Although widely considered among the most artistic forms of cinema, experimental films don’t seem to be popular with Ugandan filmmakers.
And on Thursday, whether this elusive form of filmmaking can find a place in the budding local film industry was a topic of discussion at a special workshop held at the ongoing Amakula International Film Festival in Kampala.
Facilitated by Simon Rittmeier, a German artist and filmmaker, the half-day workshop sought to introduce Ugandan filmmakers and audiences to experimental cinema while discussing its general relevancy to film as an art form.
“This is one of the oldest and most artistic forms of cinema, and it continues to influence cinematography, visual effects, editing and other aspects of modern filmmaking,” Rittmeier noted.
Citing such classic films as Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid’s 1943 Hollywood productionMeshes of the Afternoon, Rittmeier explained how aspects of experimental cinema could be fused with traditional narrative to create unique images.
Directed by wife-and-husband team, the 13-minute film boasts a unique style comprising of a circular narrative, repetitive motifs, suspense and heavy imagery.
Rittmeier’s own award-winning 2008 10-minute short documentary A Taste of Honey, which paints an intimate picture of his brief stay in Cuba, was also cited as a good example of an experimental cinema.
Rittmeier employs several contrasting images of black people, white people, wind and fans among other imagery to give a visual of what he experienced during his time in the former Spanish colony without using words.
“I wanted to show my subjective memory of my stay in Havana [Cuba’s colourful capital],” Rittmeier told his class, citing the “feel of the sixties” with old cars and aging buildings.
Rittmeier also noted how modern silent films are an embodiment of experimental cinema. A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue.
Deren and Hamid through creative editing, distinct camera angles, repetitive images, sounds, symbols, lighting and slow motion, for instance crafted a surrealist film to depict a world in which it is more and more difficult to catch reality.
Rittmeier’s film on the other hand relied on radio speakers [music], direct sound [sea birds, wind, fan], shuffling of feet by dancing couples to depict the “sixties” Havana.
Is experimental film relevant to Uganda?
According to Rittmeier, a Ugandan filmmaker who shoots a video using a phone and uploads it on a movie channel for viewers would be going ‘experimental’.
He says this type of experimentation is starting to show progress in the young Uganda film industry. The genre of music video is also seen as a commercialization of many techniques of experimental film.
However, Dilman Dila, a Ugandan writer, social activist and award-winning filmmaker, defined experimental cinema as ‘thinking outside the box’. He says the choice of colour and the type of camera should rather not be the issue.
“It’s about experimenting with new forms and new ways of film making, basically working with what is available” Dila says.
The experimental film is different from other film forms as it moves away from the conventional movies. It uniquely reflects individuality and gives an opportunity for more creativity.
In the discussion, it was highlighted that lack of exposure by both filmmakers and audiences poses a hindrance to the making and circulation of these kinds of films.
A rebuff by the ‘unexposed’ audience could bring negative commercial ramifications on a budding filmmaker. This especially hinges on the belief that local audiences are not inquisitive or curious about new forms as they are used to conventional Hollywood films.
This art form also requires a lot of creativity on both the side of the filmmaker and the viewer.
Rittmeier believes with the new social media platforms especially YouTube, filmmakers can still get their products appreciated by audiences. He also mentioned a few film festivals dedicated to experimental films, which give hope to those who wish to venture in the art form.
“Try something new using the available resources,” Rittmeier giv