Film can lead where you maybe don’t want to go
Under the moniker OJOBOCA, Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy practice Horrorism, a simulated method of inner and outer transformation.
KP: What is OJOBOCA, how did it start and why?
AD: Actually, OJOBOCA started kind of accidentally. We met in grad school, The New School in New York where we both worked on our own films, and after graduating, in 2010, we moved to Berlin. When we arrived, we needed to start from scratch, so we started working on one film together, just to figure things out. The name of the film was Awe Shocks (2011), and while working together on this project we realized that although our interests in grad school were different, together we really complemented each other. Since that project, we have worked together.
JM: It was easy for us to work with each other, and when you work with analogue film it’s much easier to join energies and forces to get the projects made. It’s a format that’s no longer a standard and it takes a lot of effort to work with it.
The name came about because we wanted to apply for funding and then we realized that you need a production company of some sort for that, and we didn’t have a production company and didn’t know anybody with a production company. But you could basically make your own for the purpose of applying for these funds, and we needed a name for this so we came up with OJOBOCA. It comes from Pasolini’s term for a camera, the eye-mouth. We translated this term to Spanish and started using this name for everything we did together.
KP: How did you negotiate a common language that’s needed to make a film together?
AD: I guess we have a similar sense for things we like and we are pretty clear with each other. We only do projects we both agree on. If we are both interested in a topic, we’ll start working on it.
JM: It just grew organically; it developed from the fact that it was easy for us to work together. We didn’t have big arguments and we didn’t have big aesthetic differences or situations like: I hate this, I really like this, or where you have to fight to keep the cooperation going. We never had that, so that’s what actually allowed us to keep working. We worked with other people before and usually it went bad because of the difference of opinions.
KP: In the program booklet of this year’s 25 FPS, you are presented as practitioners of Horrorism – a simulated method of inner and outer transformation. Can you tell us more about it?
JM: When be started working together we both decided we wanted to work with analogue film: 16mm, Super 8 or 35mm. Of course we were aware that it’s difficult, that digital is the new standard, there’s a lot more resources available for it, and so on. But for us everything was really about the experience of watching analogue and using the material, finding out what it can do. Analogue has its own types of limitations but it also has its own qualities. When you have a dark cinema and an analogue projector, it becomes an experience between the audience and the flickering light... And if you’re doing a performance, you are there controlling that light and that mechanical object and it becomes a ritual. So there is a different energy in the room when you project this kind of material.
We started calling it horrorism because our work is trying to deal with the idea of uncertainty and how you, as a viewer, are forced to react to it. The films and performances are supposed to be simulations of situations where you have to ask yourself who is speaking and for what purpose and, then you have to question your response and that can be uncomfortable. Our work tries to deal with something that is present in every film which is that there is always a “speaker” that is presenting a point of view even if it is just a traditional narrative film. But what we like to explore is the fact that the point of view is not always coherent, it can be contradictory or senseless. As a viewer you are usually not aware of this since most films have the appearance of being coherent. In our work, it’s made explicit that there is not one single voice, or one single agent in command and therefore you’re asked to react. That is the ritual of cinema that interests us: in the dark the machine speaks and you have to decide whether to trust it or not.
AD: We often rely on narration to create this experience and have a speaker address the audience directly, and it’s up to the viewer, as Juan said, to follow the narrative or not.
JM: The film can lead you to a place where maybe you don’t want to go and at that moment there is an element there which makes the experience possible. Maybe you don’t care, or you don’t take it seriously, but maybe you get into this place where you feel uncomfortable and you have to decide how you relate to it. It’s just something that happens unconsciously. Of course, we don’t always manage to produce this kind of response because it’s not something we can truly control. The conditions have to be right and it might only happen for some people in the audience but that is fine and also part of it. We’re not trying to create a specific response.
AD: We like to choose topics which provoke an instant opinion/ reaction. For example, in our film A Flea’s Skin Would Be Too Big For You (2013) we explored a theme park in China which only employed dwarves, and the film we’re showing on Sunday, The Masked Monkeys (2015), is about a street show where trainers dress monkeys and make them act like people. So, our films are often about topics that you can easily form an opinion about right away and then dismiss the whole thing altogether.
JM: We try to change an angle on these topics, change the experience of it. You start with these preconceptions, because everyone has preconceptions when they go to see a film – you read the description of the movie and go: oh! this is about this, I know about it, and I know how I feel about it, or know my position on it. But we don’t really like these preformed positions and we try to expose the viewer to stimuli that forces him to change these positions, or at least challenge them somehow. So it’s not really about trying to give a person our position or our point of view – this is what we think about A, B or C – it’s more to create this experience where you have to think: where am I, what are the elements of this problem, or how do I relate to this.
KP: What are your thoughts about the sheer horror found in the act of destroying the cradle of a fictional film work – like in your film Wolkenschatten (2014) – which you treated like found footage?
JM: We like the idea that the films we are making are physical things as well. Our films are also objects: they exist on reels and we treat them like artifacts and – of course – it’s possible that we found these objects somewhere, or that we found parts of them, or that we assembled them from other parts. It’s a physical thing and with those written descriptions that come with the films, we’re trying to explode this way of seeing film as just a sort of an entertainment, and change it to the idea that it’s something else, always expanding outwards. But you don’t have to read the text that accompanies the film, you can watch it without the context of a backstory and then if you read it afterward, the text transforms the footage you have seen into something else. Some people might read it, and some might not. We like the idea of our films expanding like that.
KP: About the workshop you've led in Zagreb, what was the concept, what were you planning to do and what did you do?
AD: We were teaching a two-day workshop at Klubvizija. The idea was to explore a subject, in this case it was a location, as a group and apply our method of working. It wasn’t a technical workshop, but rather a group experiment. So, we took a trip together to a place that was suggested to us by the festival and we had to quickly find ways of capturing the space.
JM: We filmed at an old sanatorium that’s up on the mountain in ruins – tuberculosis hospital Brestovac. We researched the location online and saw that a lot of people go there for the spookiness of it or for photo shoots or urban exploration. We wanted to go there and do something a little bit different with our group. They shot really great stuff and concentrated on texture, the elements and the nature. It was really interesting for us to see what the participants would shoot in that space because every one of them experienced the place differently and recorded different elements. After processing the footage, the idea was to use multiple projectors to present the material, but we didn’t have enough time to work with them in depth on this phase of combining and presenting the footage. Now, it’s up to them. If they want to collaborate and do something together, then they should. But if they don’t want, that’s OK as well. It’s like with any workshop, you give someone the possibility to do something and then they decide if they want to use it in their work or not.
KP: What is the future of OJOBOCA?
JM: We’ll keep on working on single screen films and on projections that are meant to be shown live, as expanded cinema. Also, we are a part of a collective called LaborBerlin which is a shared space similar to Klubvizija. We gathered a lot of equipment which we all share and that allows us to continue to work with analogue film. Over time we figured that the only way to preserve the knowledge of analogue film is to share it with other people. So, we will always try to continue doing that.
AD: If you want to work with film nowadays you really have to create cooperative structures. The collective is important for our work, because without it, without having the shared space like the laboratory, it would be much harder. So you really need to rely on cooperative structures, because the commercial industry is not there anymore in the same way or often too expensive for independent filmmakers. So, you have to take over a lot of the services as a filmmaker and for example process and print the film yourself.
It’s also important to us that our films are projected on film. That’s not always possible but we try to do it as much as we can. Since the whole structure of analog projection collapsed, this means that we are also required to bring our own projectors on our trips. So we started touring with our work. We created programs with our films and performances. It’s almost like a band. If you work with analogue film, there are more and more tasks you have to take over, whether you want it or not.
JM: It’s sort of a DIY thing, because you have to learn how to do almost everything as you go – there isn’t one central place where you can get complete training. You have to learn from others. There is a whole network of analogue labs, and we all share information with each other or try to find ways of helping each other like sending equipment or traveling to do workshops. We do these workshops at festivals as well to give the people the taste of what it would be like to either start their own collective or their own space or go to a city that has a film lab and join them.