European film's avant-garde lives, contends a conference on experimental film. | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

European film's avant-garde lives, contends a conference on experimental film.

Randall Halle has heard the same thing many times, both at home and abroad: "There is no experimental film anymore; the scene is dead."

Halle is inclined to disagree. "That's not what I'm experiencing," he says. "There's another generation involved now, and there are a lot of people who are simply finding new forms of expression."

In hopes of disproving the naysayers, the University of Pittsburgh professor is gathering film experts from both the United States and Europe for a conference called "After the Avant-garde: European Experiments with the Moving Image." On March 30-31, a small corps of Pitt professors will be joined by academics and filmmakers from as far away as Braunschwieg, Germany and Amsterdam to discuss the current state of experimental film and "time-based art" in Europe.

After 10 years at the University of Rochester, Halle came to Pitt this year as the first Klaus W. Jonas Professor of German and Film Studies. This year, with co-author and fellow conference presenter Reinhild Steingröver, he'll publish a new book, After the Avant-garde: New Directions in Experimental Film.

With the growth of the European Union and tighter restrictions on arts subsidies, Halle says, it has become harder to fund experimental filmmaking in Europe. It's still easier to get arts funding in Europe than in the United States, but money for less-mainstream work is harder to find than grants for more commercial films.

Yet Halle argues that new developments keep boundary-pushing moviemaking viable. Experimental filmmaking is historically less costly than conventional, narrative-based film. And new methods of distribution make obscure films more accessible: YouTube, for example, remains primarily American because fewer Europeans have high-speed Internet access, but Halle predicts that will change over the next few years. Meanwhile, Web sites like Ubuweb spotlight experimental film, making it easier for people worldwide to learn about it.

The conference has a clear academic bent. But Halle believes that, like the avant-garde film series he organized at Pitt this semester, the sessions will interest anyone curious about filmmaking and film history. That includes "anyone who has taken a class at [Pittsburgh] Filmmakers," he says, and in fact "anyone who has thought about taking a class at Filmmakers."

Also attending the conference is German filmmaker Birgit Hein, noted for experimental work she has made over 40 years, both alone and with her husband, Wilhelm Hein. A conversation with Hein closes the conference; her newest short, "War Film," will premiere along with other contemporary European avant-garde films, which will screen between sessions.

"After the Avant-garde: European Experiments with the Moving Image" conference Fri., March 30, and Sat., March 31. Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. 412-648-2614 or

The series "Experimental, Underground, Revolutionary: Avant-garde Films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland" continues at 7:30 p.m. nightly Wed., March 28; Wed., April 4; and April 11. 205 David Lawrence Hall, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. Free. 412-648-2614

click to enlarge Still fresh: Birgit Hein's "Raw Film"
Still fresh: Birgit Hein's "Raw Film"

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