Curating (Short) Film

Lecturer: Laura Walde

In its most essential terms, the practice of curating consists in a communicative process with an audience within a certain temporal and spatial framework. Unlike exhibitions at galleries or in museums, however, public screenings of films follow a strict temporal linearity and a spatial configuration that cannot be influenced by the audience. For some practitioners such as Lars Henrik Gass, cinema as a cultural practice is therefore bound to a “compulsion to perceive,” (Film and Art After Cinema, 2019) a form of productive constraint which fundamentally differentiates cinema from moving images exhibited in galleries or museums.

Exhibiting film certainly requires curators to conceptualize both their audience and the dramaturgy of their program differently than they would for the spaces of galleries or biennials, which belong to a different “cultural format,” to use Dorothea von Hantelmann’s notion of exhibitions as formats (see, for example, her article “What Is the New Ritual Space for the 21st Century?” on The filmic medium’s inherently hybrid position—belonging equally to independent and commercial cinema, experimental film and artists’ moving image, niche and mass entertainment, underground and highbrow culture—also means that the practices of compiling film differ depending on what traditions and discourses one refers to. The distinction that is often made between curating and programming films, for example, is less a characterization of two distinct professional practices than an indication as to how the understanding of curating film is changing due to the blurring of institutional boundaries that has been ever increasing since the 1990s.

What, then, are the processes that go into the selection and compilation of film programs? This course will cover a range of questions regarding the practical considerations of curating film (how to do research, how to clear screening rights and address financial matters), but it will also open a debate on the epistemological dimensions of film curation: What does it mean, for example, to place an individual work in the dramaturgical setting of a program and engage it in a direct dialogue with the films that precede and follow it?

The encounter between a singular film and its programmatic context, the confrontation of the audience with the curators’ proposed thesis, and the immediate reaction of this audience with both the individual films and the whole program makes the festival a prime site for reflecting curatorial approaches for film exhibition. For this reason, a particular focus will be placed on theories and discourses surrounding the conceptualization of the festival as a specific cultural format.

Laura Walde holds an MA degree in Film Studies and English Literature from the Universities of Zurich and Aberdeen. Since 2013, she has been working as a freelance curator and programmer for Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, Switzerland’s largest and most important short film festival. Since October 2017, she has been part of the research project “Exhibiting Film: Challenges of Format,” supervised by Professor Fabienne Liptay at the University of Zurich. Her thesis “Brevity – Format – Program: The Short Film and Its Exhibition” takes as its points of departure the short film’s brevity, its marginalization in the discourse on film theory, and its circulation in different institutional contexts (festivals, gallery spaces, online viewing), and asks what specific formats the short film and its exhibition assume, and what sort of epistemological potential and impact these formats might have on a cultural, social, and political level.