The International Film Series at the Whitechapel continued to offer a stimulating programme in 2017. The three films I saw in September all had an element of visual surprise. This destabilisation of perception forces us to reorient our understanding of the visual field and reminded me of our tendency to make unwarranted perceptual assumptions.
Adrian Paci’s The Column (2013) was a visual treat. Paci is an Albanian refugee now living in Italy whose films reveal an acute sensitivity to light. He followed the journey of a block of marble from its delicate extraction in a quarry in China to its loading onto a cargo ship where it is arduously carved by stonemasons into an ornamental column as it makes its journey to Europe. An amazing sequence that took a while to interpret was created by sunlight casting shadows through the slits in the deck onto the hold below as the ships orientation slowly changed.
Cengiz Tekin’s Just Before Paradise (2015) was a moving portrait of another type of cargo – young male migrants. Initially we only see their faces but they are finally revealed to be standing waist deep in the sea contemplating an uncertain future. This Kurdish artist created a profound impact with the careful marshalling of simple elements.
Jūrmala (2010–16) takes its name from a beach in Latvia, the setting for this collaborative film by nine Berlin-based women artists and filmmakers. Each one took the same sequence and played around with the sound track to give it a different spin. The version with a director’s voiceover in homage to John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum was quite neat.