clear that climate change has entered our collective consciousness in unprecedented ways. The concept of the Anthropocene – the name given to the new geological era in which human activity has a lasting and potentially irreversible effect on the planet – is now commonplace in academic and artistic circles. But is it enough to think about the environment and to make the appropriate gestures to ‘save’ it, or do we need radical new ways of being, new languages of perceiving, new forms of communication, in short, a wholesale overhaul of what it means to be human on this planet? As always, Black Box is invested in these questions, and this year the programme emerges from the continued and combined interests of Kim Knowles and Yulia Kovanova. We have both been deeply inspired by writers such as Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, Tim Ingold, Bruno Latour and Timothy Morton, whose ideas about the vibrancy of matter and the various complex entanglements that constitute the world permeate this year’s strand. Driven by our shared interests, but also working with the themes that emerged from the submissions, we have crafted a programme that in many ways responds to Timothy Morton’s call for a form of ecological thought: not environmentalism as such, but a sensitivity to interconnectedness – human, vegetable, mineral.
The three shorts programmes explore connectedness in different ways, sometimes engaging directly with environmental and ecological themes, sometimes building in other concerns relating to how we perceive and interact with the world around us. In Black Box Shorts: Communicating Contact we wanted to emphasise touch and tactility as an alternative to traditional perceptual modes. The films enter into a dialogue with the materiality of things and invite us to (re)discover spaces and places, gestures and textures. Black Box Shorts: Politics of Place is a powerful compilation of films that have a deep and often quite explicit message about politically resonant, marginalised and exploited spaces, both real and imagined. Black Box Shorts: Entangled Experience is perhaps the programme that most illustrates our interest in interconnectedness. Moons, flies, birds, bees and dogs come together with blocks of stone and clusters of matter in an eclectic exploration of physicality. This extends to the surface of the filmstrip, and, as always, many of the works showcased in this and the other shorts programmes interrogate the myriad possibilities of 16mm film to open up new forms of material communication. From Vicky Smith’s contact-printing of dead bee parts directly onto the film to Francisca Duran’s use of plant matter to create images (Karel Doing’s method of ‘phytograms’), this year’s selection plunges us more than ever into the tactile world of celluloid.
Last year we celebrated Canadian experimental film, showcasing works that have emerged from Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm – The Independent Imaging Retreat in Mount Forest, Ontario. This yearly gathering is an important example of the alternative communities that both emerge from and facilitate the continuation of photochemical film practice. This year, Film Farm celebrates its 25th anniversary, and we’re honoured to welcome Phil to Edinburgh with his medium-length Vulture. It’s a beautiful and contemplative study of interspecies co-existence, where farm animals roam freely and the camera patiently observes their various interactions. Shot on 16mm film and processed with plants and flowers, it’s also an exercise in eco-sensitivity on so many levels.
Sensitivity also defines the second feature in the Black Box programme - Tamar Rachkovsky’s deeply moving documentary Home in E Major. Tamar is a graduate of the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University, and it was a work-in-progress screening over a year ago that sparked the initial interest to bring the film to audiences Edinburgh. It’s a very personal film about identity, geographical displacement, love and loss, but what resonates the most is the spirit of care and connection that runs through it. Its emotional power emerges through an understated attention to detail – the in-between moments and sense of time passing. Like Hoffman’s Vulture it celebrates stillness and silence. Let’s slow down, observe and act with care. This might be the Black Box mantra for this year.
Explore the Black Box Programme here.