‘Jean Cocteau called cinema ‘death at work’, and it is this aspect of the medium that I am chiefly concerned with here. Filmmaking itself becomes a ritual act, trapping images, re-arranging them (montage) to tap their inherent powers and then unleashing them in this concentrated form (the projection of this material into light).
‘I happened to start making films at the beginning of the millennium, in the year 2000. From the very first day, I thought of only one concept and that was the discovery of what cinema is in this new era. This question has pushed me to continuously experiment and investigate in the laboratory of my filmmaking.
‘The films one makes are nothing but the haunting shadows and light of the films that one has seen in the past. There is no original film, except for the very first ones by the medium’s pioneers.
‘In both my feature films and my on-going short film series, “Homo Sapiens Project”, I have been formally experimenting with deconstructing and decomposing film genres. I have radically minimalised genre elements, attaining what could be described as a ground zero of drama through the systematic removal of narrative structures. What this has achieved is a series of experimental films that foreground mood, atmosphere, visual rhythms, the nature and subjectivity of the image and the gaze that engenders it, the permeability of the borders between documentary and fiction, and the role of architecture and landscape as palimpsest of hidden histories.
‘All of this emerges in the ambiguous context surrounding the circumstances of the moment of shooting in contrast to what is assembled in editing. As Donal Foreman says “each image is a single event” and “cinema is a dialogue between will and reality”. In this way the edit is also part autopsy, and the series of filmed events full of life, colour and movement lie frozen in the frame, dormant. They are scrutinised, examined, explored then reassembled soon to become light, shape and rhythm once again but as spectres among the living. This amounts to the idea of film as an ‘undead’ medium- any given moment refers to a ‘dead’ moment filmed in the past, yet behaves as if ‘alive’ due to being replayed and edited.
‘Godard/Gorin once stated that the distinction between documentary and fiction is false, however I would go with Donal Foreman’s suggestion that the distinction between documentary and fiction is meaningless. Once something is filmed it becomes a fiction, whether it is your fiction or my fiction depends on where you put the camera; “the camera is always part of the scene” (Foreman)
‘Raul Ruiz said that “In narrative cinema—and all cinema is narrative to some degree—it is the type of image produced that determines the narrative, not the reverse.”
‘‘Form’ in my view, is the most important and vital part of the 7th art. When you conceive a unique form, the narrative, drama or story can be articulated with it. Or you can simply have the form itself, which is amazingly expressive in its own right.
‘To my mind the filmmaker should, as Foreman said, “be, not illustrate”.
‘“Cinema is not an illustrative or descriptive tool. You have to build images and things have to exist within them. There are more and more filmmakers who show a thousand trees and in the end you feel as you have not seen a single oak during the two hours. Image has to stand on its own, the image is not something arbitrary. A finished image does not describe anything, it is its own entity, it does not describe.” – Jean Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet
‘It is widely believed to be impossible to envision a film without a screenplay; the script is still secured as the cornerstone of filmmaking. It is thought of as the collected information of all that is seen and heard; but nothing is seen, nothing is heard. Of course scriptwriting is an art unto itself but it has very little to do with filmmaking. One mysterious synopsis is enough to make an entire feature length film. Mysteries can be preserved while petty details are dispensed with, exciting and activating the mind. For example this synopsis for Bela Tarr’s “Kárhozat” (1988)
‘“A penniless drifter’s relationship with a nightclub singer is put under strain when he offers the woman’s husband a smuggling job.”
‘And as Godard expressed recently in an interview: “…the ideas come gradually, and there is no screenplay. At the beginning, I thought we had to have a screenplay […] And then I realised that the screenplay came not only after shooting, but after editing”.
‘The most enjoyable part in cinema, apart from watching films from the history of cinema, is the actual craft of filmmaking, shooting/gathering the material and editing/montage, both heavily technical processes. After that there is a feeling of loss and nostalgia, each film when it’s done is an absolute death although the film behaves as if it is alive. That is why cinema is all about ghosts and shadows in my view. In this process, if you are lucky, you may find great collaborators and as a result of this you don’t have to endure this feeling alone. Everything else is waste of time for me!
‘We, at EFS, treat all formats, devices, and cameras, including celluloid and video, as equal and don’t have any sentimental attachment to them. The 21st century filmmaker uses any image-recording device to make his/her film and as Orson Welles said “a film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet”. Cinema is 100% reliant on the technology of its time and the way in which you make films and screen them is entirely up to the nature of that technology. Technology of our time is digital and many filmmakers must embrace it fully in order to express themselves and advance cinema. As much as cinema is about the past, it is about the future too.
‘Our films are about images and the progression of images. When there’s sound or music, they’re about the interaction of sound and image. Cinema itself is always the subject, experimenting with its forms. Not necessarily pushing its limits, because I believe the limits of cinema have already been reached by Structuralist filmmakers like Sharits, or by Garrel’s early films, for instance. You can’t go beyond that. But if a filmmaker’s experiments are true to his or her perception and personality, the medium’s possibilities are constantly renewed.’ — Rouzbeh Rashidi
The Films of Rouzbeh Rashidi
Rouzbeh Rashidi @ IMDb
Experimental Film Society
Phantom Islands @ The Art of Slow Cinema
Rouzbeh Rashidi @ MUBI
PHANTOM ISLANDS @ desistfilm
New Voices in Irish Experimental Cinema: Rouzbeh Rashidi
Phantom Islands – blurring lines between documentary and fiction
PHANTOM ISLANDS – DESTABILIZING
“A True Actor-Director Collaboration”
“The Paradox Of Acting – Boredom Of The Disgust And Monotony Of The Tediousness”
AN ABSTRACT END ( HE )
In Conversation | Rouzbeh Rashidi
Weird Weird Movie Kids Do Not Watch The Movie (trailer)
Homo Sapiens Project (157) by Rouzbeh Rashidi
Cinepay: We know that all of your works have been carried out with restricted budgets. Do you consider that this lack of resources necessarily influences the quality of the work itself?
Rouzbeh Rashidi: So far, I have made 34 feature films and 240 short films (200 of them are part of an ongoing project called the ‘Homo Sapiens Project’). Out of all these films, only four of the feature films were made with funding and grants, and the rest were made entirely on zero budget. I look at everything that I made on zero budget as a crucial and vital aspect of becoming a filmmaker. I look at them like the notebooks and scientific results of Baron Victor von Frankenstein; the recordings and the scientific research that he made in his laboratory that led to the creation of the monster. This description is humorous and perhaps ironic, but not for me. I believe I have reached the limit with no-budget cinema and cannot push it any further, nor do I want to spend my time in such a way anymore. Those no-budget films are so crucial for me, and I enhanced my skills and craft with them. They made me a resilient and thick-skinned filmmaker, and now I am ready to tackle more ambitious films on a more significant scale and with bigger budgets and more professional casts and crews. But for me, all these categories have always been a phase: independent, experimental, underground, mainstream and what have you. I look at them merely as challenges. They are all simply filmmaking and creating cinema at the end of the day. Give me a small VHS camera and a close-to-nothing budget, and will I make films. Give me 100 million dollars; I will still make movies. But I would never compromise, that much I know.
CP: Your works always catch up with the history of cinema, as if to honour the cinema of the past. On the other hand, there is a breakup with it; a rejection that makes impossible – and that’s the point you’re talking about – a compromise that perhaps would be useful to move towards the festival circuit as well as towards commercial production. How do you see yourself in relation to these realities?
RR: I can answer this questions in two parts. Firstly, even if I wanted to change, I am absolutely incapable of it. I only know one way to make films and since the year 2000 I have been doing this non-stop. The history of cinema and the mechanism of the medium of cinema is everything for me. I think there is no national cinema or even international cinema; it has always been the continent of cinema where all films belong. Therefore, the only way that I could think to make movies is always to go back to the beginning of cinema, analyse what has happened from then until today, and then prepare my films accordingly for the future – which immediately becomes the present and past as soon as you make them.
Secondly, yes, only opinionated people won’t change. I am radical but not dogmatic – at least that is how I assess myself – I could be wrong of course. It is hard, almost impossible, to look at yourself as if from the outside. I believe, perhaps, that with ‘Phantom Islands’, I have reached the point where I had made a film that was accessible and capable of entering into the commercial system, and yet which has preserved my ideas about how my movies should function radically and on a personal level. It took me years to reach this formula, and I hope from now on I can reach a larger audience and access a better distribution system, and also go on to more challenging projects. Cinema is an utterly magical thing, almost like a séance or spell. I always surrender myself to this conjuring of wizardry and can only react based on my skills and cinephile knowledge. We’ll see what happens!
CP: Regarding your formula: its boldness demands an essential effort from people who want to be near to your work, something viewers nowadays don’t tend to sustain. Viewers could feel themselves estranged in dealing with your work, since the average observer is not accustomed to avant-garde work. Don’t you care too much about sacrificing the public?
RR: Believe it or not, I am 100% against elitism. I would never make my films for a particular targeted audience. In fact, one of the attitudes I genuinely despise in the realm of avant-garde cinema is the belief that certain films belong to a specific context. I never shared this snobbish view whatsoever. When I make movies I literally make them for anyone on earth regardless of who they are and where they are. I designed my works as autonomous entities that would either devour the spectator, or the audience would ingest them in bits. There is no neutral ground or indifferent possibility; again that is my intention. How much I succeed is a different matter, of course. In addition to that I believe that the audience, if given a chance, can easily connect with such cinema. I refuse to think the audience are inexperienced and cannot comprehend challenging films. This is not true. I’ll give you an interesting example: I brought one of my friends, who has no strong connection to cinema, with me to watch my feature film ‘Ten Years In The Sun’ in a cinema. After the film ended, he said I was tortured and to this day he is always complaining about the film. He describes the film as some sort of nightmare he had the night before, each time with a different version of the event. Sometimes when we are drinking with friends, he winds me up and tells everyone about his experience. This means the film is working internally, within his system. So I think cinema is only a matter of exposing the mind of the audience to the radioactivity of the film and they are changed forever. Films need to be continuously screened, repetitively; that is key. This is what I am after with EFS, a system that produces and shows the films on a regular basis, all the time.
CP: So, how would you like a potential viewer to think about your work? As something to reflect on, or more as a visceral experience?
RR: Complicated question. To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps I never will. Because it is impossible to know the audience. There is an active element of science fiction in all of my films, and whether they are projections into the future or past, they are always about how this machine of images works and creates dreams or nightmares. Therefore, the best and only thing for me to do is to look at my audience as aliens and extraterrestrial life forces. I assemble and make my films for such extreme circumstances. They can survive on earth or even in outer space. For me, logic and understanding were always overrated concepts. I prefer survival and co-creation with the audience during the viewing process. I look at cinema as a catastrophe: mushroom clouds, radiation and chaos. There is always a silence before the main event of a film (a great place to be to gather the material); then you have the main explosion, which has little place in my films (the script or storyline perhaps?); and finally the aftermath, the images and sound of what has happened, and how long their force affects you (which is the main carcass of my work – I call it ‘editing’). Cinema will always invade the audience, and you just have to keep making and screening films without hesitation.
CP: But where does it come from – this need to embrace an experimental approach?
RR: I just don’t know what is experimental and what is not. I literally have no way to distinguish between what I do and what mainstream cinema does. I think they are cinema. Only cinema. I never intended to become an experimental, alternative or even underground filmmaker. I just wanted to be a filmmaker and express my love for cinema, and share my most personal experiences. Sadly, it didn’t work like that. I had to choose a title or a category to survive. But a great deal of my decision-making, thinking, attitudes, and all of my films are not intellectual. They are deeply experiential and practical. I am a 100% pragmatic man. I set no store by systems or political imperatives. The socio-political trends of the day change so fast. New ones rapidly emerge; they are only like flash bulletins. I have no affinity with them. I live in my time, I see and experience what happens around me and I, of course, reflect this indirectly in my films. That should suffice. I don’t look at cinema as a tool or as a means of conveying information. I am not interested in films that are only text and have no respect for images and sounds. My primary focus and goal is to make my films, help my colleagues to make theirs, and eventually screen them all around the world. Then after all that I will stand aside and observe what happens as long as I’m still alive. And when I am dead, I do not need to worry anymore. The films will continue their journey. This is my whole philosophy.
19 of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s 56 films
Rouzbeh Rashidi’s film can be watched VOD here.
Phantom Islands (2018)
‘There is something that permeates the entire film and that didn’t let me go. It was Rashidi’s decision to blur most images to varying degrees. No image is fully clear. Neither is it completely blurred. Rashidi plays with degrees of masking, something that gives Phantom Islands a feeling of being exactly this: a phantom. The film, the characters, the scenery, even the music – all of this has a strangely unreal, surreal feeling. As if a ghost creeps up on you without it being a horror film. As if you dream. As if you merely imagine things in your seat instead of watching something that has been created for you to see. It is as if Rashidi puts mind images on screen. Phantom Islands is not a film as such. It is a collection of mind images, sometimes mere flashes of thoughts, sometimes more complex thoughts that take time to develop.’ — Nadin Mai
Prelude to Phantom Islands: Jungle Formula
Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilian Le Cain Self Decapitation (2017)
‘Self Decapitation is a Janus-headed self-portrait by Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilian Le Cain in which death and desire each take possession of this film in two parts. The ambiguities of inhabiting a human body are conjured by way of film technology in its faults, faulty memories and false promises. There is no escape from its haunting – except perhaps to haunt it in turn…’ — RR
‘TRAILERS unites the most personal and experimental aspects of underground filmmaking with a scope that is as cosmically vast as a science fiction epic. Rashidi’s ongoing exploration into the nature of cinema sees a group of characters adrift in space, each locked into their own sexual rituals while a cataclysm of universal proportions unfolds. Humanity has become a mysterious burlesque show for alien eyes: the gaze of the film camera. This visionary spectacle uses multiple formats and visual textures in weaving an erotic anti-narrative suspended in its own space and time.’ — RR
Ten Years In The Sun (2015)
‘An assortment of obscure private obsessions, conspiracies and perversions flicker on the verge of incoherence against the context of vast cosmic disaster in Rouzbeh Rashidi’s one of boldest film to date. This sensory onslaught combines a homage to the subversive humour of Luis Buñuel and Joao Cesar Monteiro with the visionary scope of a demented science fiction epic.’ — RR
‘Part three of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ‘Rearrangement Trilogy’. These three wonderfully warm features that celebrate friendship and creativity, and display a gentleness and lightness of touch.’ — RR
‘Part two of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ‘Rearrangement Trilogy’.’ — RR
‘Part one of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ‘Rearrangement Trilogy’.’ — RR
Investigating the Murder Case of Ms.XY. (2014)
‘Combining searingly intense ciné-portraits of actor Mario Mentrup and actress Olympia Spanou with hallucinatory passages of found footage, it cuts its single hint of narrative adrift in a cosmic void that equally questions human relationships and the cinematic image itself.’ — RR
Homo Sapiens Project 100 (2014)
‘HSP 100 is a portrait of experimental filmmaker Maximilian Le Cain. As Le Cain discusses his life, work and relationship with cinema, Rashidi envelops him in a hallucinatory audio-visual ambiance that ultimately results in a poetic dialogue with the ideas and feelings he expresses.’ — RR
HSP: There Is No Escape From The Terrors Of The Mind (2013)
‘A mysterious loner, perhaps a poet, journeys through a series of uncanny surrealistic landscapes with an unclear purpose. His adventure is divided into three sections. The main theme of this experiment is to compare the eerier qualities of different landscapes and interpose the characters within them, elaborating the project’s ongoing preoccupation with extracting sinister moods from ordinary settings. In a way, these can be seen as experimental horror films in which an atmosphere of dread is evoked and sustained without the expected narrative trappings.’ — Behance
Circumcision of Participant Observation (2013)
‘One of Rashidi’s freest and most mysterious films to date, CIRCUMCISION OF PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION weaves a series of humorous, frightening and ultimately hypnotic vignettes into a visionary tapestry of cinematic dreaming.’ — ECS
‘HE, the third work in the ongoing collaboration between Rouzbeh Rashidi and actor James Devereaux, is a troubling and mysterious portrait of a suicidal man. Rashidi juxtaposes the lead character’s apparently revealing monologues with scenes and images that layer the film with ambiguity. Its deliberate, hypnotic pace and boldly experimental structure result in an unusual and challenging view of its unsettling subject.’ — RR
Boredom of the disgust & monotony of the tediousness (2012)
‘Rashidi continues his collaboration with actor James Devereaux in this unsettling and ultimately touching portrait of an isolated actor possessed by film history.’ — RR
Structures, Machines, Apparatus and Manufacturing Processes (2012)
‘As in a number of his recent films, Rashidi uses images accumulated over years to explore memory and cinematic form. In this case, he creates an elaborate and haunting montage that mainly interrogates still images.’ — EFS
Hades of Limbo (2012)
‘A bleak, cryptic vision of life in contemporary Iran that eschews overt social commentary in favour of a very personal vision of stifled lives. Directed remotely by Rashidi from Ireland over Skype, the making of this unique film reflects the alienation it so compellingly portrays.’ — RR
Cremation of an Ideology (2011)
‘The enclosed, private space a man occupies is penetrated only by images brought from across distances by the internet. Space, distance and memory collapse in this haunting meditation on absence and virtual presence in the 21st century.’ — RR
‘Zoetrope deals with the quality of being expressive, explores the locations & reveals a life in a small house and its surrounding. The film slowly evolves and shows the history of nothingness of the characters who are in Zoetrope.’ — RR
Reminiscences of Yearning (2011)
‘Reminiscences of Yearning is so many ghosts, searching the landscape for traces. there’s no sense of the past- it’s in the present, searching the footage for what remains, a summoning of the disappeared. We’re invited to patiently wait and see if they appear or not. A ritual. At least …’ — RR
Only Human (2009)
‘A tale of people unfolds under the night sky. These doomed couples and lost individuals begin journeys and attempt to find resolution in their lives. Love is observed from a distance, sadness is in the air. With little sympathy for the loss and destruction caused to the characters, the stories progress and become neatly woven into a minimalistic portrayal of modern life.’ — RR