STIR reviews ‘Her Name was Europa’, a 2020 documentary film by OJOBOCA
by UtkarshMay 28, 2020
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by UtkarshPublished on : May 21, 2020
On the fourth day of Experimenta India, the moving-image biennale that was running in its ninth edition then, I walked up the narrow staircase of the Goethe-Institut building, examining the pamphlet catalogue for the festival, reading the names of films playing in the next section.
Wolkenschatten (2014), was the fifth film in the international competition, and lasted about 17 minutes in length. In a hypnotic, first-person account, the narration spiraled into the anomalous events that led to the eventual desertion of the fictive town of Hüllen-Hüllen, leaving behind images and text from which the film was stitched together. The complex narrative, permeated through successive layers of material and memory, to present a film on cinema itself, especially the tacit politics of viewership.
In a customary aftermath, the afternoon audience poured into the service lane next to the Institut, discussing the international competition over cigarettes and tea. The programme, especially for the last section had been an overwhelming one, as we described our readings of the seven films we had just seen. Wolkenschatten remained an exception in our conversations, as we struggled to find a cohesive manner of speaking about it.
The film, authored by Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy, was made under the shared moniker – OJOBOCA; a direct translation into Spanish, of Pier Pasolini’s expression, calling the camera an eye-mouth. The aberrant nature of OJOBOCA’s cinema is closely related to its practice of ‘Orrorism’, which was initially termed ‘Horrorism’,to denote a recent shift in their practice.
Neither philosophy, nor a system of thought, Monroy explains the practice as, “something that happens under the right conditions.” ‘Orrorism’concerns itself with the experiential rather than the factual, attaining a ritual-esque aura to its unfolding nature. “We are interested in how facts come to acquire their factual status and how they are disseminated and manipulated. Those that proclaim authority are usually the ones that control the facts and this enactment of authority is something that we have tried to play with in our work,” says Dornieden, adding, “There is always a gap between what you think you are doing and what you end up with. We felt that this gap – which as you try to get closer reveals itself to be an ever-expanding abyss – was a very rich space that we could try to move around in.”
The origin of ‘Orrorism’ is inextricably linked to their practice, which relies completely on analog processes of 16mm film. Despite the common perception of it being a dead medium, both filmmakers hold a great affinity for the analog process, especially the unpredictable nature of the filmic result. “The photo-mechanical process of shooting 16mm film and then screening it with a 16mm projector created for us a condition that we felt lent itself to sharing with others this sense of uncertainty, the abyss. This goes back to the ritual aspect. We felt that the most important aspect of cinema was the communal gathering to partake in a projection of light,” explains Monroy.
In their film titled, The Masked Monkeys (2015), the duo, document the Javanese tradition of Wayang Topeng Monyet – where street performers puppeteer monkeys to perform traditional local narratives. While the film adopts a seemingly objective lens to highlight the relationship between the monkey and its travelling master, the narration allows access to question the filmmakers’ own position, as outsiders within the community.
This role of narration, through voice or text, is an integral part of OJOBOCA’s filmmaking. Questions surrounding authorship and the clarity of the extra-diegetic voice or rather the lack of it, helps form a dynamic with the audience that enables a greater engagement with the structure of the film itself. “The film can be thought of as a guide taking you on a journey. The audience gives up a level of control – they contribute their time and attention – to the film based on the assumption that the film knows where it is going. But what if it doesn’t?” asks Dornieden, highlighting the precariously constructed nature of their cinema. Monroy, further adds, saying, “Filmmaking isn’t really a coherent undertaking for us. What if the speaker doesn’t actually know what it’s saying or gets confused or bored or frustrated? Using a narrator has helped us to bring to the front these issues of control and trust. What happens when your guide is not reliable, gets lost or simply goes insane?”
As independent artists, working in the domain of experimental cinema, OJOBOCA embraces the amorphous tradition, emphasising the merits of globalisation, in bringing together different artists spanning diverse geographies. This sense of community, which fosters a sense of collaboration, is important to both the filmmakers as they speak about their time with Labor Berlin. “Artist-run film labs like Labor Berlin have provided artists with resources to make their own films and also with venues in which to show their work and people with whom to share it with. We are interested in the aspects of this whole ecosystem that continues to fight to exist outside of the logic of capitalism. Our encounter with this community showed us that it was possible to create, within larger structures of exploitation and division, spaces of freedom,” states Dornieden.
In their latest feature film titled, Her Name Was Europa (2020), OJOBOCA cements the experience of ‘Orrorism’ as it delves into the history of the bovine ancestor, the aurochs, and outlines the current attempts being made to resuscitate this extinct breed of cattle.
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