by Rosanna Suvini

Looking forward to the 3rd edition of the All Asian Independent Film Festival in November of this year, we are reminded of the wealth of talent which it will follow from last year. Today we will look at the Experimental film category. Bursting with creativity and allure, the audience was left mystified and captivated by the enticing nature of these stories, each carefully fabricated by the brilliant minds of these undoubtedly skilled filmmakers.

The four films which featured in 2021’s All Asian Independent Film Festival Experimental Film category were: OTONASHI, directed by Martin Gerigk; STARS FOR MY DOG, directed by Bane Ignacio-Singian; CIRCULAR RUINS, directed by Zeyu Wang; and THE ELEVATOR OF LIFE, directed by Guolin Pang. All these films are brilliant acts of introspection, and condense a spectrum of powerful feelings into one short visual experience. They investigate notions of identity, both personal and cultural, as well as childhood, perception, and how these experiences have significance within the bigger picture of life. Through its pleasantly perplexing visual metaphors, and disjointed camera sequences, these films do not fail to hypnotise the spectator into a state of self-examination, leaving them questioning their knowledge and understanding of their own observations and experiences.

OTONASHI is an aesthetically pleasing film, which, through collages and audio-visual stimulation, explores the idea of balance, specifically within the religious practices of Buddhism. “Form is emptiness” is a well-known foundation of Buddhist philosophy, and is the quintessence of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is a concept characterised by clarity, and the beauty which can be drawn from this clarity. This film was born from director and composer Martin Gerigk teaming up with artist Nikola Gocić, whose art he has always admired, stating that ‘there is a peculiar magic inherent in his art, a surreal beauty and aesthetics that awakens inner stories to be told’. In his director’s statement, Gerigk talks of Gocić’s art-piece ‘The Second Name of Serenity’, calling it a ‘masterpiece which directly captivates the viewer’. The geometry of Gocić’s work reminded Gerigk of the structure and symmetry of Japanese haiku poetry – a timeless harmony which is very present in the visuals of OTONASHI. One cannot deny the captivating nature of OTONASHI’s visuals. They leave the spectator simultaneously experiencing both a strong sense of inquisition, as well as a reassuring sense of calm. With collages containing satisfying geometry, the chemical serotonin, and pieces of nature, the spectator is left both in a meditative and happy trance, whilst also questioning the philosophical nature of human existence.

Set within a framework of bright, playful colours, STARS FOR MY DOG immediately tunes into the theme of childhood. We meet the Filipino protagonist Vicente inside a makeshift spaceship, and immediately understand that they are living a child-like fantasy. The audience wonder why, at 21 years old, they are stuck in the past. We soon learn that Vicente succumbed to the very infantile notion of ‘running away from home’, and did so in their childhood cardboard rocket ship. Upon reading the messages that they receive and send to their relatives, we assume that they sought an escape from complicated familial relations, mostly with their parents, who they address impersonally as their ‘parental figures’. One can assume that this film acts as an exploration of difficult formative relations, and how these complications can potentially result in childhood trauma and resentment towards your own bloodline. The idea of ‘bloodline’, nationality and cultural identity is also important in this film, as we hear a message from a family member in Kapampangan (an Austronesian language, and one of the eight major languages of the Philippines), paying homage to Filipino American heritage month at the time that the film was shot. Overall, this endearing and relatable film encapsulates the difficult feelings of adolescence, and the estrangement one can feel from one’s family, feeling more connected to one’s pet (hence the title) than one’s own father. The audience can relate to the desire to have a space of one’s own, away from the world and its problems, and what better place for that than space itself.

OTONASHI, dir. Martin Gerigk
STARS FOR MY DOG, dir. Bane Ignacio-Singian

CIRCULAR RUINS is a film which brilliantly embraces its experimental nature. It blurs the lines between reality and fantasy to an almost disconcerting extent. But it is exactly this feeling of uneasiness which enchants its audience. The protagonist navigates between truth and falsity, in an almost haunted Alice in Wonderland ambience. Filled with symbolic objects (such as the glass ball), locations (such as the forest) and metaphorical passageways (such as the cloakroom) between fact and delusion, the movie adopts a dream-like sequence and embraces ambiguity, leaving the audience with a plethora of possible interpretations. What can be said, however, is that this is another film which deals with childhood and the trauma which it can store. From familial to societal pressures, there are many glimpses into the unhealed mind of an adult, still haunted by the expectations of her past. As she uncovers more scenes from her childhood, in an effort to decipher whether they are real or imaginary, the protagonist’s mind bends and twists time in this brilliantly phantasmagorical graveyard of memories.

THE ELEVATOR OF LIFE is a perfect visual metaphor. Just like an elevator ride, our lives are short and a fleeting moment within the larger landscape of existence. Friends and lovers will enter and leave your life, all in the shortest of instants. An ever-revolving series of interactions, relationships, betrayals, and demands will fill our busy lives, until, ultimately succumbed to old age, we are alone, with only memories to carry us through. As the elevator climbs up the floors, or in this case one could say, the planes of existence, it is constantly nearing the sky, which generally represents heaven or the afterlife. The structure of an elevator is also suited to the metaphor in question: a small, enclosed box, transporting a person from one location to another. We, as beings caught up in our own worlds with our own insignificant problems, are like enclosed entities travelling from point A to point B; a mere speck of the universe’s infinite puzzle.

CIRCULAR RUINS, dir. Zeyu Wang
THE ELEVATOR OF LIFE, dir. Guolin Pang