CE2.018K: a dispatch from Short Waves, Poznan

I bowled my orange down the Nazi corridor. The building known as Zamek—Polish for castle, but in this case actually a palace—in the centre of Poznań has no shortage of such lengthy couloirs. They constitute an elegantly chilling legacy of the interior remodelling that took place the early 1940s under the direction of the Third Reich’s architect in chief, Albert Speer.

At that time the city, strategically located midway between Berlin and Warsaw, a seat of Polish nobles and royals from the turn of the first millennium, was Posen, capital of the Reichsgau Warthelandsuccessor to the Prussian province which spanned 1871 to 1918. It was during that period that Zamek was constructed in Neo-Romanesque, faux-medieval style by architect Franz Heinrich Schwechtenalso responsible for Berlin’s landmark WW2-ruined Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskircheas a residence for Emperor William II, a.k.a. Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The bogeyman known to generations of Britishers as “Kaiser Bill” would only remain on the throne for a few more years until he was deposed in 1918and he never actually visited his Posen palace. Speer’s boss Adolf Hitler, likewise, didn’t once set foot there. But some atmosphere of his malevolent underlings’ presence can, with only a little imagination, still be detected in its internal spacesincluding those hundred-foot-long corridors, with their polished and level floors across which this visiting British journalist couldn’t resist heretically propelling his near-spherical citrus. Sorry, Albert.

While much of Zamek, especially the west wing, is pretty much as Speer and company left it, a large section of the east wing is now given over to multi-media artistic and cultural events. It’s the hub and main screening venue of Short Waves, a film festival dedicated to works of relatively brief duration (maximum 30 minutes), which started life as an itinerant cross-border event encompassing numerous cities in Poland (and several beyond) back in 2009.

Since 2016, however, Short Waves has been much more Poznań-centric. Screenings take place at several cinemas across the city, and also at more improvised locationsthis year these included a former paint-shop in the slowly up-and-coming Wilda district just south of the centre. Still sporting its somewhat weather-beaten multi-coloured FARBY (“colours”) sign across the roof, this compact space was temporarily transformed into a mini-venue seating about a dozen at a time. It hosted three repeated screenings of the same programme across four nights, interspersed with light-shows and musical performances.

Imaginative and innovative touches like this have helped Short Waves become well established in the busy social calendar of the venerable university city (pop 1.2m). Poznań is known throughout the country for its wealth and for its complex, often bloody historynot least the catastrophic, 30-day Battle of Poznań in January-February 1945 which saw the Nazi occupiers finally expelled, but left much of the centre in ruins. The vast star-shaped 19th-century Fort Winiary on its northern flanka landmark of European military architecturewas entirely destroyed, and is now the site of a sprawling public park dotted with moving memorials to local and global conflicts.

These days, however, the one thing that the ordinary Pole mentions when you bring up Poznań is the daft but delightful tourist-magnet event which takes place every day at noon at the blocky 13th-century Town Hall (Ratusz) in the Old Town. The 12 chimes of the bell are accompanied by the clashing metal horns of two small goat figuresthese animals are the ubiquitous symbols of Poznan. The hircine duo trundle slowly out of their hiding-place facing forward, then swivel to confront each other and perform their ceremonial dozenfold butting of heads, before withdrawing back behind closed doors to rest for another 23 hours and 55 minutes.

In Britain, however, Poznań is widely known for giving its name to The Poznan, the football-fan “dance” in which rows of supporters turn their backs on the pitch, interlock arms and jump up and down for several secondsso dubbed by Manchester City fans after they observed the Lech Poznań faithful perform the boisterous ritual at a UEFA Cup tie in 2010. Violent confrontation on one hand, deliberate disengagement on the other: “city of contrasts,” as tourist authorities worldwide like to say….

Short Waves is likewise an eclectic kind of showcase, bringing together dozens of works previously shown at similar events over the previous 12 months and beyond. While well supported by the youthful local audience, the festival has quickly gained a reputation as a lively social focus/locus for the shorts-programming world. It helps that there are so many competitive sections and juries, including the “Best Of Ten” sidebar in which 10 respected international curators each present one film, and the resulting programme is then judged by a panel of another 20 selectors from across the world. Most of the competitions have first, second and third awards, and the juries were generous in dishing out special mentions, resulting in a closing ceremony that had a bit of an “all shall have prizes” feel.

But despite the plethora of laurels, the film which was for me the clear standout from the 40 or so I saw at Poznan this year left the scene empty-handed. This was What Happens To the Mountain, or, Laramie by the North Carolina-born, Colorado-based Christin Turner (b.1985). According to her own bio posted on www.christinturner.com: she “is a filmmaker and video artist whose work draws upon her background in the visual arts. Her narrative work depicts landscape as both metaphor and means for psychological terrains. Turner’s use of color and light has been described as painterly, impressionistic, and psychedelic. In the commercial field, this has resulted in unique and memorable branded content for record companies, fashion labels, and live events.”

Currently studying for an MFA at the University of Colorado, Turner is reportedly working on her debut feature, Limbo In Paradise. That title could also apply to What Happens to the Mountain, which Turner directed, wrote (with Caleb Addison, and who acts in the film), scored, edited, and produced. The film is a dreamy and consistently eyepopping intersection of narrative and experimental techniques. There are elements of a story, involving a cross-country trucker who maintains an unusual kind of relationship with her paramour via payphone, but these remain elusive and fragmentary.

Turner illustrates them via distorted visuals and eerie audio (including snatches of late-night talk radio), culminating in a visit to the Devils Tower mountain in Wyoming immortalised forty years ago in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Extracts from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land are quoted, the thuddingly familiar lines of poetry now rendered magically rich and strange by their new context. The whole is discombobulating, sensory, romantic, a compact and multi-layered ode to how landscape, looked at the right way, can open new vistas in the cluttered corridors of the mind.

Neil Young
19th May 2018