~ Aline Helmcke ~

Call for essays: Poetryfilm Magazine

Poetryfilm Magazine, the print and electronic annual comprised of articles first published at the Weimar-based Poetryfilmkanal website, has a new call-out for essays. This year’s theme: Das Kino der Poesie, The Cinema of Poetry.

Dear readers,

At the beginning of May Cinema, a new anthology about the history of cinema, was released by the publisher Elif. Gathering a wide range of texts, authors like José Oliver or Ulrike Almut Sandig express their fascination for cinema in a captivating way. The Poetryfilm Magazine’s new edition wants to address this matter, just in reverse: we would like to dig deeper into the fascination for poetry, addressing the filmmakers’ and directors’ point of view. This direction of looking at the relation between poetry and film seems to have gained significance lately.

We would be neglecting the influence that poetry had on the development of the visual language of film, if we reduced poetry film to a mere translation of a poem into a film. Since the beginning of the 20th century, filmmakers took inspiration from poets and poems, using them as an inspiration, guideline or challenge for creating moving image work.

This “Cinema of Poetry” – the title refers to an influential yet critical text from 1965 by Pier Paolo Pasolini – ranges from independent experimental film to commercially successful authors’ cinema productions, from Stan Brakhage to Jim Jarmusch.

In the endeavor to investigate film making and the film language from the perspective of poetry, directors as well as theoreticians pointed out the differences between the two art forms: the poeticity of written poetry does not in itself make the poetry film poetic. The latter gains its poetic value not only through the simple fact that a poem is part of it or that it refers to or illustrates a poem.

Poetry films can acquire poetic texts by referring closely to or operating far from the text they work with. Films which work close to the text reach their limits once the visual illustration of it seems to double its meaning, making the visuals seem redundant. Films which are inspired by poems lose touch when the reference to the text is too vague or completely absent and the filmmaker’s final aim seems solely to be aimed at creating a poetic visual language.

Our current edition can be understood as a plea to direct our attention to those films inspired by poetry which do not declare a 1:1 translation from the written text to the moving image as their goal. The poetry film is on a quest for its own poeticity. The poetic author’s cinema should be seen as a guidance in this field.


For our next magazine’s edition, we are looking for contributions which might ask: Which impact do the language of film and author’s cinema aesthetics have on the poetry film? Which elements or strategies of using the visual language of film can be adapted to the recitation of a poem? What is the relation between filmic and poetic poeticity? In this regard, are there specific differences between live action and animated films to be found? When does the poetry film reach an original, independent form of poeticity and when is it just a sum of different poeticities? We also encourage studies that examine the importance of written poetry for parts of film history or a certain filmmaker/director and describe the complex transformation process(es) which happen while aquiring a poem in conjunction with moving image making.

We cordially invite any contributions in written form (10.000 characters long, including blanks, avoiding footnotes wherever possible) until Oct 31st.

We are very much looking forward to interesting and inspiring submissions!

Aline Helmcke, Guido Naschert

It appears as if they’ve already posted the first new essay in this vein: “From The Cinema of Poetry to The Poetry of Cinema” by none other than Tom Konyves. Check it out.

2nd Weimar Poetry Film Award: A view from the jury

The above video offers a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of jury proceedings for a film award. Gesticulating happens. Arms are folded across chests. We punch the air.

That’s me in the center, looking more central to the proceedings of the 2nd Weimar Poetry Film Award than I actually was, joined by artist and filmmaker Ebele Okoye (who shot and edited the video) and local writer Stefan Petermann. All three of us had experience in making poetry films; in fact, both my fellow jurors have contributed to films that have taken the Ritter Sport Film Prize for German-language poetry film at the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, Ebele in 2010 and Stefan in 2016. So I might have been the least qualified of the bunch, with my determinedly amateur approach to videopoetry. But of course I am a blogger, so whatever I may lack in expertise I make up for in opinions — many, many opinions.

We hadn’t met before this past week, but fortunately we hit it off well. In fact, as we re-watched the films one by one in our secret conclave, it turned out that we looked for similar qualities in poetry films and approached them with the same kind of openness. Which is not to say that we weren’t critical, simply that we weren’t nit-picky, and attempted to approach each work on its own terms. In other words — for all you Paul Ricoeur fans out there — we did not so much practice a hermeneutics of suspicion as a hermeneutics of faith.

That said, it was usually a single, significant demerit that allowed us to rule out most of the films and narrow the field of top contenders. In one case, we felt a film didn’t go quite far enough in exploring the potentials of its conceit; in another case, we felt a film went a little too far and basically jumped the shark.

But of course the main job of winnowing had been done in advance by the poetry film award organizers (and editors of Poetryfilmkanal) Aline Helmcke and Guido Naschert, who also joined us in the conclave to answer questions about the films as we watched them. They told us they’d striven to program a stylistically varied selection of films that each pushed the envelope in some sense, and for the most part I think they succeeded. I might have wished for a somewhat larger selection — there were only 16 films out of the more than 200 submitted — but it was an unavoidable situation, because the poetry film screening was just a part of a larger film festival, the Backup festival, which was otherwise focused on films by university students from around the world. Aside from the two screenings of the prize contenders, Guido and Aline had arranged several colloquiums, a presentation of Norwegian poetry films, and a screening of the 2016 Lab/p Poetry in Motion films (which were in fact student productions), so I felt richly rewarded for my time there… to say nothing of the pleasure of making new friends and catching up with old ones.

Aline and Guido left us when it came time to deliberate, but we first sought their advice on whether to split the prize between two or more winners or stick with one. They pointed out that the main purpose of such a prize is to send a message about what we think poetry film should/could be, and the message could be diluted a bit if the prize were split. We found this persuasive.

So then the task became to decide what values we wanted to prioritize. What you’re mostly seeing in the above video is us hashing out whether we wanted to be swayed by the political content of the films or stick with pure aesthetics. We gravitated toward the latter, while recognizing that aesthetics are never really pure but are always colored by one’s outlook and ideology to some extent. I argued that it wasn’t our primary job to send a message about current events, and Ebele and Stefan went along with that.

We were able to narrow the field relatively quickly to the two films that we loved unreservedly, one for its appeal to the head and the other for its appeal to the heart. The former was an experimental film called Standard Time by Hanna Slak and Lena Reinhold, based on a poem by the Berlin-based poet Daniela Seel, and it was this film that we felt deserved the prize because of its riskier exploration of what a poetry film could be. Unfortunately, it’s not on the web quite yet, but here’s what we wrote about it:

Standard Time is a timeless, self-referential meditation on the power of communication to transmute and, at times, distort. Its flawless blend of text, sound and images suggests a worldview both deeply rooted and universal, shamanistic and apophatic. It does what all great poems should do in suggesting more than it says and leaving the viewer’s mind abuzz with creative energy and new ideas. Addressing the poetic possibilities of time as it does, it can almost be seen as a film about poetry film itself.

But experimental techniques aren’t a good fit for every poem, and we felt that the general excellence of the spoken-word poetry film Heartbreak by Dave Tynan with Irish poet Emmet Kirwan deserved a Special Mention. Sure, it’s the most conservative sort of poetry film: basically a narrative short with a rhyming, occasionally on-screen narrator. But the sheer visceral impact of the film is extraordinary, and yeah, we loved the political message. I quoted our statement when I shared it at the main site, so I won’t repeat it here, but you can find both statements and more on the official Winners page at Poetryfilmkanal.

This was my first time as a major contest judge, though I’ve helped select minor literary prizes in the past. I was afraid we might have to settle on a compromise candidate, as is often said to happen, but I guess we got lucky. More than that, the whole festival was a great deal of fun, and I’m grateful to Guido and Aline for choosing such a great program, and for their immense dedication and hard work at the magazine as well, all in the service of advancing the cause of poetry film. Whatever else one might say about contests and awards — and I’ve been as critical as any of the whole culture of literary prizes — they are a great way to focus public attention on a still somewhat obscure but rapidly developing genre.

See also Marc Neys’ view from the 2016 ZEBRA jury.

Call for Contributions to Poetryfilm Magazine on Sound and Voice-over in Poetry Film

Poetryfilm Magazine, the multilingual, digital and print publication from Poetryfilmkanal, has just issued a call for essay contributions to its next issue, which has the theme “Ton und Voice-over im Poetryfilm” (Sound and Voice-over in Poetry film). I’ll reproduce the English-language version below. There’s also a version in German.

Dear reader,

a film poem might be seen as a visual illustration of a metaphoric text. Beyond that, the sound is a fundamentally important element. Music, voice and sound design have to be considered as essential aspects that add to the whole of the audiovisual experience of a poetry film.

Particularly the recitation is of central importance. No matter if visuals and sound were adapted to the poet’s recital of his text or if the visual part was created prior to the voice-over, the poetry film genre has always been an important experimentation field. More than in dialogue-based fiction films, single words play a key role.

The voice itself is not a neutral media. It intensifies and interprets the poem. Maybe it comments, parodies or even attacks it instead of bringing it into its service. Moreover, it has to adapt or to be adapted to the complex rhythm of the moving imagery, the edit, the foley, the sound and the music. This can happen in various ways. When the relation between the visual and the sound level is redundant, it might be perceived as a disturbance. Complementing one another, the two might create a third level which can add an additional meaning, an audiovisual surplus (Michel Chion) to the text.

Sounds, tones and noises have an impact on the emotional value of a film and guide our visual perception. What we see depends on what we hear. Even what we don’t hear can gain a presence through the sound. As poetry films live from their mood and their atmosphere, they rely fundamentally on the sound design’s qualities.

In her contribution to the first Poetryfilm Magazine’s edition Stefanie Orphal states that the fascination of the poetry film genre can be pointed out particularly well through the consideration of the sound. This is why a charismatic voice and an experienced sound designer should be engaged in the production process wherever possible.

When the music dominates and the beat remains a minor element, the poetry film draws near the genre of the music video. Music videos and video installations can be seen as poetry films, whereas songs and tunes can be interpreted as poetry. Various transitions and crossover forms can be found in this field regarding the visual language, the way of singing or reciting as well as in the complexity of the texts.

Call for Essays

We are looking for submissions for our Poetryfilm Magazine’s second edition, which will focus on aspects of sound and voice-over in poetry film. We are interested to initiate an interdisciplinary exchange of views on and experiences about recitation, music, noise, sound and artistic sound design in poetry film. Essays can be based on a historical research, a film analysis or a theoretical reflection – important to us is the practical approach, through which the filmmakers as well as the audience can gain a better understanding of the genre.

The contributions in the magazine’s first edition »Fascination Poetryfilm?« were held short on purpose, as we wanted to give as many authors as possible a chance to raise their voice. From now on, we are planning to publish longer texts of up to 10.000 signs (without footnotes wherever possible). We are hoping for submissions which lead us to open discussions and unexpected perspectives onto the topic. The second edition of the magazine will be published in time for this year’s ZEBRA-Festival, which for the first time will take place in Münster.

Aline Helmcke, Guido Naschert

For those who may not have read it yet, the inaugural issue of the magazine is available as a PDF.

Poetry Film Magazine debuts in PDF and print

The inaugural issue of Poetry Film Magazine, titled “Faszination Poetryfilm?” is available for download. (Disclaimer: it includes an essay of mine.) There’s also a print version from Literarische Gesellschaft Thüringen, though I’m told supplies are limited. The content has all appeared on the Poetryfilmkanal website over the course of 2015 (which makes it easy for us Anglophones to copy and paste the German-language portions into Google Translate), but the magazine is beautifully designed and easy to read, so I’m finding myself revisiting the essays and reviews with real pleasure. Here’s the flip-book version from Issuu.

In their email to authors, Poetry Film Magazine editors Aline Helmcke and Guido Naschert included two further announcements:

We have more good news: We herewith announce the first Weimar Poetry Film Prize! Our application for funding was successful and the prize will be awarded at the backup_festival (May 18-22) this year. The call for entries will open during the next days and will run until March 15th.

Regarding our blog: the next call for essays „Sound and Voice-Over in Poetry film“ will open around the end of March/beginning of April. We are very eager to get to know your thoughts and receive your new submissions.

I’ll share more details as they become available.

Poetryfilmkanal website launches, issues call for essays to publish in magazine

Poetryfilmkanal banner

After a slight delay from their projected February launch, the German website Poetryfilmkanal debuted this week, and I was happy to be able to add such a promising new site to the Moving Poems links page. Most of the content so far is in German, but it still has some useful features for Anglophone (and other) readers—especially the Calendar of world-wide poetry film events and the bibliography (Lektüretipps).

As the latter page suggests, this is a scholarly site. Here’s a machine translation from Google of the background page (Die Idee), edited for clarity:

Poetryfilmkanal—Poetry Film Channel—is an e-platform designed to carry ideas and information about the genre of poetry film. It was founded as a joint project between the Multimedia Narration degree program at the Bauhaus University Weimar and the Thüringen Society of Literature, incorporated [e. V.] by Aline Helmcke and Guido Naschert.

Examples of the cinematic adaptation of poetry, or poetic-associative design of short films related to poetry, can be found since the beginning of film history. With the advent of new media design options, a global poetry film movement has emerged in the last two decades. A growing number of festivals and contests, seminars, blogs and scientific publications have made for a confusing field. In addition, the standards by which poetry films are judged (and supported financially) are still very diffuse. The genre is often referred to, but without being explained – and misunderstood accordingly.

Poetryfilmkanal will supply information about this wild field, invite dialogue and contribute to the formation of concepts. With an international calendar of screenings and festivals (Calendar) and regular information on contests (Deadlines), ways to produce and view poetry films will become ​​more transparent. Short articles showcase particularly valuable short films on a monthly basis (Film of the Month). Poetryfilmkanal also imparts basic knowledge of the history of poetry films (Timeline), shares references (Reading Guide) and tries to find a network of relevant web content (Links).

The core of the site is the Magazine that tracks the blog about three quarters of a year on a specific theme, before all the posts appear in an ePaper edition—just the Poetry Film Magazine archived. The editorial provides an introduction to the topic. Essayistic and literary texts in German and English will monitor the genre or introduce artists and authors. In addition, the blog will contain “excavations”: historical poetry films, interviews, festival reports and meetings. And an English translation of German contributions will be provided in the future.

This all sounds very ambitious. Two films have already been included in the Film of the Month feature, and the inaugural editorial, “Faszination Poetryfilm?” has been made available in English translation. I urge anyone with an interest in the genre to go read the whole thing; I’ll just quote the final two paragraphs:

We decided to open the blog’s discussion on a very general level in order to prepare the ground for more specific investigations in future editions. What makes an engaging poetry film? By which characteristics a poetry film is able to develop a certain fascination? Is there any general answer or do we have to look more precisely into the categories of live action and animation film? Are there certain sorts of poems which are particularly suitable for a translation into the audio-visual media? In which way do sound and voice-over determine the outcome? How come so many poetry films appear to only scratch the surface and fail to take us deeper into the meaning of the poem?

The discussion will consist of short blogs in an open form, about 3000-4000 signs in length. We will invite practitioners in the field to contribute their texts but encourage and welcome anyone interested to submit their own statement or opinion. By the end of this year, we aim at publishing the first edition of the Poetry Film Magazine from the texts and statements received.

We are looking forward to an engaging and lively discussion!
All the Best,
Aline Helmcke, Guido Naschert