The MOFFOM Festival (1)

14. 2. 2009 | Rubriky: Articles,Feature

[by Ken Hunt, London] It is October and the time of the season that has nothing of the Zombie or indeed Golem about it. Sitting in U Zavěšenýho, one of Prague’s minor miracles of a watering hole a stone’s throw from the castle, I am writing up notes about Prague’s MOFFOM (Music on Film Film on Music) festival. Loquacious as ever, I get into conversation with a French student from Grenoble. She is studying cinema in the city and studying film in this city makes total sense. Learning that I am working at the festival, we exchange viewing plans. Half an hour vanishes just talking about film and Prague’s cinemas. Her boyfriend has come from France to partake too. I leave them with a jaunty tourlou, a toodlepip, and carry off some wonderful insights into another cinéaste or cinephile nation’s appreciation of what we call in Czech pukka kino (‘true cinema’).

Prague, a city you are honour-bound to visit before dying, is a city of magic lantern and black light theatre, cinema and film. Some cinemas, notably Kino Lucerna qualify as picture palaces, to use the redolent, old English expression. They are monuments to cinema where the past still beckons and the old magic seduces in ways that a multiplex never can and never will. To get a feel for Kino Lucerna, watch Iva Bittová and her sister Ida Kelarová’s Jazz (Indies Scope MAM440-9, 2008). That said, the DVD won’t prepare you for the place itself with its marble staircases, the bust on the entrance stairs and its place in Czech history. Kino Lucerna even gets due mention in Monica Ladurner’s film Schlurf (2006) about the anti-fascist groups in Germany, Czechoslovakia and France during the Nazi era.

MOFFOM began in 2004 and down the years its imaginative and catholic programming has continually raised the bar. Over four days each October, it runs upwards of 50 music-related films from around the globe. It also builds live music and DJ sessions into its programme. The latter part has included sets from the Berlin-based Ukrainian DJ Yurly Gurzhy’s Russendisko Soundsystem and live soundtracks to silent films such as Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1922) from the Canadian klezmer-hiphop merchant Socalled (with, fittingly, local Czech involvement). To backtrack however, the core material, namely the films (often with associated ‘meet-the-‘ talk sessions from visiting directors, film-makers or, in 2007, the Czech diva Hana Hegerová) is what counts.

The musical subject matter always includes classical into popular themes. Naming Dylan, The Who, Shostakovich, The Beach Boys, Lev Theremin, Sigur Rós, East Germany’s Dean ‘Red Elvis’ Reed, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, Austria’s Falco and The Clash gives a notion of the spread. Diving into deeper water, so to speak, other programmed films hit upon jazz and improv (Chet Baker, Anita O’Day, Fred Frith), metal (Anvil, Metallica, Iron Maiden) and folk etc (Roseanne Cash, Pete Seeger and Austria’s Attwenger).

Like the raspberry in the ripple, the eye-wideners tend to come down to the divinely esoteric or eccentric. In other words, films that you would be unlikely to see elsewhere or on DVD. Maybe a film about Gogol Bordello. Or Alex Reuben’s travelogue of dance between North Carolina and Louisiana in Routes (2007), one about today’s binji (illegal radio receiver) music scene in Hungary, one about the bardic divas from Central Asian states or one addressing record collecting obsessiveness of the order described in Edward Gillian’s Desperate Man Blues (2003). Or just Dariushi Mehrjui’s non-documentary harrowing Iranian tale of addiction and music called Santouri (‘The Music Man’ but actually ‘The Santoor Player’ is better, if less immediate for many). You get the picture.

To give a measure of the festival’s universality by homing in on the parochial, in 2007 MOFFOM’s Canadian film content comprised films from filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen – Global Metal (2007) and Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005) (the titles are the giveaways when it comes to the subject matter) – and Jordan Paterson’s Os Tres de Portugal (‘The Three of Portugal’, 2007) about fado in Western Canada. Fado of substance in Canada? And, yes, Os Tres de Portugal coloured my appreciation of Kiran Ahluwalia’s Wanderlust (4Q/World Connection WC 43070, 2008) and calling hers fado lite. Os Tres de Portugal is the calibre of the insight that MOFFOM grants.

Licking the stamp on that package, the audience choice poll winner – that is, the result of polling the people who came to see the films – for Best Film in 2007 had more world music content than anything I have ever seen, without collapsing into puddles of clichés. Igor Otxoa’s 2006 film Nomadak TX (‘Nomads TX’) about two Basque txalaparta musicians in the search of musical communion was just extraordinary. Txalaparta is a Basque tuned percussion instrument or idiophone made of wood or stone struck with mallets. The musicians take the instrument into realms of ice.

Two main criteria, one might contend, should remain uppermost in one’s mind when judging a festival. Music, film, whatever. One hinges on reinforcement and discovery. The second hinges on getting sideswiped by new realities. MOFFOM delivers both many times over.

A coda

To single out just one special MOFFOM experience, I would look no further than Monica Ladurner’s Schlurf: Im Swing gegen den Gleichschritt (‘Schlurf: In Swing Against The Goosestep’). The film, a mixture of archival footage, reconstruction and interview material, deals with resistance and the opposition to fascism through swing (jazz) in Occupied Europe in Germany and Austria, France and Czechoslovakia. Never, ever believe that music has nothing to do with politics. Over and over and over again, music has proved itself an act of rebellion. People went into concentration camps – never to re-emerge – because of loving jazz and the freedoms it represented. During the Third Reich the Schlurf of the title was a derogatory term, not that the dictionaries tell you that. It came from the verb schlurfen meaning ‘to shuffle’. It connoted the loitering wastrel, pimp or slut in the shadows or alleyway, so to speak, and because it concerned jazz, it meant race and degeneracy. In France Zazou was the equivalent – nowadays yet another historic term that most French-speakers have lost all resonance of. Like tourlou. Unlike Pierre Job, born in Sidi Bel Abbès, in north-west Algeria, who became Hector Zazou. In Czechoslovakia they were known of Potápky because they ducked and dived like ‘great crested grebes’ which is what potápky literally means.

Partway through watching Ladurner’s film at the Kino Světozor, a face I know starts talking. For a moment, it does not sink in because he is speaking in German about the Potápky but German is the film’s language and I am not reading the subtitles. It is Lubomir Dorůžka, the author and translator of many works but more pertinently a celebrated jazz critic with credits such as the 1990 book Panoráma Jazzu in Czech and writer for English-language publications including downbeat. He is talking about the movement. Tears well up and trickle down my face. Memories flood in. Seeing Lubo, in whose work room I have been writing, is too much. Him talking triggers memories of my father who played dance jazz from the late 1920s onwards and who, as a pacifist joined the RAF as a bandsman, playing music throughout the War, playing until nearly the end of his days when Parkinson’s robbed him of the ability to hold down a saxophone or clarinet pad. In the same flash, it also takes in a chance meeting one weekend whilst waiting with my small daughter Katharine to do an interview with Salif Keita and Brice Wassy. Standing at the hotel bar, I got into conversation with Mike Zwerin, the author of the then brand-new book, Jazz Under The Nazis (1985). Film can trigger so much.

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