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Interview: F.I.L.M. curator Scott MacDonald

By John Rufo '16

October 31, 2013

The Forum for Image and Language in Motion (F.I.L.M.) showcases the work of remarkable filmmakers working today. We asked Scott MacDonald, curator of F.I.L.M., about the series and next Sunday’s event, The Extravagant Shadows by David Gatten. Gatten will visit Hamilton for the viewing and talk with Professor MacDonald’s Avant-Garde Film class.

The Spectator: How did the F.I.L.M. program originate?

Scott MacDonald: In the mid-2000s I began Forum for Image and Language in Motion in an attempt to use the theatrical experience of moving image work as a cultural nexus on the Hamilton campus, a more or less regular series of events that might bring people interested in various disciplines (the arts, the humanities, the sciences) together.

Is there a deliberate interdisciplinary approach to F.I.L.M.’s selections?

Absolutely, yes, that’s the idea—but with one caveat: what we show at F.I.L.M. must be interesting as cinema, either in its novel approach, its challenge to traditional movie-going, or in its accomplishment in re-energizing an earlier cinematic form.  The hallmark of a good F.I.L.M. series is the diversity of cinematic challenges it offers those who can bring an adventurous spirit and the stamina to engage with new experiences into the movie theater.”

How would you describe David Gatten for those unfamiliar with his work?

Gatten, who was F.I.L.M.’s first guest, brings together two cinematic traditions: the perceptual awareness of Stan Brakhage and the conceptual excitement of Hollis Frampton. His films ask that audiences share his fascination with research itself and with the ways in which cinema can report on the filmmaker’s researches into the history of culture.
You’ve stated that Gatten is one of the more—if not the most—“out there” of contemporary avant-gardists. What makes his work more “out there” than, say, Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Leviathan or other films in the F.I.L.M. series?

Gatten’s work demands a special kind of patience. The thoroughly extravagant The Extravagant Shadows is a -hour film that makes the excitement of seeing/reading language the foreground of the film experience in a virtually unprecedented way. Leviathan is like a sensuous roller-coaster ride; The Extravagant Shadows, like a long, quiet walk on a beautiful night.

The Extravagant Shadows by David Gatten is billed as his “first digital feature,” a movement away from his previous 16mm features. How does this technical or formatting shift affect the work, if at all?

The widescreen option of high-definition digital, the fact that in digital the length of shots is not an issue, and the new palette of color and texture made available by digital shooting have made a difference in Gatten’s work, though he has continued to work in 16mm.

Why are linguistic shifts so important to Gatten? How does language change when it encounters a visual medium like film?

Changes in culture are often instigated by changes in the way language is transmitted and accessed. Reading in a movie theater with an audience is quite different from reading a book or using your Kindle. Gatten has often used the arrival of the printing press in the 15th century as a way of thinking about the arrival of the digital in the late 20th and early 21st century. Gatten is fascinated with the many forms of reading experience—though I think he is most attracted to poetry (Susan Howe, for example) and to forms of cinema that are in one way or another ‘poetic.’

Decay (in form) and love (in theme) both feature prominently for Gatten. Are these two in any way linked in his work?

I suppose when we love, we are involved with emotions, people, and experiences we feel we can lose, that we know must ultimately decay. 


The Extravagant Shadows will begin at 1 p.m. in KJ Auditorium on Sunday, Nov. 3.

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