Interpreting Ceramics | issue 12 | 2010
Articles & Reviews
Review of the 2010 International Film Festival on Clay and Glass
The ceramic and glass film festival is run and organised by the Ateliers D’art de France, the largest French federation for craft professionals. Founded in 1868 it aims to support and promote the craft sector at a National and European level. The Ceramicist Loul Combres proposed a ceramics film festival in 1996 and in 1998 the first festival was held in this context. In 2006 it was expanded to include the medium of glass. It is now in its twelfth year running bi-annually and has become a forum for discussion and exchange among professional and amateur material artists from around the world.
Since its launch, more than two hundred films from more than thirty five countries have been shown. The international dimension of the festival has steadily increased since its inception to nearly 15% attendance in 2008. The venue - the Montpellier Opera Theatre - holds a capacity of 2,000 and contributes to the sense of occasion; the opulent décor and surroundings ensures that all who attend will have an enjoyable weekend.
Clay and glass are the common denominators of all the films and these are depicted through a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from portraits of creators and studio visits, techniques, artistic performances, archaeology, ethnography, history of civilisations, history of art, heritage, architecture and experimental. Its primary aim is to develop the creation and dissemination of films on clay and glass by supporting directors from around the world. It also aims to promote international cultural exchanges, deepen technical knowledge about creative ceramic and glass making, the various forms of artistic expression and enhance appreciation of clay and glass against the general background of arts and crafts.
Application and selection of films
The selected prizes are the Grand Prize, Heritage Award, Clay Award, Glass Award, Contemporary Award and the Festival-Goers Award. Selection criteria include: contribution to the field, novel approach, representation of the subject and cinematic quality.
The awards ceremony
The first film shown was Pottery from Ethnic Minorities in Southwest China (Dir. Bin. L, China, 2009, 91 mins). This was followed by Clay Play, (Dir. Greenman-Barber, J, Canada, 2009, 3:20 seconds) showing an interpretation of the artist making pots in her studio and how she incorporated the movement of her body into the pots in a fun and engaging animated short experimental film.
Two artists’ portraits followed, depicting Ann Van Hoey (Ann Van Hoey, Dir. Baerton, Belgium, 2009, 6 mins) and Caroline Andrin (White Noise, Dir. Luyckk J, Belgium, 2008, 16 mins). Then a documentary showing the processes involved in the Baccarat crystal glassworks (Baccarat: Le Verre Du Tsar, Dir. Seney El, France, 2007, 13 mins). Ann Van Hoey’s film was primarily a way of using moving images and related tools as a promotional vehicle for her and her artworks. This section highlighted the power these moving-images have to promote and communicate with people in a way that nothing can similarly match. The setting, the combination of sound, image and the subject provide an unmatched platform to publicise artists and their work.
The Baccarat documentary examined this form of glass making as the transmission of knowledge, which is passed down through ‘gesture rather than words’; as a result the making processes are a closely guarded secret. The workers say that making the glasses is as much about judgement as it is about skill. They articulate that in some instances they can get quite emotional working on a piece, given the craftsmanship, knowledge and history involved in each work. This film comments on the notion of art-making verses craft-making as much as anything, showing that even this traditional production-ware has traits consistent with more contemporary strategies of art making.
White Noise, (Dir. Luyckk. J.) shown next is a particularly revealing portrait of the artist’s making process. The camera takes on the view of the artist at times, following her collecting gloves and then transforming them in her studio. This film is sensitive to the artist’s particular concerns and tries to convey the artist’s work and ideas. Nevertheless it would have been more enjoyable to see the artist’s ideas and thought processes fleshed out a little more and less of the camera’s artistic interpretation of her work. This film works in the context of ceramic practice as the artist uses aspects of a traditional technique, mould making and slip casting in an unusual way. She fills found gloves with slip, leaves to drip dry and cuts away the glove, transforming this particular methods to her own needs. The close ups and panning shots of the process, the material and the stages involved in the making are beautiful images in their own right, which evoke an appreciation for the picture as much as any subject or narrative.
After lunch came the Woody Allen inspired documentary Manhattan Rendez-Vous (Dir. Hakalax J, Finn K, Finland, 2007, 40 mins), which followed the Scandinavian porcelain sculptor Kim Simonson who explored the politics of the New York art scene. This was an entertaining and slick film but did not explore the artist’s practice, focussing rather on the successes and failures of American commercial high art. Afterward A Potter’s Film, (Dir. Peter Hylands, Australia, 2008, 30 mins) depicted the artist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and was a traditional ceramic artist’s portrait. It showed her practice from throwing the work to packing and firing the kiln to standing contemplating her finished pieces. The film like so many of this format was charming, portraying a kind of romantic idealized lifestyle that accompanies so many potters’ portraits. It was also insightful, thorough and deserved the acclaim it received. The interviewer was shown interacting in the film and was heard asking questions, which was a welcome change. The pace, story and visuals were superb. During the making and firing of these pieces no stone was left uncovered in its depictions and revelations. A highlight was when the Director asked Hanssen Pigott what she likes about these works. She is left struggling to find the words to describe what she is looking at, and becomes emotional trying to articulate what makes the work beautiful. Even the cones Hanssen Pigott uses for firing were shown to have special importance to her work – how the interpretation of the melting is integral to her practice. This film is educational as well as entertaining, thoroughly researched and impeccably presented.
The next session presents a series of films made by film students specifically for this festival as part of a specially funded project which aims to prompt and promote new ways of looking through film at art practices in general. Eight films of up to three minutes in length were screened. It was intriguing (and a welcome break from the competing films) to see how the students were interpreting the meeting of film and ceramics.
Several more films were screened, including the promotional documentary of a major ceramic centre with residency programmes showing what the artists do in the Manufacture Nationale de Sevre ( Dir. Silholn, France, 2006, 26 mins) then a documentary of the potters and rice growers of the Kampong Chnang region(Marmites Khmeres, (Dir. Moreau, D, France, 2009, 24mins). Finally the late showing of the Vietnam potters and makers of the village of Bat Trang (Sous le vent de la mondialisation, Dirs. Bernard Ganne and Jean-Paul Penard, France, 2009, 95 mins). This intimate portrayal of their lives showed both how the west depends on these workers and how western trends and the changes wrought by globalisation have created upheavals for these people.
Sunday – last day
After that came the superb portrait and documentary of ethnic minorities Unto thy Land, (Dir. Silvina landsman, Israel, 2007, 60 mins) a beautiful story of an archaeological site in Israel found by a potter. The history of this discovery, its importance and endangerment is speculated on and told through the potters eyes. On a par with and complimentary to that story is the artist’s own work and making of his pots in his unique way. The story progresses following the artist’s own interpretation of the archaeological sites and monuments and how he incorporates that into his own making. What was especially intriguing was how he related the sound of the pots and the site; he literally ‘played’ his pots to determine their value. Next the animated film Damaged Goods (Dir. Barnaby Barford, Great Britain, 2008, 10 mins) a love story about the ornaments and trinkets on a packed cabinet shelf.
After a short break we were shown the only time-based work of the festival, in that the subject in the film is a performance piece - Le Masque De Beaute (Dir. Ecile Egger, France, 2008, 17mins). The artist covered her head in clay and sculpted various expressions right before our eyes. Any artist would find this an intriguing piece, but a question remains, can it really compete with documentaries which take twenty years to research and put together. As yet, the festival does not have an award category for this kind of ceramic film so in theory these films, along with the animation and experimental videos are competing for the same acknowledgments as the traditional documentaries.
After lunch arrived another in depth tale of the women potters of Ouolonkoto, in Burkina Faso (Ben Nafa Ka Tia, Dir. Jeanne Delafosse, France, 2008, 39 mins); a beautiful depiction of the processes involved in making their pots and an insight into how pottery infuses and is essential to the survival and daily lives of these women. Next screened was the portrait of the glass artist Stefan Johansson (Claes Uvesten, Glass Artist, Dir. Stefan Johansson, Sweden, 2008, 6 mins). He revisits the tradition of glass with contemporary makers and was a wonderful articulation of the way in which glass amalgamates with ideas, how the material is used as a metaphor for what he wants to communicate.
Overall this festival was a huge success and achieved its aim to promote and support all facets of ceramic and glass practice. The sheer breadth of material was very impressive. The ways in which clay and glass have been interpreted by artists and filmmakers goes beyond anything that could be displayed in the gallery space or in the artworks themselves. Bringing clay and glass to the screen reveals and illuminates both disciplines in ways simply not possible before film.
It might have been worth while to explore the possibility of mixing the screenings up with some presentations and conversations which explored more fully the festivals ‘unique discourse’. This perhaps would have better contextualised the festival and in addition given the artists and filmmakers a forum to discuss and present the many key points which arose out of their experience of either being filmed or filming. Nevertheless, it was a testament to the organisers how impeccably the festival was executed and presented. As a result it continues to grow both in discourse, diversity of material and quality - an event not to be missed.
© The copyright of all the images in this article rests with the author unless otherwise stated
Book Review by Leah McLaughlin Issue 12