There are many niche film festivals in New York City. Be they region- or country-specific (the New York Polish Film Festival, the New York Asian Film Festival), neighborhood-friendly (the LES Film Festival, the Bushwick Film Fesival), thematic or cause-oriented (NewFest, Bicycle Film Festival), New Yorkers are both spoiled and overwhelmed by the cornucopia of fests this city has to offer. Migrating Forms is distinguished precisely because it’s all about not having to stick to the confines of a country, ’hood, or theme. Particular to this festival is a dedication to fostering rigorous work that may fall between the cracks of traditional viewing/screening delineations. Migrating Forms readily showcases rarities you won’t see anywhere else, not even at NYFF’s Views from the Avant-Garde, with programs like Tube Time!, online found-video presentations. At what other festival are you going to encounter a filmmaker like Jim Finn sharing “clips from his favorite North Korean movies and reading excerpts from Kim Jong Il’s On the Art of the Cinema”? If a traditional narrative is what you’re after, look elsewhere; but if you are intrigued by the sound of Jacqueline Goss’s unorthodox portrait of a meteorologist (The Observers), or Straub and Huillet’s 1981 “structural investigation of revolutionary history” (Too Early, Too Late) this gem of a fest should not be missed.
The co-directors and programmers of Migrating Forms, Nellie Killian and Kevin McGarry, elucidate what Migrating Forms is all about, and its unique origins.
Rail: How would you describe Migrating Forms’ particular focus and programming purview? What do you look for in films/videos/moving image works that you want to present?
McGarry: The bulk of what is shown each year is a festival of new work, which isn’t selected with any thematic or curatorial agenda in mind. We look at all kinds of work originating form diverse contexts. In particular it’s film and video projects that are able to move in and out of different viewing contexts that we really strive to program. If a piece might be difficult to place within the framework of a more traditional film festival because it isn’t easily categorized and it’s tough to say who would be the audience, we seek out projects like these and our audience appreciates a surprising, challenging viewing experience.
Rail: The name of the festival is borrowed from James Fotopoulos. What’s the affinity there? And what does the name mean to you?
McGarry: The hardwired correlation is Migrating Forms (2000), the James Fotopoulos film, premiered at the New York Underground Film Festival in 2000, and the poster haunted the office ever since. During the last NYUFF, Nellie and I were searching for a name for the festival’s new identity that wouldn’t box us in the way a term like “underground” eventually did. We liked Migrating Forms as a kind of analog to “moving images” and as a name that evokes exchange and flux—across mediums, traditions, contexts, cultures etc. Also, James Fotopoulos in a way epitomizes a kind of film/video artist whose work transgresses categorization and has evolved and changed a lot over time formally. We like alluding to an artist who was a mainstay of the NYUFF as a way of remembering exactly where and who Migrating Forms grew out of.
Rail: So how did Migrating Forms evolve out of NYUFF?
Killian: A lot of the public perception of NYUFF was stuck in the ’90s. The festival had always showed a really broad range of work, but everyone focused on the word “underground” and would only talk about the festival's relationship to some subcultural ideal. Having the festival constantly positioned that way was a huge disservice to the artists we were showing that didn't identify as “underground.” In conversation with Kevin, Mo Johnston (who ran NYUFF with Kevin and I for several years in the mid 2000s) and Ed Halter (who ran NYUFF for a decade from 1995-2005), we decided that it was time to end NYUFF and seal it off as a project connected to a certain era.
Rail: How has it come into its own, and how has it stayed loyal to its origins?
Killian: The program has changed. Though we do show a lot of the same artists, we've tried to have a more international scope. We have more special programs. I think we both felt more ownership over the festival after the change, which helped with everything from programming to marketing and press. Both Kevin and I started working on NYUFF in our early twenties and it had a big impact on our taste and sensibility.
Rail: Do you see the festival itself as continuously migrating in its form? If so, how?
Killian: In many ways our format is very traditional: we show movies in a theater in a festival environment. I hope that our programming and thinking about the work will evolve over time, but when it comes to the form of the festival, we’re old-fashioned.
Rail: What should we look forward to seeing in this year’s festival?
Killian: I'm very excited for the Glauber Rocha movies, which have hardly shown in New York in the last 15 years. Rocha is such an influential filmmaker, it’s sort of shocking that they don’t play all the time. Rebecca Cleman at Electronic Arts Intermix has put together a great program of Cynthia Maughan’s work in conversation with her influences and contemporaries, which range from direct camera performance to grindhouse horror to Ernie Kovacs. Oliver Laxe’s You All Are Captains documents a disintegrating film collaboration between a European filmmaker and a group of students in Tangiers. In the shorts programs, it’s hard to pick, but there are a few artists that we’ve never shown before that I am really excited about: Laure Prouvost, Neil Beloufa, Olga Chernysheva, Tomonari Nishikawa, and Fern Silva.
Migrating Forms is an annual festival of new moving image work, now in its third year. It opens on Friday with Popular Unrest (2010, dir. Melanie Gilligan) and runs through May 29th. The festival takes place at Anthology Film Archives. www.migratingforms.org
Aily Nash is a curator, writer and filmmaker. She lives and works in Hudson and Brooklyn, NY.