The Ultra Dogme Virtual Film Festival

At the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the Ultra Dogme Virtual Film Festival was born, in an effort to facilitate cinematic solidarity from a distance. Each program is curated by a different Ultra Dogme contributor, built upon a thematic through-line. The first six programs collect free-to-watch titles scattered across the internet. The latest, Program 7, offers three different video on-demand rental options, in collaboration with Re:Voir video in Paris, Analogica in Bolzano and Fracto Experimental Film Encounter in Berlin.

Ultra Dogme was established as a digital space in which authors could speak up about great art (especially film) that ends up overlooked by most. In starting a virtual festival, it was important that the programs would highlight lesser known works, and that curators could feel free to include videos from outside the bounds of what is conventionally considered cinema – just look at Michael Sicinski’s inclusion in Program 3 – ‘The Death Channel’ of a short clip of Madonna changing the lyrics to her own song from the safety of quarantine, or Noah Rosenberg’s inclusion in Program 6 – ‘Buried in Song’ of live musical performances by Al Greene, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. In fact, Noah’s program closes with Jesse Jackson’s ‘David and Goliath’ speech.

It is often the case in contemporary film criticism that those who speak the loudest have the least to say: many a PR note tends to pass for film writing on the bigger sites (not to mention supposed ‘personal’ writing which is utterly disconnected from the moving image and its possibilities, focused instead on whether or not a work explicitly meets one’s personal code of ethics). That is to say, the popularised idea of a larger film culture has abandoned the fundamental values of the moving image form in favour of a selfish set of demands against which every work might be measured. We seek honesty. It is important to note that this does not denote an absence of humour. We say: ‘Let the screen show what it will. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to leave it be.’

As I began down the path toward cinephilia in high school, I too was smitten with an unhealthy idea of perfection – on and off of the screen. It’s a very American idea, to idealise and hold unrealistic expectations. Our favourite movies tend to scratch just the right itch, but before you’ve had the chance to get any idea of what’s out there, the contemporary Hollywood machine has already given you a different idea to hold onto: that a certain type of movie is how all movies should look. As we’ve begun our descent into the 21st century, movies have doubled down on what Peter Watkins has dubbed the ‘mono form’ – namely that there is a preconceived notion of what a ‘professional motion picture’ should look like, and that an amateur work by default cannot meet the high standards demanded by the production of a real movie™. All the while, these story-packages (because we are also taught that movies only exist to deliver stories) feed us narratives of small people standing up to make big changes in the face of evil. That’s right, the Goliaths of the world are using armies of potential-Davids working overtime to produce narratives about how Davids will always win if they stand up to the Goliaths.

The idea here is not so much to stand in staunch opposition of what we don’t like – we want to share and support what actually moves, affects, intrigues, and provokes us.

This Essay article was published in May 2020