If we were to look for a common topic among the various themes that course through the selection of the best shorts, we would, apart from a few exceptions, find it in a dual tendency. A. focus on personal experience. And to clarify, it is on personal experience and not on its impersonal conditions, which are sometimes indeed implied inside the film section but are not (apart from a few exceptions) given the status of the narrative director. B. the main thematic core is complemented by a progressivistic frame that limits the infinite field of experience by social criticism.
Subsequently, the selection ranges from the experiences of the Kurd female fighters in Kobane (Meryem), Polish female workers in German container homes (Kontener), transsexuals in Georgia (Prisoner of Society), impoverished children in Bulgaria (Shame), to the Ukrainians behind time (Graduation ’97) and more. Without a doubt, the European Film Academy ensured that the voice of every underprivileged minority is heard and the plethora of emotions represented. The latter is effectively confirmed by the experimental What’s the Damage in which a personified menstrual flow talks about its feelings, symbolically signifying the fight against the forces of patriarchy. The theme of the majority of selected films is limited to the field of characters’ personal experiences, while the circumstances of what they are experiencing stay in the background, regardless of the genre. This may not be as evident with documentaries such as the aforementioned Meryem, where the circumstances of the experiences can hardly be turned off because of the genre. It is after all impossible to shoot a war documentary without recognising that it is the war environment which influences the feelings. Georgian Prisoner of Society clearly shows that even documentaries can, despite their intrinsic elements, focus on the personal. Its topic, the problem of transphobia is liberally presented as a narration of oppressed intimacy.
The other focus can be observed in fiction films that entail circumstances merely as fleeting references and metaphorical elements which, because of their a priori ambiguous nature, are not as noticeable as the narrative elements of the film. The supremacy of experience over circumstances in these films thus transforms from the implicit control over the present in the documentaries into a relation of explicit domination. When the girl in Aquaparque is asked about the origin of her existentialistic philosophy, which tells her to find happiness on her own, her answer is that she did not read about it but constructed it herself. The moral of the films – be it documentary or fiction – therefore goes: personal experience is something unlimited by social pressure and mostly something worth stressing and/or expressing as a sign of rebellion.
The selection, however, has two exceptions that can function as antagonists of the logic of experience supremacy. These are the co-productions I Signed a Petition and Those Who Desire. In the first film we witness a phone call between two Palestinians. The first signed a petition directed at a famous music group which should perform in Tel Aviv. The petition recalls the Israeli apartheid and urges people not to attend the concert. The first Palestinian calls the second and expresses his fear that Israel might harass him, blacklist him, disable him from re-entering Palestine, and so on. His friend ‘comforts’ him, explaining that the whole Israeli machinery is against him anyway. Whether he signed the petition and expressed his personal affliction or not, whether he feels positive emotions for successfully rebelling and zeal that calls for further contradiction, or is experiencing fear… All of that is, when it comes to the system that contains as a main tool the mechanism to ‘unprivilege’ the Palestinians, completely irrelevant. Getting worked up about his own intimacy as a consequence of a domineering system is at the most a waste of energy, which he could use for something better. It is actually a way to stay connected to the system that dominates him. In other words: at best personal experience is irrelevant and at worst it is an extension of domination. The film expresses it only to subvert it from within.
And what about the last film, Those Who Desire? It is a film about a special sport in Spain. The competitors release their pigeons and then the judge decides which of the pigeons was the best suitor for the female. Since the animals cannot speak and ask questions about their own existence, the whole narrative is reduced to the rules of the sport. Their story is thus null, irrelevant for the film. But the lack of speech may offer another perspective: what if in fact people simply do not understand the pigeons and the film really presents a tragedy about a pigeon whose intimate story will forever go unheard? Is this perhaps the addition of animals to all the represented and oppressed minorities already in the selection? Where on the scale of (i)rrelevance of experience are we to place this film? And finally: is the focus on the experience itself relevant or irrelevant? It is safe to say that this is the main question the selection poses to the viewer.
Matija Jan Fifi