Eastern European experimental films in Washington



In the beginning of April the National Gallery of Art, Washington is going to start an amazing series focusing on postwar Eastern European experimental cinema: Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960–1990.


The “national cinemas” of the countries of the former Eastern Bloc are hardly unknown to film lovers elsewhere in the world. Despite Cold War–era cultural divisions and conflicts, a number of filmmakers from Poland, Hungary, and the former USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia received international acclaim from the 1950s through the 1980s and have continued to receive it since 1989.

Less known and rarely seen both at home and abroad are the histories of filmmaking that took place outside large state-run feature film studios in postwar Eastern Europe.[1] The aim of Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960–1990, curated by the Department of Film Programs at the National Gallery of Art, is to fill these knowledge gaps with the first series of screenings of its kind. The series shows the variety of filmmaking and early video practices that existed in the region in the postwar period, and it sheds light on work that was made by artists and amateurs, as well as professionals, who, despite restrictions, made independent and experimental work both on their own and with the support of smaller state-funded amateur film clubs, festivals, and studios.

The scope of the series is broad, and it showcases work from across the region. Present-day countries represented are Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Slovakia. Though a handful of the films shown were made in the second half of the 1950s, the vast majority fall into the turbulent decades of the 1960s through 1980s, during which waves of enthusiasm for socialism alternated with periods of increasingly bitter disillusionment in “the system.” Against often divergent and country-specific historical backgrounds, what unites the filmmakers included in the series is an interest in film and video that defies the genre expectations of both narrative feature films and “straight” documentary. As a result, these predominantly short works offer highly subjective and partial glimpses into the lives and interests of Eastern Bloc filmmakers. They also, however, highlight the creativity and spirit of experimentation to which many remained committed despite often facing the possibility of official censorship—a facet of the larger history that forms a leitmotif in the series.


Gábor Bódy: Four Bagatelles (1975)

The organizing principles of the series draw connections both among films made in one place and those made in different countries. Some screenings bring together works created in one institution that shaped its members, such as the Workshop of the Film Form in Łódź, Poland, or the Balázs Béla Studio (BBS) in Budapest, Hungary. These are some of the “alternative spaces” of the series title—officially funded studios that supported at various times a surprisingly wide array of experimental film practices, driven by the dual desire of both filmmakers and policy makers to give younger generations the resources necessary for their artistic development. Interspersed throughout the series are films made at several other such “alternative spaces,” including the Riga Film Studio in Latvia, the Neoplanta Film Studio in Novi Sad, Serbia, and the Se-Ma-For Studio in Łódź.

The significance of these “alternative spaces” is hard to overstate—they seem largely to account for the numerous notable experimental films that came out of such countries as Poland and Hungary. One can appreciate their significance all the more when one considers the experimental films that emerged from such countries as East Germany, Romania, and Russia, where comparable resources were lacking. Though East Germany still produced an active “Super 8 movement,” Romania had the phenomenon of the amateur Kinema Ikon workshop, and Russia saw “Parallel Cinema” emerge in the 1980s, on the whole, the latter groups—whose work undoubtedly has great historical significance—could not match their better-resourced peers living under less repressive regimes in either quantity or artistic and technical sophistication of output. A full mapping of the “alternative spaces” across Eastern Europe is thus imperative to understanding the history of film experimentation in the region. The mapping offered here is only a beginning. Our hope is that future scholarship and public attention will both expand it and shed light on the connections that such spaces fostered among filmmakers from across Eastern Europe (as, for example, in the case of the Croatian filmmaker Ivan Ladislav Galeta, who worked on a number of projects at the BBS in Hungary).


Ladislav Galeta: Ping-Pong (1976-1978)

Several screenings, most notably the selection of films made by amateurs in Serbia and Croatia and the selection of films from The Enthusiasts project, highlight the history of amateur film clubs in the region. These were another kind of “alternative space” actively supported by some governments in the socialist bloc, particularly those of Poland and Yugoslavia, which saw them, at least in theory, as a way of fulfilling the ideal of offering opportunities for self-realization and access to cultured leisure for all. In Yugoslavia, amateurs were able to organize by and for themselves the Genre Experimental Film Festival (GEFF) in Zagreb, Croatia. Its history, now documented in some depth, is a testament to the vibrant amateur film scene that existed in parallel with the professional mainstream establishment. The existence of this scene, moreover, made more porous the boundary between amateur and professional filmmaking—members of the Academic Film Club in Belgrade, including the renowned director Dušan Makavejev, were particularly prone to crossing over from amateurs to professionals while retaining experimental sensibilities. In Poland, where the history of the amateur film movement was only recently documented by the artists Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings, its significance was nevertheless acknowledged by at least one professional filmmaker as early as 1979 in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Film Buff (Amator).

The remaining groupings showcase tendencies that transcended national boundaries. These include experimentation with the technical possibilities of materials and mediums; exploration of the actions possible in the private and public spheres; and commemoration of significant historical events. As the series demonstrates, people who had access only to small-gauge “amateur” 8 mm and 16 mm film cameras in the former East also grappled with many of the same concerns as “alternative” media makers in the West, where access to equipment, distribution channels, and professional dialogue was far greater. Yet another commonality that the series traces throughout (and especially in the screening titled “Artists, Collectives, Communities”) is that visual artists all around the former East—much like their Western counterparts—showed widespread interest in exploring the possibilities of film and video, using both amateur and professional resources, depending on what was available.


Andrzej Pawłowski: Cinéforms (1957)

Although not a comprehensive survey of experimental film and early video in postwar Eastern Europe, this series makes an important step toward illuminating the complicated cinematic past of the region and embedding it in its social history. It maps many of the currently accessible works while exploring the similarities and differences between makers and their methods and motivations. It recognizes the contributions of such renowned figures as Dušan Makavejev and Jonas Mekas, but primarily seeks to acknowledge less well known artists and their legacies. In addition, the films and videos selected shed light on the important work of the archives lending their materials and raise awareness about the importance of preservation, restoration, and circulation of experimental film.”

— Ksenya Gurshtein and Joanna Raczynska

More information available here.

To see the calendar, click here.

Series filmography

  • 1,2,3…Operator’s Exercise (1,2,3… Ćwiczenie operatorskie, Paweł Kwiek, Poland, 1972, 8 minutes)
  • 10 Minutes Older (Vecāks par 10 minūtēm, Herz Frank, Latvia, 1978, 10 minutes)
  • 19th Nervous Breakdown (19. Živčni Zlom, Naško Križnar and OHO, Slovenia, 1966, 4 minutes 31 seconds)
  • 30 Sound Situations (30 sytuacji dźwiękowych, Ryszard Waśko, Poland, 1975, 9 minutes 28 seconds)
  • 235 000 000 (Uldis Brauns, Latvia, 1967, 70 minutes)
  • Acceleration (Ubrzanje, Ivan Martinac, Croatia, 1969, 7 minutes 14 seconds)
  • Anthony’s Broken Mirror (Antonijevo razbijeno ogledalo, Dušan Makavejev, Serbia, 1957, 11 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Black Film (Crni film, Želmir Žilnik, Serbia, 1971, 14 minutes)
  • Boxing (Ion Grigorescu, Romania, 1977, 2 minutes 45 seconds)
  • Carousel (Karuzela, Krzysztof Szafraniec, AKF Nowa Huta, Kraków, Poland, 1984, 2 minutes 20 seconds)
  • Centaur (Kentaur, Tamás St. Auby, Hungary, 1973–75/2009, 40 minutes)
  • Centre (Centrum, Kazimierz Bendkowski, Poland, 1973, 5 minutes 20 seconds)
  • Checkmate (Mat, Pavel Bárta, Czech Republic, 1983, 16 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Cinéforms (Kineformy, Andrzej Pawłowski, Poland, 1957, 6 minutes 45 seconds)
  • Clapper (Klaskacz, Wojciech Bruszewski, Poland, 1971, 5 minutes 53 seconds)
  • Contemporary Symphony (Współcześna Symfonia, Maciej Korus and Jerzy Ridan, Amateur Film Club (AKF) Nowa Huta, Kraków, Poland, 1971, 6 minutes 20 seconds)
  • Cut (Goran Trbuljak, Croatia, 1976, 31 seconds)
  • DM1978 Talks to DM2010 (Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1978/2010, 13 minutes)
  • Death of Metalosaurus (Smrt metalosaurusa, Igor Toholj, Serbia, 1989, 3 minutes)
  • Dok. Film (Naško Križnar and OHO, Slovenia, 1968, 4 minutes 11 seconds)
  • Drawings (Vladimir Havrilla, Slovakia, 1976, 3 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Encounter (Sretanje, Vladimir Petek, Croatia, 1963, 8 minutes)
  • Endless Day (Lõputu Päev, Jaan Tooming and Virve Aruoja, Estonia, 1971/1990, 30 minutes)
  • Four Bagatelles (Film Language Series) (Négy Bagatell, Gábor Bódy, Hungary, 1975, 27 minutes 40 seconds)
  • Function (Funkcja, Zdzisław Zinczuk, AKF Awa, Poznán, Poland, 1981, 1 minute 7 seconds)
  • Game (Divjad, Karpo Godina and Jure Pervanje, Slovenia, 1965, 6 minutes)
  • Gypsies (Cigányok, Sándor Sára, Hungary, 1962, 17 minutes)
  • Hello, Berlin! (Guten Tag, Berlin!, Thomas Werner, Germany (GDR), 1987, 11 minutes)
  • Humbug (G. Piszczek and M. Kuczminski, AKF IKS, Mikołów, Poland, 1970s, 3 minutes 40 seconds)
  • I’m Going (Ide, Josef Robakowski, Poland, 1973, 3 minutes)
  • Image Is Virus (Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1983, 5 minutes 17 seconds excerpt from 20 minutes)
  • Innocence Unprotected (Nevinost bez zaštite, Dušan Makavejev, Serbia, 1968, 79 minutes)
  • K3 or Clear Sky without Clouds (K3 ili čisto nebo bez oblaka, Mihovil Pansini, Croatia, 1963, 2 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Kalah (Dóra Maurer and Zoltán Jeney, Hungary, 1980, 12 minutes)
  • Kariokinesis (Kariokineza, Zlatko Hajdler, Croatia, 1965 reconstructed 1998, 2 minutes)
  • Litany of Happy People (Zdravi ljudi za razonodu, Karpo Godina, Slovenia, 1971, 14 minutes 26 seconds)
  • Long Distance Runner (Hosszú futásodra mindig számíthatunk, Gyula Gazdag, Hungary, 1968, 13 minutes)
  • Market (Rynek, Josef Robakowski, Poland, 1970, 4 minutes)
  • Media (Zbigniew Rybczyński, Poland, 1980, 1 minute 36 seconds)
  • New Year’s Eve (Szilveszter, Elemér Ragályi, Hungary, 1974, 15 minutes 29 seconds)
  • One Day More (Dan više, Vlatko Gilić, Serbia, 1971, 10 minutes)
  • Open Form – Game on an Actress’ Face (Forma Otwarta – Gra na twarzy aktorki, The KwieKulik Group, Poland, 1971, 3 minutes)
  • Oskar Hansen – Groping One’s Way (Po omacku, Piotr Andrejew, Poland, 1975, 11 minutes 13 seconds)
  • Painted in the Air (Malování do vzduchu, Radek Pilař, Czech Republic, 1965, 3 minutes)
  • Paweł Freisler – Puppets (Pajace, Piotr Andrejew, Poland, 1971, 6 minutes 44 seconds)
  • Personal Cuts (Osobni rezovi, Sanja Iveković, Croatia, 1982, 4 minutes)
  • Ping-Pong (Ivan Ladislav Galeta, Croatia, 1976–78, 2 minutes 18 seconds)
  • Pression (Ljubomir Šimunić, Serbia, 1970- 1975, 15 minutes)
  • Private History (Privát Történelem, Gábor Bódy and Peter Timar, Hungary, 1978, 25 minutes)
  • Prophecy (Věštba, Petr Skala, Czech Republic, 1980, 2 minutes)
  • Raven (Gavran, Nikola Đurić, Serbia, 1973, 6 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas, US/Lithuania, 1972, 88 minutes)
  • Searching for Balance (Hledání rovnováhy, Petr Skala, Czech Republic, 1973, silent, 3 minutes)
  • Self Fashion Show (Öndivatbemutató, Tibor Hajas, Hungary, 1976, 14 minutes 41 seconds)
  • Sisyphus (Syzyfowie, Tadeusz Wudzki, AKF Wiedza, Warsaw, Poland, 1971, 5 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Somnambulists (Somnambulicy, Mieczysław Waśkowski and Tadeusz Kantor, Poland, 1958, 8 minutes 46 seconds)
  • Straight Line (Stevens Duke) (Pravac [Stevens-Duke], Tomislav Gotovac, Croatia, 1964, 7 minutes 20 seconds)
  • Symbiosis (Symbioza, Tadeusz Junak, STK Rotunda, Kraków, Poland, 1969, 10 minutes 14 seconds)
  • Termites (Termiti, Milan Šamec, Croatia, 1963, 1 minute 40 seconds)
  • The First Photo of Me Ever Taken (Kako su me prvi put fotografirali, Milenko Jovanović, Serbia, 1972, 1 minute)
  • The Flip Side of the Coin (Monētas dubultportrets, Romualds Pipars and Maija Selecka, Latvia, 2008, 100 minutes)
  • The Hands (Les Mains, Geta Brătescu, Romania, 1977, 6 minutes 45 seconds)
  • The Seal (Pečat, Dušan Makavejev, Serbia, 1955, 17 minutes 40 seconds)
  • The Space Transmission (Transmisja przestrzenna, Wojciech Bruszewski, Poland, 1974, 1 minute 8 seconds)
  • The Square (Kwadrat, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Poland, 1972, 3 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Together (Razem, Krzysztof Janicki and Marek Baranski, AKF Grunwald, Olsztyn, Poland, 1977, 3 minutes 30 seconds)
  • Touch the Sound (Dotknąć Dźwięku, Darek Skubel and Zdzisław Zinczuk, AKF Awa, Poznán, Poland, 1981, 6 minutes 13 seconds)
  • Trace (Slad, Helena Włodarczyk, Poland, 1976, 13 minutes)
  • Transformation (Transformacja, Grzegorz G. Zgraja, Poland, 1978, 3 minutes 38 seconds)
  • Transformations: Potter’s Bull (Verwandlungen: Potters Stier, Jürgen Böttcher, Germany (GDR), 1981, 17 minutes)
  • Twist Twist (Ante Verzotti, Croatia, 1962, 2 minutes 20 seconds)
  • Video A (Studio Situation) (Video A [Sytuacja studia], Paweł Kwiek, Poland, 1974, 3 minutes 25 seconds)
  • Video Manual (Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1978, 1 minute 27 seconds)
  • Vowels (Samoglasnici, Nikola Đurić, Serbia, 1973, 7 minutes 45 seconds)
  • White People (Beli Ljudje, Naško Križnar and OHO, Slovenia, 1970, 10 minutes 40 seconds)
  • Winding Paths (Kręte ścieżki, Andrzej Barański, Poland, 1970, 6 minutes)




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