COUNTRY: Austria - Overview

Austria is a little country with great cinematic art. Its films won plenty of palms, bears, lions and academy awards, and it all began before the age of the films d’auteur in the 1950s with the short form and the avant garde. Over the course of the last 60 years, Austria established one of the most innovative, productive radical and celebrated short and art film scenes in the world, featuring structural film pioneers, feminist rebels, masters of found footage and Austrian-Abstract-Artists in Sights & Sounds who are now experimenting with tangibles. Their cinematographic diversity has been on display in Hamburg for many years.

We are going to focus on sketching lines of development and colourful mosaics of historical and contemporary films and showcase different genres and formats in five programmes. This will include narrative shorts belonging to the “new realism” of the Filmacademy Vienna, critical political documentary essays as well as examples from the traditions of animated film. Contemporary architectural and spatial research, deconstructions of the idea of home, performance variations and ironic self-reflection are going to clash with impressionist and analytical found footage imageries as well as experiments about the manipulative strength of moving pictures.

Guests: Siegfried A. Fruhauf, Gabriele Mathes, Daniel Moshel, Lisl Ponger, Ulrike Putzer, Billy Roisz

Curator: Wilbirg Brainin-Donnerberg

Austria. Form without norm. Home Sweet Home... a Lie...

National film programmes are often problematic or boring. Problematic because of the questionable significance of national criteria in the great universe of cinematic art and boring because of the selection’s artificial limitation. In
this situation I am going to try two things in order to prevent the Austrian programme from becoming problematic or boring. Firstly, each of the five programmes is going to retrace lines of development that influence Austrian film
making to this day. Secondly, I want to present the nation as a native home and for that I am going to screen several works that deal with the widely repressed past of this native home and its present.

What are the reasons that for the last 60 years Austria has been the home of one of the most innovative, productive, radical and celebrated art film and short film scenes? It all began long before Austrian auteur films by the likes of
Michael Haneke, Barbara Albert, Jessica Hausner, Ulrich Seidl, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel began collecting international awards.

It all started in the 1950s, when Austrian cinematography began to turn away from Habsburgian and sentimental films and started to develop its own forms of expression. Incidentally, this was rather late by European standards. At that time, Herbert Vesely, who was represented with a retrospective in Hamburg in 2012, Peter Kubelka and Ferry Radax created their first films. Accordingly, the earliest films in the programmes are from 1957: Peter Kubelka’s ›Adebar‹ and ›Schwechater‹, which founded the tradition of the ›metric film‹ and anticipated many years of international developments. Additionally the work by Kurt Kren, a pioneer of structural film and montage technique, was going to influence the development of music videos decades later. They all belong to the so-called first generation that was still all about film as an independent art form.

Another influence and renunciation of previous norms was Viennese Actionism, which began in the fine arts and found its continuation in film. Art was supposed to be (re)integrated into life by the unconventional documentaries
by the likes of Kurt Kren and Ernst Schmidt Jr and the development of ›Expanded Cinema‹. Among the pioneers of this second generation were Valie Export, Peter Weibel and Hans Scheugl who are all represented with programmatic works in the ›Vienna – The End of Convenience‹-programme.
Back in the day, vehement criticism of society and the conventional understanding of art were more than just abstract public discourse in Austria: Several artists found themselves condemned by the law and some even
had to go into exile in order to avoid prison terms.

It was in this era that Valie Export founded a long tradition of performance films. She established herself as an important feminist rebel with her radical physical play. You can watch her ›Tapp und Tastkino‹ in the Vienna programme.
From today’s perspective she was a counterpoint to the male-dominated world of Actionism of her day. Towards the end of the 1960s the artistic opportunities
of a still largely quota-free public television influenced both media critics and a number of media artists.

In 1970 Peter Weibel wrote the short pamphlet ›warum der wiener film so gut ist – zum geflissentlichen geleit‹ (why the film of Vienna is that good – a deliberate preface) with the intention of convincing both the city and the country to hand out subsidies to film makers such as Kurt Kren, Hans
Scheugl und Valie Export and not just to the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Originally called ›little‹ film subsidy, it has now changed to ›Innovative Film‹. Though permanently underfunded, it is still able to create envy in countless film makers
all over the world.

The 1980s saw the rise of the so-called third generation, including Martin Arnold, Dietmar Brehm, Gustav Deutsch, Mara Mattuschka, Lisl Ponger and Peter Tscherkassky. While it is nearly impossible to conclusively describe them
in a few sentences, they all tend to ponder the medium of film itself. No longer was the focus on cinema as a window to the world, but rather on cinema itself and the cinematic equipment. These artists developed the use of found footage
into an internationally respected film art that received lots of renowned awards throughout the world. Some of these works were nominated at hundreds of festivals, and the triumph of these films established the current image of
Austrian artistic short films. The distributor Sixpack Film had a huge part in this success. It has been distributing avant-garde, innovations and short films to a global audience since the 1990s. The programme ›Un/Conscious Seeing – Found Footage‹ displays the amazing variety of found footage artists, who were able to turn different original material, such as scientific films, Hollywood classics, porn and home movies into something completely new which would inspire generations to come by bringing up the unconscious through deconstruction and montage.

But the five programmes aren’t merely sketching the development of the Austrian avant-garde. They also present examples of some of the genre and format spanning forms, such as the specific kind of animated film beyond the realms of trivialisation common to the genre, which was developed by the painter and animated film maker Maria Lassnig. The programme ›Gestures, Gesticulations, Chants. Performance Variations.‹ contains many forms of performances, from early feminist works by Moucle Blackout to Katrina Daschner queer burlesque.

In the 80s and 90s the rise of New Realism in narrative films had a large part in the success of Austrian films. Now films were turning to contemporary life as a mixture of experienced, narrated and invented elements. Individual biographies became a source of inspiration, resulting in a critique of social backgrounds and religion in the trend-setting short films of the ›Nouvelle Vague Viennoise‹. Two successful examples in the programme are Barbara Albert and Kathrin Resetarits. This narrative realism, which combines the attitude of documentaries with an innovative cinematic language, is still alive at the
Vienna Film Academy, as you can see in ›Elephant Skin‹ in the programme ›From Vienna Neustadt with Love‹.

In their technical variety and narration, the films in the programme ›Inside. Worlds – Outside. Spaces‹ exemplify contemporary architectural research, explorations of the home land and nature as well as experiments between the
tangible and the abstract.

The programmes are intended to work as an addition to those Austrian films which had been present in their cinematographic diversity in Hamburg for years. The ›Austrian Abstracts‹, which have been celebrated at international
film, art and music festivals since the 90s, are represented with only a few films, particularly in the sense of an increased attention to the tangible. This is why Virgil Widrich’s ›Copy Shop‹, which had been nominated for an Academy
Award in 2001, screened at 230 festivals all over the world and distributed by the KurzFilmAgentur Hamburg isn’t in the programme. The same is true for Harald Hund and Barbara Doser, who are already frequently represented at the Hamburg International ShortFilmFestival. Though Peter Tscherkassy has been successfully screened with his newer works, he is represented with two of his older films.

This cornucopia is spilled out into five programmes with 45 films by 41 Austrian directors from 1957 to 2014. It’s a gallimaufry of avant-garde, documentary essays, narrations, animations, performances, music videos, and analogous
and digital as well as awarded-winning and rarely screened shorts. While these films can only give impressions, they are intended to allow the viewer to follow
developments and hopefully develop a taste for more.

Good projections!
Wilbirg Brainin-Donnenberg

Country 1. Un/conscious Seeing - Found Footage

This programme offers a compilation of a variety of found footage films by some of the most important artists of found and sought out material.

It starts in a programmatic fashion with ›Film ist. 1 – Bewegung und Zeit‹ by the film installer and researcher Gustav Deutsch. In his layout film ›Film ist‹ he develops a school of seeing and of cinema from the »archive of the
unconscious« (Tom Gunning) of scientific films, the so called ›orphan films‹, while simultaneously evocating dreamlike associations. Norbert Pfaffenbichler is dedicated to conscious seeing, in this case of the early cinema, as well. With his polyfocal projection, he enables us to experience all shots from a Charlie Chaplin slapstick film at once. Martin Arnold, the grand master of the avant-garde, destroys the illusion of linearity Hollywood’s latent constructs of meaning and relations by re-editing Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in a stroboscopic manner. The celebrated film maker and mastermind of the theory of avant-garde film Peter Tscherkassy begins with the motif of Lumière’s train and condensed cinema to action and emotion with the montage of a Habsburg-melodrama in Cinemascope. Pioneer Linda Christanell too uses superimposition
of images and multiple exposures in ›Picture Again‹. The dark ›pumping screen‹ artist Dietmar Brehm remixes his films himself, interweaving private selfies with
porn. In ›Mirror Mechanics‹ Siegfried Fruhauf subtly uses mirror effects to play with the illusion of cinema. The programme concludes with two home movie masterworks: In her documentary essay ›Passages‹ Lisl Ponger radically
decouples the soundtrack from the images and we get to hear stories about escapes to images of private journeys. Peter Tscherkassky turned merry drinking and cake eating into a delirious ›Happy End‹.

Country 2. Vienna - The End of Convenience

The beginning collects common historical and cinematic milestones from the history of Vienna and avant-garde films. The programme then moves in a chronological order from Actionism and body actions to architecture and its

The iconic figure of Austrian avant-garde cinema making, Kurt Kren, turns the perspective on the beholder and not the object with his confident single frame technique. After many years Peter Lorre,›The Lost One‹ and voice of a message, returns home. »Austria is free!« Gustav Deutsch commented the entry into the European Union with a newsreel document on the Austrian Independence Treaty. Peter Kubelka, the doyen of Austrian avant-garde film, created the first metric or serial film in the history of cinema with ›Adebar‹. He also helped establish film as an independent art form in post-war Austria by founding the Austrian Film Museum. In his immensely musical montage film ›Hernals‹ Hans Scheugl didn’t merely portray the dull suburbia of Vienna, but also highly amusing scenes between Valie Export and Peter Weibel, two representatives of expanded cinema as well as performance and media art
in the 60s and 70s.

Three essential works illustrate the programmatic intention of the 1960s to integrate art into life. They all include Vienna as a city. There is Valie Export’s world famous feminist expanded cinema performance ›Tapp und Tastkino‹ with her cinema box in front of her. Ernst Schmidt, Jr. shot an unconventional documentary of the legendary action at the University of Vienna, which the tabloid press christened ›Uni-Ferkelei‹ (university obscenity), with artists such
as Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Oswald Wiener and Peter Weibel. And to prove the highly innovative role of quota free television, media artist Richard Kriesche took the public dialogue about art to the Stephansplatz. Peter Weibel transported his ruminations on media theory into the imperial surroundings of the Schönbrunner Schlosspark in ›Depiction Is a Crime‹.

Appropriating Viennese architecture, Michael Palm’s ›Body Trail‹ is a subtly edited documentary on human sculptures in the urban space. Lotte Schreiber, the masterful observer of architecture and space, adds a narrative element to her precise look at tangible objects (the famous Gänselhäufel, an urban outdoor pool and postwar gem-like piece of architecture) in ›GHL‹. The programme concludes with ›Darkroom‹. It’s the newest work by the Austrian
Abstracts film and sound artist Billy Roisz and homage to 50 years of the Austrian Film Museum.

Country 3. Gestures. Gesticulations. Chants. Performance Variations

The beginning of this programme feels almost like a silent film. This is due to Kathrin Resetarits’ poetic documentary essay ›Egypt‹ about deaf people, a school of looking, precise observations and ultimately of intrigued unravelling.
We continue with the decoding of representation in Silke Grabinger’s dance performance. Cinematically choreographed by Arash T. Riahi, it plays with expectations between religion and politics (›That Has Been Bothering Me the Whole Time‹). Friedl vom Gröller’s true-to-life portraits may not primarily correlate with performance art, but in their cinematically radical and beautiful manner, they allow us to theatrically experience variations of privacy (›The New Suit‹, ›My Precious Skin‹, ›Cherries‹).

An ironic self-portrait by Maria Lassnig, the grande dame of Austrian painting and founder of an independent form of animated film which defines a position beyond Disney’s minimisation (›The Ballad of Maria Lassnig‹), provides the
cantata for this programme. One of her most famous ›students‹, Mara Mattuschka, is represented with her early works ›S.O.S. Extraterrestria‹ and ›It Was a Pleasure‹, in which her alter ego Mimi Minus is up to all kinds of shenanigans. The oldest film of this programme is ›Birth of Venus‹. It was made in Hamburg in 1970 by the pioneer of avantgarde films, Moucle Blackout, who combined lively Beatles tunes with images of a self-determined female sexuality.

40 years later Kurdwin Ayub toyed with gender clichés at rock and roll stage performances in his Claymation music video ›Intrigue and the Ronches‹. Based on the idea and aesthetic of YouTube videos, Daniel Moshel staged the tenor August Schram from a home movie to a high gloss music clip in an S&M darkroom (›MeTube‹). Finally Hamburg’s own Katrina Daschner glamorously celebrates queer femmeness in an aesthetically charged stage room in her burlesque performance ›Hiding in the Lights‹. Applause!

Country 4. Inside. Worlds - Outside. Rooms

This visually and technically impressive programme with contemporary works of internationally celebrated film artists presents us with the ostensibly unifying elements of nature, man and architecture.

We begin with nature as the staging of a native idyll and a shared ritual. In the style of cinéma vérité we follow a group of ›pilgrims‹ into the mountains, where singer Hansi Hinterseer is giving a kind of Sermon on the Mount (›Hands Up to Heaven‹). In her cinematic survey of the Dachstein region, Elke Groen and her old Bolex compress the alpine world into a natural spectacle (›NightStill‹). Another example of analogous image processing is Paul Wenninger‘s real animation ›Trespass‹, in which he is going on a world journey within his own home. A fantastic location in the Caucasus is the back and foreground of the ›ennui comedy‹ ›Hypercrisis‹ in which Josef Dabernig continues to ironically play the role of the artist within society. The Wotruba church in Vienna is another memorable memorial. Thomas Draschan makes it cinematically tangible as a walk-in sculpture in a single frame process (›Wotruba‹). We switch over to digital: To a master and a mistress of ›Austrian Abstracts‹. In two nature-space-perception experiments and based on 35mm film material, Siegfried A.
Fruhauf creates a digital experience of cinema and space between the interior and the exterior (›Exterior Extended‹). Meanwhile, Michaela Grill negotiates the borders between nature, landscape and abstraction in her fascinating Sound&Vision combination ›Fôret d’Expérimentation‹.

Country 5. From Vienna Neustadt with Love

Stories from provincial Austria, social studies between fiction and documentaries, tragic and comical, self-ironic, a cinematic pleasure.

Barbara Albert’s › The Fruit of Thy Womb‹ was an essential prelude to the new realism in Austrian film: Raised in the 70s, shaped by close-minded Catholicism and bigoted sexual morality, finally told from a girl’s perspective and cinematically marvellous in her world of thought and fantasy. Another former student of the Vienna Film Academy, Gabriele Mathes, succeeded in drawing a line from her personal family’s fortunes to the micro economic history of the 70s in her documentary essay made from Super-8 films. Boom and fall are contrasted with happy home movies (›A million in debt is normal, says my grandfather‹).

Time leap: A 50 year old factory worker dreams of new beginnings while she devotes herself to the wellbeing of her grumpy mother in Ulrike Putzer and Severin Fiala’s ›Elephant Skin‹. It’s social realism with amateur actors, humour and dignity. The one thing they all have in common is the rebellion of their protagonists and the filmic language. In the meantime Sasha Pirker uses a kind of Buster-Keatonhumour to make an amusing commentary on the realities of
female lives (›Livepan‹) and Johann Lurf’s conceptual film ›A to A‹ stages the provincial monotony through its dreadful architecture and ever-same suburban scenery.