As it usually goes, the media-shunned field of non-professional films was as vibrant and active in 2019 as ever, with audio-visual works produced in such great numbers that not even the most ardent among us would be able to keep up with. Many of these were films made by young and not-so-young filmmakers trying out the world filmmaking, surrounded by like-minded people as part of some sort of formal training programmes—be it via studies, renowned workshops and courses, film clubs etc.—all with the aim and in hope of becoming professionals in the near future. Then there are countless others, produced as part of leisure workshops which feel almost incidental (though not necessarily unsound), films made ‘just for the sake of it’ within single-day programmes, or in but a few hours. These are mostly aimed at children as well as the curiously delineated ‘54+’ age group (why the exact age distinction, one is left to wonder). There is, indeed, much to learn there, but its primary function remains socialization and creativity in the elated, casual and no-strings-attached sense, formed in the play with tools of audio-visual production.
And this is not even taking into account a huge number of digital and smartphone apps (e.g. the currently hot TikTok) allowing first-graders—if not preschool children—to piece together a 15-second film practically with their eyes closed under a single minute, often while simultaneously doing something else as well. All of this just to have fun with their friends or to send a message of such format, without a moment’s reflection on the fact that they have created a small moving picture. And even in these small moving pictures, there is a lot to be discovered. There are even some really admirable pieces from time to time, marked by exceptional conciseness and imaginative thinking inspired by default application limitations. And sometimes, for a brief moment, the small picture will attract a fair share of virtual attention, only to disappear from circulation in the next moment. Although immortalized (at least, so long as the concrete medium is around) in the material (i.e. virtual) sense, these films end up mostly forgotten, even by the maker who ascribes no greater importance to this cinematic act than would be afforded to a squeaky slide ride.
Without going into the specific traits of TikTok and other similar platforms, it is safe to say that one of the most impressive films of 2019, be it an accident or not, in great part evokes the TikTokian compulsory (by accident or not) school of conciseness. HAK – Don’t Drink and Drive! (HAK – Ako piješ, ne vozi!) was made by 19-year-old Karlo Špoljar for the Croatian Autoclub’s competition Ten golden road safety rules, where it took the win, rightfully so. The promotional video is ingenious in its simplicity; many a viewer will think it as the most obvious and logical solution, yet it is a solution that no one else would think of, or even be able to acknowledge, until they see it done by someone else. A monochrome can—bland and unmarked, shot practically from only two angles and in two frames, against a neutral, plain background—is much more than just a beer container; the can also becomes a straightforward and yet layered representation of the person under the influence, of the impacted vehicle, as well as the injured individual. And with just a few almost literal metaphors-come-synecdoches in picture and sound, the twelve seconds become a perfect fit for a cautionary tale about the risk of alcohol consumption in traffic. Very impressive and well-articulated in its intent! The cool gray-silver of the can, the laid-bare narrative/symbolism of physical harm, the rhythmic meticulousness, as well as moderation in the use of visual elements (the reflection of the blue rotating light of the ambulance/police/fire truck, for example, makes for a discreet but unmistakable presence, without being too literal); these elements take on a tragic and unpleasant note in this short segment. Would it seem an exaggeration if one claimed that the young filmmaker has not made a single mistake here, and that this represents a masterful expression true to its purpose?
In the past few years, we have come to expect excellent and not-at-all-beginner films from first-timers attending the Restart production’s four-month Documentary Film School, at times even at the very top in the annual national production, in all genres, forms and lengths. Last year’s (8th) edition of the School gave us at least two marvellous shorts, the touching Escape Route (Mjesto za bijeg) by Lucija Ana Ilijić and the self-deprecating Probably Dead (Sigurno mrtvi) by Ivan Grgur, which the undersigned has already reviewed for the portal Dokumentarni.net. Let us not forget to mention – and partly because we skipped 2018 in review on this website – a first-rate film from Restart’s School from two years ago, the documentary-experimental-animated film September 3, 2015 (3. rujna 2015) by Sara Jurinčić, a film that continued to attract attention in 2019 as well.
Very much like Escape Route, September 3, 2015Original title: 3. rujna 2015. | Year: 2018 | Duration: 9’ | Country of production: Croatia | Directed by: Sara Jurinčić | Written by: Sara Jurinčić | Production: Restart – Škola dokumentarnog filma | presents an intense, autobiographical examination of the youngish filmmaker’s relationship with her father. In its three-part structure – the dramatic, visual and representational – Jurinčić starts with a more-or-less conventional, stable introduction, leafing through the papers and reading article headlines out loud for reconstructive purposes, before it unfolds into an arresting associative chaos of collage animation in picture and collage snippets of words and sentences in sound. When it reaches its emotional climax, featuring only barely discernible fragments of real-life audio (translated into subtitles) and a hidden camera that affords us with a dirty image hard to decipher, there is loads of interference and noise than what can be clearly experienced. She shows the feelings of confusion she experiences stood before a problematic father in a very peculiar and memorable way, not succumbing to the pressure of (unspoken) formal rules, but instead pickinh apart phrases and expressions which seem the most appropriate at the time of speaking. With no holdbacks. By daring to demonstrate their most intimate feelings, Ilijić and Jurinčić engage with what really concerns them the most, creating brilliant shorts in the process. Should they continue working with film, their inspiration will hopefully not wane once (and it is probably only a matter of time) they take up some less personal subjects.