Film is. (1-6)

Film is.

1 Bewegung und Zeit / movement and time (15 min)

2 Licht und Dunkelheit / light and darkness (10 min)

3 Ein Instrument / an instrument (10 min)

4 Material / material (8 min)

5 Ein Augenblick / a blink of an eye (7 min)

6 Ein Spiegel / a mirror (10 min)

(The film can be shown in any order with a minimum of three parts.)

Film is. consists almost exclusively, of sequences from existing scientific films. These films are about the acrobatic flights of pigeons, the intelligence testing of apes; about reversed worlds and stereoscopic vision; hurricanes and impact waves in the air. How glass breaks, children walk and how a Mercedes crashes into a stone wall in slow motion. The contempt with which scientific films are received is not directed against the content, but rather against their conventional, unimaginative, ridiculous and commentary-contaminated appearance. Similarly, the fascination with some of the teaching films
can be attributed almost exclusively to the power of their images - images which one has never seen, even in the cinema.

Film is. brings an abundance of these images together. One can feel not only the politics, but also the singular poetry of scientific film, which often makes use of experimental techniques - extreme slow motion, extreme time lapse, telescopic or microscopic camera work, solarising, x-ray film.

Film is. is a poetic film in itself. Just how the various pieces find their own place and rhythm reminds one of modern poetry or the photo work of the American artist John Baldessari. Pictures which, from their origins, have nothing to do with each other, which don´t belong together, are compared, tied together, fused with each other.

(Alexander Horwath)

More Texts

Seven Instances of the Austrian Avant-Garde, by Ed Halter

Thomas Bernhard tells the story of two professors at the University of Graz who move themselves and their families into a single house together for the purpose of continuing an entrenched, decades-long philosophical argument. After embroiling a third colleague in the dispute, they invite him over to their shared home, then blow up the building—thus ending the discussion. “They had spent all the money they had left,” Bernhard writes, “on the dynamite necessary for the purpose.”

Imagine this tale as a parable of the distinctive paradoxes of avant-garde cinema. Exceedingly erudite conceptual structures and complex aesthetic systems achieve realization through collisions of light and sound, designed to throw the viewer into a confrontation with the barest elements of cinematic form, made possible with the slightly antiquated products of 19th century science. The formalist edge of Austrian filmmaking has always pushed such extremes—machine flatness and spiritual emotion, animal shock and cognitive puzzle, fleshy materialism and ghostly mystery.

Austria’s success in fostering such a powerful experimental film scene is well known among cineastes worldwide. A conflux of generative factors can be cited: the storied history of avant-garde art and literature in Vienna; the influence of filmmakers such as Valie Export, Peter Kubelka and Kurt Kren, who attained international renown decades ago; the success of shorts distributor sixpackfilm, which has helped keep Austrian artists prominent in international festivals; and, not least, the long-standing commitment of governmental organizations such as Film Division of the Department of the Arts to fund such adventurous, non-narrative films. Dynamite doesn’t come cheaply.

Look at a sample seven titles underwritten by the Film Division, and the impact of this sustained support will be made clear.

1. Kurt Kren, 49/95 Tausendjahrekino (1995)

There is a discernable sensibility to Austrian experiments—a cluster of threads that run through many of finest examples of filmmaking. Commissioned to mark the cinema’s centenary, Kren’s Tausendjahrekinoopens with a title screen speckled with black bits of dust and detritus, then volleys through staccato flashes of tourists pointing cameras up at the St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Each of their banal snaps is countered by Kren’s guerrilla anthropology, captured with his shaking, zooming lens. Like this one, the best Austrian films are short, brutal and dirty.

2. Martin Arnold, Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998)

Arnold takes Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, two icons of innocent 1930s Americana, then stretches and remixes their language and body movements into a minuet of robotic jitters and beastly bleats, uncovering an uneasy sexual tension in the triangle of girl, boy and mother. The filmmaker digs deeps, hits nerves.

3. Elke Groen, Tito-Material (1998)

From the rubble of a decimated cinema in Bosnia and Herzogovina, Groen found propaganda newsreel footage of Yugoslavian President-for-Life Tito. Reprinted, Tito moves silently under layers of decay. Peter Gidal once defined materialist cinema as trafficking in “that space of tension between materialist flatness, grain, light, movement, and the supposed reality that is represented.” To this Tito-Materialadds the tension between past and present, state-sponsored fantasy and political reality.

4. Gustav Deutsch, Film Ist. (1998/2002)

The past becomes an ever stranger land in Film Ist. , filled with disjunctive colonialist mansions, supernatural religious footage, and accidentally surrealist science documentaries, all snatched from the era of silent cinema. These fragments are slowed down, re-cut and set to staticky electronic soundscapes. The flicker and hum evoke a hypnotic state: revisiting times lost as a form of disembodied dreaming. The soundtrack itself presages the experiments in digital, visual glitch seen in a more recent generation of Austrian video art.

5. Siegfried A. Fruhauf, Exposed (2001)

White oblong shapes float like clouds across one another, sailing across an expanse of movie-screen blackness, each glowing box in the round-cornered shape of a 16mm sprocket hole. One again a spirit is summoned from the very materials of the machine.

5. Kerstin Cmelka, Camera (2002)

In Cmelka’s earlier films, Mit Mir and Et In Arcadia Ego, the filmmaker plays with her own doppelgangers, superimposing herself upon herself multiple times. Camera uses similar optical tricks to print moving images of woodlands on the interior walls of a small room. Recall that “camera” merely means “room” or “chamber” in Latin: so is the film camera offer a window on the world, or merely in illusion of one? Maybe we can’t really leave the room—or camera—after all.

7. Peter Tscherkassky, Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005)

American critics blithely assume that films from outside our borders always comment on our own culture—as if the world’s artistic output had the mere function of an elaborate vanity mirror for us (“So, tell me honestly, how do I look?”). But here such a claim does not feel like this kind of indulgence. Tscherkassky takes moments from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and handprints them into a rat-a-tat-tat wartime montage. The throb of exploding bullets reminds us of the clacking of the projector over our heads: the reflection throws us out of the theater and back into the world.

* * *

Certainly not every nation that has chosen to invest its capital into filmmaking has been as fortunate as Austria with the cultural returns. In many other nations, governmental financing and grant foundations make the mistake underwriting the bland and inoffensive. The strategy in Austria seems to have been to support the strongest elements of the idiosyncratic and rebellious fringe, to encourage daringly noncommercial work, and to strive for art, rather than mere entertainment.

Look at key words from these seven titles: kino, waste, material, film, exposed, camera, light and sound machine. Austrian experimental cinema always returns to contemplate its own being, but in doing so, seeks new engagement with the world.

Orig. Title
Film ist.(1-6)
60 min
Gustav Deutsch
Orig. Language
Gustav Deutsch
Gustav Deutsch
Dietmar Schipek, Gustav Deutsch
Executive Producer
Manfred Neuwirth
Supported by
BKA. Kunst, Filmfond Wiener, Medienwerkstatt Wien, Austria Filmarchiv, Bologna Cineteca di, Portugesa Cinemateca, Cinématographie Centre Nacional de la, Nederlands Filmmuseum, Niederösterreich Kultur
Available Formats
16 mm (Distribution Copy)
Aspect Ratio
Sound Format
Frame Rate
24 fps
Color Format
colour, b/w
DCP 2K flat (Distribution Copy)
Aspect Ratio
Sound Format
5.1 surround
Frame Rate
25 fps
Color Format
colour, b/w
Festivals (Selection)
Wien - Viennale - Int. Filmfestwochen
Rotterdam - Int. Filmfestival
Graz - Diagonale, Festival des österreichischen Films
München - Int. Dokumentarfilmfestival
Split - Festival of New Film and Video
Kassel - Dokumentarfilm- & Videofest
Regensburg - Kurzfilmwoche
Luzern - VIPER - Int. Film-,Video-& Multimedia-Festival
Aukland - New Zealand Int. Film Festival
Leipzig - Dok Leipzig - Int. Festival für Dok.- u. Animationsfilm
Melbourne - Int. Film Festival
Brisbane - Int. Film Festival
Austin - Cinetexas - Int. short film&video&new media festival
Denver - Int. Film Festival
Sao Paulo - Short Film Festival
Vila do Conde - Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens
Norwegian Short Film Festival
Osnabrück - EMAF - European Media Art Festival
Tokyo - Image Forum Festival
Madrid - ARCO - Semana de Cine Experimental
Montréal - Festival International du Nouveau Film et de la Video
Clermont-Ferrand - Festival de Court Metrage
Windsor - Media City
Barcelona - L’ALTERNATIVA - II Mostra Internacional de Cinema Alternatiu
Cork - Int. Film Festival
Los Angeles - LA Freewaves
Humboldt - Int. Film Festival
Stuttgart - Filmwinter, Expanded Media Festival
Split - Festival of New Film and Video
Ann Arbor - Film Festival
Teplice - Int. Art Film Festival Trencianske
San Francisco - Golden Gate Award Int. Film Festival
Austin - Cinetexas - Int. short film&video&new media festival
Brest - Festival du Film Court
Helsinki - Avanto Media Art Festival
Hamburg - Int. Kurzfilm-Festival & No Budget
Cork - Int. Film Festival
Graz - Diagonale, Festival des Österreichischen Films
Vila do Conde - Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens
Buenos Aires Festival Int. de Cine Independiente BAFICI
Tampere - Film Festival
Hong Kong - Int. Film Festival
Zürich - VIDEOEXperimental; Video & Film Festival