Postcards from Oberhausen #2

2. Saturday, May 7th, 2011

John Smith: Card Giver, Trailer-Maker, DVD Presenter


Amongst many treasures, the Oberhausen Kurzfilmtage has hosted a presentation of the first DVD edition of John Smith’s works. Years in the making – a “labor of love” in the words of both Smith himself and his editor on the project Benjamin Cook – the edition, published by LUX, is a three-disc box set that includes all of Smith’s major works from Associations (1975) to the complete Hotel Diaries series (2001-2007). The box itself is, perhaps not surprisingly, designed with all the structural economy and surreptitious humor characteristic of the filmmaker’s work.

Smith is also the creator of this year’s festival trailer. Another brilliant exercise in the best kind of minimalism, the trailer – commissioned to complement the festival’s Shooting Animals theme – features an encounter between dog and technology whose most enduring echo is that of a kind of dawning anthropomorphism that situates this impossible dialogue somewhere between the realms of metaphor and fantasy. Watch it here.

I caught up with John Smith and asked him a few questions on the genesis of the trailer, the relation between art and comedy, and his favorite festival features so far. Here’s what he had to say:

Tijana Mamula: So, you made the trailer specifically in relation to the Shooting Animals theme…

John Smith: Well, yes, it relates to how I approach my work generally, I always like to have some kind of constraint to think within. When I was asked to do the trailer, last summer, at first I wasn’t sure what I could do, but when I found out the theme was animals, it was like, ah, great, ok! And actually it’s related to a film I was working on already. My partner and I have a kind of ruined building in the south of France, a sort of wooden shed where we go to stay, and next door there’s a big area for hunting wild pigs, so people have hunting dogs. We’re in this very beautiful quiet village and right next door to us is this guy who has a kennel full of dogs that are just kept in cages all of the time. He actually loves his dogs but they’re in this cage all the time, howling, wanting to see him. So I’d made some recordings of these dogs already and I was quite interested, especially in one of them because it has a voice that sounds to me like a human, trying to get out. So I made these recordings, and I thought I really wanted to do something with dogs. But I wasn’t sure what the image would be. I had some ideas, but they didn’t work out.