Alpha Channel: cinema, series and video poetry at Kosmopolis

Eulàlia Guarro (K Team)

27 February 2015

The Alpha Channel is expanding. We’ll be laying down the red carpet and rolling it out beyond the classic programming of the evenings with Alpha Nights: feature films and cinema premieres based on literary works, music, writers and journalists. And sessions all-day Sunday devoted to television series and literature. An audiovisual focus on the way stories are told.

Versions of literary works, documentaries by writers, new narratives and the use of audiovisual language based on literary formulas, such as video poetry. In this sense, Alpha Channel seeks to explore film’s incursion into literature, or vice versa, from different angles and taking to the screen this amplified view of the written tale. A programme with continuous presentations and screenings that in broad outline can be explained more or less as follows:

From the Sebald Legacy to the Magic of Gabriel García Márquez, taking in Joycean societies and the kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

Among the programming for Alpha Channel, we have chosen a selection of films that will allow us to become more familiar with some writers and their works. This is the case, for example, with W. G. Sebald.

Coinciding with Sebald Variations, an exhibition which is being hosted by the CCCB, we will be exploring the work and influences of this author through two works. Firstly, the feature film Patience (After Sebald) by prize-winning director Grant Gee (author of the documentaries Joy Division and Meeting People Is Easy, about British band Radiohead). Patience proposes that we follow in Sebald’s footsteps around the county of Suffolk, on the eastern coast of England, while exploring from a poetical and in-depth viewpoint his book The Rings of Saturn.

Moreover, we will be reviewing the German author’s characteristic use of photography through the medium-length film Austerlitz. While visiting some of the sites illustrated in the book of the same title, director Richard West explores to what point the images correspond with reality while feeding the story.

Through another, different type of approach, artist Dora García proposes we make a visit to the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich, where a group of readers meets each week to read over and over again the Irish writer’s book Finnegans Wake. For 30 years, the members of this particular society have met weekly in order to try and decipher the 70 meanings of each word, in a hermeneutic mission more akin to a therapeutic act than a literary theory. As explained by Fritz Senn, the literature teacher who leads the group: “Perhaps reading Finnegans Wake is a substitute for people who normally do not have much success in life… Culture is a kind of substitute for pleasures that for different reasons are denied to some of us”.

And, from drawing together around a book to author kidnapping. From the hand of Guillaume Nicloux, Michel Houellebecq plays himself in a kind of false documentary featuring the French author. The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is an acidic comedy that allows us to approach the author from the angle of fiction, entering into his opinions through conversations held with his very kidnappers.

In this eclectic tour of great names in literature, this year we could not avoid making special mention of Gabriel García Márquez with the premiere of the documentary Gabo, la magia de lo real, on the Alpha Night of Friday 20 March. Focusing on this biography from the narrative tension of an investigation, director Justin Webster puts before us writers and journalists, friends and crucial eye-witnesses of Gabo’s life who paint the writer’s struggle with reality, through fiction and through his imaginary world, and across journalism and politics.

Video-poetry, online literature and BookCamp

From the cinematics of the poem to cinema films made poetry. The quest for the limits, excellence, the idiosyncrasies of languages. The image and the imaginary. Writing a poem; filming poetry. This is the challenge put before us and that we will tackle from the more figurative to the more abstract association.

And to do so, accompanying us at Channel Alpha will be Zata Kitowski, founder of the research project PoetryFilm. At a double session, the British artist will present a selection of some of the best video poems. A semiotic exploration and one of creation of meanings in this artistic format that delves deep into the most experimental audiovisual pieces, with very varied forms, themes and disciplines.

In this sense, some of the works that we have chosen for the occasion resort to drawing, precisely to create impossible universes that exemplify, with great skill, the images evoked by the poet. This is the case of the Dadaist poem Anna Blume, written by Kurt Schwitters and reinterpreted in the short film by Vessela Dantcheva. Or alternatively Hotzanak, For Your Own Safety: an animated short by Basque artist Izibene Oñederra who, with the ferociousness of her illustrations, represents in images the forcefulness of the poem Tortura, by Wislawa Szymborska.

Somehow or another, according to Italo Calvino “Poetry is the art of putting the ocean into a glass”. And it is under the heading of this quote that French-Italian poet Fabrizio Bajec and the members of the production company Elsabeth Produccions will accompany us to talk about film and poetry: from Passolini to Bruno Dumont; from the “hungry viewer” to the classic cinephile; about the practice of filming poetry and of how they try, endeavour and achieve it with their new project: the documentary L’esilio e la nube.

And without straying too far away from video poetry we enter into what we could call a new audiovisual ecosystem, tackling the influence of online literature. Specifically, viral videos and mash-ups that tirelessly circulate around the Internet, disseminating texts by famous authors or inspiring interviews that are then reused in new audiovisual works. Reintegrating texts and audios by different authors, we extract some of these pieces from their environment, the Internet, and take them to the cinema screen.

And we do this with Arts i Oficis, the Canal 33 programme. Directed by Lau Delgado, the programme shows the complexities of the professions of the cultural sector. In our case, we start off the episode devoted to literary publishing in order to continue exploring the limits of books as proposed by the Kosmopolis BookCamp, while learning about the reality of five independent publishers from Barcelona.

Alice in Wonderland and The Double: Alpha Kids and Film Adaptations

To celebrate 150 years of the publication of the work by Lewis Carroll, we have ventured deep into the thick forest of audiovisual versions of the adventures of Alice. And we have aimed to select a well-varied representation of them: from the first film adaptation for cinema dating from 1903 and directed by Percy Stow and Cecil M. Hepworth, in the short films Wonderland USA: an experimental piece directed by Zoe Beloff and featuring Ezter Balint (Stranger than Paradise) and John Cale (member of Velvet Underground), in which the author converts Times Square and the ruins of Coney Island into a decadent Wonderland of lost souls and the theatre of the grotesque. An approach to the darker side of the work. And the truth is that we will be reserving the festive angle of Alice for Alpha Kids.

Devoted to short films produced by schoolchildren, on the Saturday morning of Kosmopolis we will be opening the doors to those young creators who will reveal, using the stop motion technique, the questions that they would put to Lewis Carroll. And we will be finishing the Alice Happy Birthday celebration with the adventures of Nat, who will do everything possible to avoid the characters of children’s stories disappearing due to not knowing hot to read Kerity, la casa dels contes.

However, we will not only be taking Alice to the cinema. Animation opens doors up to the unlikely and allows us to enter the uneasy universes of the tales of Maksim Gorki and of Edgar Allan Poe with the short films Boles, by Špela Čadež, and Blackwood – How to Write a Blackwood Article by Csaba Gellár, respectively.

And effectively: also uneasy, complex and disturbing too, as it could be no other way, is the adaptation of The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, taken to the big screen by Richard Ayoade (director of Submarine) and starring Jesse Eisenberg (La red social) and Mia Wasikowska (Alicia en el país de las maravillas). An identical and antagonistic double that will close the session on Thursday 19 March at Alpha Night, devoted to the great Russian writer.

Vinicio Capossela, Gonzo Journalisj and Citizenfour

Taking advantage of the performance by Vinicio Capossela at Kosmopolis, we didn’t want to let the chance pass of screening the film Indebito, written by and featuring himself. A feature-length film by Andrea Segre that explains the musical tradition of the rebetiko, born in a crisis that Greece has suffered previously but that is revived at the current time, rebelling against passive conformism.

And from music to illustration as a weapon for changing the world. Led by actor Johnny Depp, we discover Ralph Steadman in For No Good Reason: a British artist, the last of the original Gonzo visionaries who accompanied the writer Hunter S. Thompson in his journalistic crusade to open up a new way of telling reality from one’s own experience. A new way of doing journalism in which the narrator becomes the actor in the news and that we revive, on the basis of this feature film, based on drawing.

And if we talk about the new way of doing journalism we make deeper inroads into the Journalism of the 21st century. A new step in the investigation work and in the depth of involvement exemplified by Laura Poitras in her documentary Citizenfour. Winner of the Oscar for the Best Documentary, it is based on an interview with Edward Snowden that exposes the illegal practices of telephone tapping by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

Screened for the first time in mainland Spain, this film will be the finishing point for Alpha Nights, on the Saturday of Kosmopolis, while making way for the Sessions on Television Series and Literature that Alpha Channel will be holding during the entire day of Sunday 22 March.