SIFF 2018 (6th edition): Is It Real?
Cinema is often lauded for its unique capacity to “hold a mirror up to reality,” helping us see the world and ourselves. But does cinema merely reflect what is already there? Or does it rather draw attention to the subterranean truth that reality is anything but “given,” and always at stake? This play of image, sound, and time, experienced together, isn’t merely another instance of looking in the bathroom mirror. Cinema is more than a repetition of reality – it can probe the very structuring that allows us to call something real whatsoever.
This year’s festival program reflects the question: “Is it real?” The films come with diverse answers, from classic works of Direct Cinema to films that play with constructing “real” places, to manipulations of history and memory, to live, performative intervention into the film strip/digital file itself. As we move through the festival, each day’s program takes us through themes of fractured, doubled, and imagined realities, all leading back to a common theme: the ability of cinema to phrase “the real” as a question, as opposed to rote fact. As we look at this selection of recent and retrospective film asking “Is it real?” we are presented with an alternate answer to that endless question of the place of cinema. Yes, the stories we watch can represent life as we know it, but they can simultaneously implode any temporary narrative structuring, and confound our sense of truth. What is most incredible about cinema is its ability to mediate these variables – truth, value, being – to create something a whole lot more interesting than reality.
SIFF 2017 (5th edition): Cracking Up
This year, SIFF is CRACKING UP. The theme has many cadences: to collapse under strain – breaking up or splitting apart – exploding machinery, cars crashing – to burst or to cause to burst out in laughter. Disparate definitions tied together by a binding sense of decay, devolution and transformation.
Each year we aim to celebrate different kinds of films – dating from varying historical epochs, fiction and nonfiction and everything in between, both avant-garde and classic – as one unified event. The theme of CRACKING UP has proved to be fertile ground, shown in the radically different kinds of cinema it has coherently brought together: films about madness and insanity, films that cause their audience to laugh hysterically, films that tackle the fragmentation and disintegration of societies, films about natural and manmade catastrophes… True to the throes of a good crisis, the theme has led to ideas, films and sub-programs that work together in synergy, reflecting and amplifying one-another’s manias in concert; indeed, many films engage the multiple definitions of CRACKING UP concurrently, all over the course of one piece.
In thinking about how to go about CRACKING UP SIFF, a few things came to mind. As always, the question was how to integrate the program into the place of Syros. More than ever before, we wanted to create whole experiences in watching films, never settling to project in the same place, in the same way. A large part of the inspiration for this year came from the traditional gamelan performances of Bali and Indonesia, wherein villagers leave their town at night and head into the forest to experience a combination of music, shadow-play, and dance, allowing a jumble of sounds and sights to enter into their dreams and sleeping moments.
We’ve sought to create events that act as similar places of exception – exception from the everyday understanding of the spaces used for screenings, exception of the traditional arrangement of films, and, most importantly, exception from previous iterations of SIFF. We want audience members to be fully involved in the different screenings and events – not just obediently observing, but actively participating: we invite you to a field far from Hermoupolis for the double-feature drive-in experience; at one point, you hike down a path to the church of Agios Athanasios for a series of moonlit screenings; another night brings you to an evening at the beach for music and film; or you stay with us the whole night through, for the climactic, phantasmagoric GAMELAN ONEIRUM in the island’s former quarry.
SIFF 2016 (4th edition): Revision
In a time of seemingly increasing and compounding tumult, the place of an event like this, of a film festival, is not always evident. Especially when removed from easy reach, strung out into the Aegean and embedded into a oating rock, an inherent sense of distance can also come to feel like diversion, distraction, or obtuse occupation in the face of more immediate concerns. Films, after all, are recordings; rehashing time gone past, they ask the viewer to privilege the distant over the present, to indulge in the bygone.
Why, then, intensify this, with five days that ask us to repeatedly suspend our continuity of both time and space and plunge into dislocating darkness—or, as is the case with our outdoor screenings, into spaces that appropriate and disrupt the everyday? The question has hovered constantly around the preparation of this year’s festival; the result has been a shift in scale, structure and focus, as we wonder what particular importance an event like this has to offer.
This year, Festival becomes a new idea. No longer a competition, no more an ear turned toward the rhythms of industry, the question of how to present a body of films returns to the place itself: does our dis-location from the world of film, in fact, offer something more than its island splendor? Is there a shift that occurs, subtle as it may be, in traversing the sea to arrive here? The process of travel mirrors the functioning of a film—a rupture in space over time, fragmenting familiar continuity and demanding a suspension of self—and in this way Syros becomes the perfect stage: a site of inherently cinematic rupture, the sustained ‘elsewhere’ of the screening space. In assembling this year’s program, the idea of a broader cinematic experience remained constant. In place of repeated entrance-and-exit from reality, might this selection of films come together in a larger state of suspension, one that doesn’t separate them in their individual darkened spaces, but instead encourages their diverse perspectives, rhythms and particles to linger, drift and blend together? The hope is that in leaving our island cinema we might retain not just new perspectives, but, out from this strange whole, different ways of seeing.
And so, Revision. Amidst a changed festival, we focus on that strangest of all movie qualities, the ability to evince new forms from a re-animated film strip; to see anew by looking again. To this end, we asked several great cinema-artists what is the place of revision in cinema; their responses and musings are scattered throughout this catalog. What revision means to cinema carried us many places in our programming—from the cross-pollination between disparate film genres, to the slow-motion camera that reveals movement to the eyes of science, to personal projects that reach out to touch a changing society. It is far from one definition of revision, and the effects are often disparate, radical, even contradictory. And yet, if there is a common thread, it is an insistence on what movies alone can do: take us into the dark, flicker in the back of our eyes, and allow us to see as we never knew we could. Maybe, back in the light, some impression remains.
SIFF 2015 (3rd edition): Where: Cinemas of Place
Looking back over this myriad and ever-developing experiment, patterns emerge: competitions that privilege films from the surrounding region and the works of debutant filmmakers – largely outsider forces looking for an entrance into the globalized film world – and a will to explore the island of Syros with cinema in mind. We search for new experiments and experiences with the films that enter the port of Hermoupolis; we invite films and directors to challenge our understanding of cinema, while seeking to create a relationship between these films and the places we screen them.
This festival began, as it always has, from the island. In late summer 2014, rambling around various paths and towns, appreciating the island’s beauty, uncovering locations that, while in plain view, had previously slipped by our notice. We were still looking through the lens of our festival and imagining possibilities: we saw an empty lot and imagined a drive-in; we found a beautiful field and saw the chance for a performance of cinema; we saw a wealth of incredible locations all over the island, from Apano Meria to Posidonia, to Hermoupolis, to Ano Syros – and we began to think about the more expansive place that cinema may come to inhabit.
So the program began to form around the theme of place, organically stemming from our immersion in the island. We imagine that here, far removed from the dictates of film culture, films might come to experience a new playing field – one empty of the regular hierarchies and divisions of experimental, narrative, documentary, short, feature, and all that renders films mutually incompatible.
The programs we have created all betray a strong topographical inclination, positing questions: how can cinema accurately represent a locality? Where is cinema today? Where has the film industry today, both in terms of production and distribution, come from? What is the locus of a film screening? Where, precisely is the event of an act of cinema?
But these are questions without an answer, merely suggestions. What questions can we answer? Well, our festival is on Syros. Where are we in our development? We are a young festival, still discovering what we can be. We care about interesting programs, excellent screenings, and brilliant lmmakers all together for a short while, sharing the opportunity to call this place home.
What does it mean to find cinema, product of immense industry and economy, assembled and located on Syros? What particular effect does location have on that which is made for the darkness? Hermoupolis – named for the messenger god, and once the principal port of the Aegean – has long been a location of transmission, of arrival and dissemination, but what trace does the host leave on what it has received? In parallel theme with the Khora Residency, SIFF takes the opportunity this year to present a panorama program investigating the notion of place in cinema, in both creation and presentation.
Since the earliest motion picture experiments, filmmakers have explored the presentation of place in ways proper to the medium – space forcibly subjected to the optical and temporal properties of the movie camera. Two dimensions, optical compression and expansion, the ability to leap through time and space with editing: the mechanics of movie making turn every representation into an act of construction, in an expression that has evolved alongside forms of technology and narrative. From the earliest world-touring travelogues to the unknown plains of movie westerns, to the avant-garde interest in the physical film itself, varying articulations of place remain enduringly central to the question of what cinema is: a split-vision in which the world and the cinema converge, mutually inextricable.
With “Where: Cinemas of Place”, basic categories serve as a leaping-off point in parsing articulations of place in film: “Interior/Exterior: Room Films” begins with confines, crucible and boundary; “Lands and Locality” looks at the many figurations of specific locale; “The Nowhere Place: Road Films” searches for a floating place of transience with no real location; while “Film-Space / Film-Place” turns away from the world and privileges a ‘place’ somewhere in the interior of the film.
But ‘place’ is not in nitely controllable, and exploring the cinema’s myriad manipulations brings this into relief: everything is possible within the frame, yet the film is often powerless over its place of projection. The darkness needed for screening conveniently dominates the space in favor of the movie, but what remains of this place that resists the manipulations of the camera and lens? Is it the immutable opposite of cinematic space, or does this place also dialogue with the film that enters, fills, transforms or transports it?
The opening event initiates a broad vision of cinema that interacts and intertwines with the place of projection. The placement of “Where: Cinemas of Place” in different sites of transmission, from church to amphitheater to naval yard, invites us to extend this vision to other realms of cinema.
What is the ‘place’ of film?
SIFF 2014 (2nd edition): Borders
Why a film festival on Syros? Since last year’s inaugural festival it’s been asked many times. We’re introducing the 2014 program by providing an answer – or at least the beginning of one.
The easy one: Syros is a beautiful island, ideally situated, and we want to bring new, independent cinema to both expected and unexpected spaces. Despite its cultural heritage, it had no established all-genre international film festival until last year; we’re set on changing that.
Of course, that’s not the whole picture. Look further to this year’s theme of borders. Interpret this as you will: in the form of geographical borders, social borders, the changes the medium of film is experiencing, the borders that exist between film and different art forms, the constraints that surround the very production of films, even the expectations of what a film festival should be.
Many of the films and parallel programs we are showing this year play with these ideas. What is the definition of a film? Does every film have to follow these conditions in order to be a film? Other films we show deal with the theme by taking up social and cultural issues: how can a film effectively deal with and reflect on the world around us? In today’s world saturated with images, film is more pervasive and influential than ever. We want to question it as form and show its most exciting face.
As a film festival, we try to give voice to films that work within these issues. We focus on Greek and regional film in order to contextualize the visions at play: does something that can be called “Greek film” currently exist? What are its characteristics? How does current Greek film depart from or identify with film from the broader region? These are questions our program hopes to answer.
The two competitions this year highlight emerging and regional film in the form of regional short films and feature film debuts.
SIFF 2013 (1st edition): Travel
The first edition of SIFF was organized around the theme ‘travel.’ From this first edition, the festival screened in many locations, including the Tarsanas Shipyard, the Historical Archives of Syros, Asteria Beach, and more, inviting audience members to move around the island as they followed the festival.