James Fotopoulos

The Mirror Mask
2005, a co-production with Contour Mechelen vzw

United States
°1976, Norridge (US)
lives in Chicago (US)
James Fotopoulos has been working with video from the age of thirteen and has been making films since he was seventeen. In the meanwhile he has made 8 feature films (Migrating Forms, Back Against the Wall) and approximately seventy short films and video’s (Christabel is his most well-known). A complex video installation, like the one in Contour 2005, with monitors, drawings and digital prints, is new to him. It proves yet again how he constantly thinks in new images, they flow from him in a continuous stream. He addresses universal themes such as loneliness, death, love, physicality, but never in a dull or easy way. Because he never compromises and strives for quality on a very personal level, he is considered one of the main figures of contemporary American underground cinema.

Fotopoulos is descendant of Greeks who emigrated from Egypt to the United States. This explains why, in his creation for Contour, he not only uses Western elements, but also Egyptian ones. Fotopoulos: “to take similar images and restructure them in variations creating a progression”.

excerpt from a recent interview in the American periodical The Film Journal

Unquiet Cinema (Rick Curnutte)
TFJ: Most contemporary filmmakers seem content to simply allow the story to sell their films, without putting too much effort into visually framing that story, which doesn't exactly exploit the medium's full potential. Your films show an immense amount of work put into deconstructing that approach. Why is it so important to you to "talk" visually, rather than through the script alone?

JF: Well, I'm not trying to "deconstruct" any approach. I believe that audio/visual is an incredibly advanced way to explore the world. To not utilize the very basic elements of what the medium is and also in a sense try to understand them and understand changing technologies. A core element of working in any medium is, as far as my impulses lead me to believe, to evolve the way in which we use them to understand why we exist. I don't think a person can set out and say "I'm going to work visually" etc. I'm suspicious of those type of statements.

TJF: After quite a few years working with film, you've begun implementing DV technology. As everyone knows, there's been a great deal of debate as to DV's aesthetic merits. Many filmmakers are simply using it because it's cheaper and allows them the freedom to shoot a ton of footage, without having to shell out top dollar for film processing. Others seem to have employed it to actually serve their artistic agenda (Soderbergh's Full Frontal; Kunuk's The Fast Runner; Figgis' Time Code come to mind). As someone who is responsible for every step of the creation process, how has working with DV changed your creative process and how do you see yourself utilizing the medium in the future?

JF: Actually, I used video before I used film. When I was very young, around 13-14. I made many videos. But I used video in some of the early shorts like Drowning and Escape, and Christabel. I always was going to do it on video. So it wasn't something I recently just decided to use. I don't see film as a thing unto itself. It is just part of the many things people have invented to help use understand the world. So if video replaces it, it doesn't really bother me. Because film doesn't exist separated and greater than life. 100 years or 50 years of its peak really doesn't amount to much time in the whole scope of things. Without a forward march there can be no growth and education. It can only lead to extinction. I feel that video is a logical progression from film. So in a sense the truly important audio/visual work will mostly be made on video.
I see the cheapness and the freedom [as] a truly great thing. And this also goes further into the size of the camera etc. Every film I have made has been a pursuit of freedom. All the technical choices have been about freedom and in a sense control. To be as free as I can be. I don't agree with the thinking that oppression leads to creative ways of doing things. It is more crucial and difficult for people to learn how to come to terms with freedom. How to deal with being free to have the courage to use it for something positive. With any new freedom there is of course ten fold of abuse of that freedom. And it is apparent in video.
This doesn't mean that I'll abandon film, it just alters the way in which that mode is seen and heard, which I think is very important to deal with. Many of my films and new ones I believe are different because of my increasing use of video. The way I see it, because I do other things such as paint, draw, holography and photography; [these] are all tools I use to apply to understanding things. And they sometimes merge with each other. Sometimes they remain separate. But I believe the merger, at least at this point, of film and video is a good thing.

Participating Artists

Vasco Araùjo
Catherine Sullivan
Kerry Tribe
Ellen Cantor
James Fotopoulos
Cui Xiuwen
Sam Taylor-Wood
Pipilotti Rist
Chantal Akerman
Manon De Boer
Runa Islam
Ana Poliak
Hito Steyerl
Anouk De Clercq
Dara Birnbaum
Gülsün Karamustafa
Dany Deprez
Katrien Vermeire
Honoré ð’O


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