Eyes wide open: Eagerly awaiting ICDOCS


Various venues (schedule below) — Thursday, April 18-Saturday, April 20

Still from ‘The Crack Up,’ by Johnathan Schwartz.

Jonas Mekas, a quintessential and oft-cited experimental filmmaker, once wrote that American independent cinema exhibitions are “movies which you can’t see anywhere.” Mekas’s sentiment is equally true of the electrifying and eclectic documentary shorts being screened this week for the annual Iowa City International Documentary Film Festival.

ICDOCS, now in its 16th year, took a brief hiatus but reemerged a couple of years ago as one of the most innovative and evocative film festivals celebrating and challenging the plasticity of the documentary as a genre and as a form.

Emily Drummer, a University of Iowa alumna who received her MFA in Film and Video Production and a 2017 Princess Grace Film Honoraria, describes revitalizing the festival as an “opportunity to program an event in Iowa City that participates in a larger conversation about contemporary moving image art.”

“It was always important to me to privilege works that push formal boundaries,” Drummer said, “as a method of engaging with the realities of our present world.”

Current programming committee member Molly Bagnall adds, “Although ICDOCS has a quite narrow focus of experimental nonfiction films under 30 minutes, within that specificity is astounding heterogeneity in style, aesthetic, and theme.”

This week, Iowa City audiences can attend ICDOCS Thursday, April 18-Saturday, April 20 to participate in the larger conversations Drummer touts about moving images and their relationship to our world.

On Thursday, festival attendees will gather in the Franklin Miller Screening Room in the Adler Journalism Building, E105, at 6 p.m. for the first Competitive Program: My Voice is Full Of. The first program of films appears deeply rooted in, and attentive to, place, to the topography of our environments and to our relationship with our surroundings.

Jack Howard, another member of ICDOCS’ current programming committee, describes the atmosphere of this year’s selection as “films that largely explore sensation and memory, through highly tactile and evocative means. Audience members should expect to experience frisson and other intense bodily reactions to what appears on-screen.”

Still from Kelly Sears’ ‘Applied Pressure.’

Kelly Sears’ Applied Pressure, part of Competitive Program Four: Looking Too Closely, is one such film where recurring images from massage books evoke a psychic and physical dissonance in spectators. Images of supposed care become eerily ominous when repeated in oscillating, disquieting rhythms. In the same program, Shambhavi Kaul’s Hijacked performs prejudice and racial profiling through a balletic, highly choreographed film that takes place on an airplane. It’s a captivating documentary about the ways in which one can instinctually leap to assumptions and a series of images that disrupt and complicate those stereotypical assumptions.

Kaul’s gorgeous film, and the way in which it implicates the spectator, recalls theorist Laura Rascaroli’s criteria for essay films specifically as those in which “the enunciator addresses the spectator directly, and attempts to establish a dialogue … ‘You’ is called upon to participate and share the enunciator’s reflections.” The “intense bodily reactions” to which Howard referred also occur an intense intellectual engagement with the films of ICDOCS.

Attendees this year can expect to see films from filmmakers familiar to, and beloved by, Iowa City, such as The Glass Note from Mary Helena Clark, who screened a series of her films through Headroom at FilmScene a couple years ago; Instructions On How To Make A Film, by Nazli Dincel, who screened her films through Headroom last spring; and Vever (For Barbara) from Deborah Stratman — Bijou Film Forum screened two of her films for FilmScene’s Women’s March. Additionally, Headroom’s most recent screening, “For the Mending,” featured the films of the late Johnathan Schwartz, whose film The Crack Up will close Competitive Program Two: Brace for Impact on Thursday evening.

Mike Gibisser, Assistant Professor of Film and Video Production in the Department of Cinematic Arts and this year’s Festival Director for ICDOCS, says that The Crack Up is a “gutting and remarkable palimpsest of references … I don’t know another filmmaker that can embed an extended Donovan quote into a film that fuses themes of mortality and environmental collapse and make it the most moving thing.”

This ethos to which Gibisser refers — not just bearing witness to the moving image, but of being moved by that moving image — encapsulates the sentiment and mission statement of ICDOCS as a festival that seeks to “explore the boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking.”

To press upon the boundaries of form is to wash with the pure objectivity of the Direct Cinema ilk. Rather, audiences this weekend can expect to not just watch artists’ tussle with the boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking, but to open their eyes and expand on their understanding of documentary film as something boundary-less and undefinable.

Playful and poetic, these films exude, to paraphrase Carolee Schneemann, “a persistence of feeling.” It is this persistence to which we return everything spring, eyes wide open to the movies that you can’t see just anywhere; only in Iowa City, you can.

Still from Mary Helena Clark’s ‘The Glass Note.’


Thursday, April 18

Competitive Program One: My Voice Is Full Of — 6 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Competitive Program Two: Brace For Impact — 8:15 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Friday, April 19

Competitive Program Three: E = hv — 12:15 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Juror Program: James N. Kienitz Wilkins — 3 p.m.
FilmScene, 118 College St.

Competitive Program Four: Looking Too Closely — 5:15 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Competitive Program Five: In Order For Me To Continue… — 8:15 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Competitive Program Six: Humming With A Closed Mouth — 10 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Saturday, April 20

Competitive Program Seven: I’m Still On My Way — 11:15 a.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105

Bijou Presents: Laura Iancu — 1 p.m.
FilmScene, 118 College St.

Juror Program: Dessane Lopez Cassell — 3 p.m.
FilmScene, 118 College St.

Competitive Program Eight: Insistence of Vision — 5:15 p.m.
Franklin Miller Screening Room, Adler Journalism Building, E105