Vivian Ostrovsky
Vivian Ostrovsky. Photo: Anne Maniglier / OFF Pictures

Prolific experimental filmmaker Vivian Ostrovsky, 76, carries more than 30 films in her luggage. Born in the United States, after having spent her childhood in Rio de Janeiro, she began her studies in Europe. It was there, in France, that together with Rosine Grange, in the 1970s, she founded the pioneering organization Ciné-Femmes International, dedicated exclusively to the promotion, distribution and exhibition of films made by women. All this in guerrilla mode, traveling with the film reels in a Renault 4L pickup truck and traveling around France and Europe to show them, at a time when distributors – all men – did not want to touch films by female directors. Still in 1975, Ostrovsky was one of those responsible for the international symposium women in film, under the tutelage of UNESCO, which brought together names such as Susan Sontag; Agnes Varda; Chantal Akerman – with whom she was a great friend and to whom she dedicates But elsewhere is always better -; and Mai Zetterling, a Swedish filmmaker who is currently organizing a retrospective.

using found footage (images found, whether from archives or not) and from his own home movies, Ostrovsky ended up creating his own language, which filmmaker and critic Yann Beauvais dubbed “journal-mosaic”, a junction of two genres of experimental cinema, video collage and cinediary. In the words of the writer Juliet Jacques, Ostrovsky's work presents dialectics as a recurring element, whether between image and sound, cultures and ideologies, or past and present.

Recently, she was responsible for programming the second edition of the Scratch Collection Festival, organized by the experimental film distributor Light Cone, for which she selected films by 33 female directors, from 14 countries and different generations, from the 1940s to the present day. THE arte!brasileiros talked to the filmmaker about the event, the experimental cinema scenario and her friendship with Ione Saldanha, an artist from Rio Grande do Sul known for her paintings on spools, slats and bamboo and whose work deals with issues such as breaking the frame and conquering space through color, according to Adriano Pedrosa, curator responsible for the tribute to Saldanha that is now taking place at Masp.

ARTE!As a filmmaker, but also a film distributor and festival programmer, how does this intersection between crafts occur? At what moments do you notice a loan between the director of your own films and the one responsible for selecting those of other authors?

Vivian Ostrovsky – There are three activities at different times as well. I started out as a distributor, distributing women's films between 1974 and 1980. From 1980 onwards, I started making my own films, which led me to stop distributing. The curatorship work was something that I started around 1990 and I do it sporadically to this day. As a curator I never program my own films because I find it totally unethical. For my films, I want other people to do the programming.

My main pole is as a filmmaker. I've mostly done shorts. In experimental cinema, films are much shorter, funding being one of the reasons for this: in general there is no funding for this type of cinema, it is the filmmakers themselves who finance themselves. In times past, there was help in the places where I lived (France and USA), but, in fact, I never tried to get any sponsorship or scholarship for the simple reason that I don't work with script and I can't even know what I'm going to do. By that I mean that there are certain things that I know in advance, for example, I made a film with a choreographer about dance, about the preparation, the backstage of a show. I knew I wanted to make an experimental documentary on this subject, but in general I would take the camera and it was like my notebook, I would film left and right things that caught my eye, not all of which I used later: I have a file of super 8 that total about 40 kilometers or more of films in reel and from time to time I use one thing or another. Precisely for that reason, I also couldn't say that I have a pre-defined project, and that I'm going to do “this” or “that”. In general, I work on the images themselves and on what the film is formed from, based on this material, and through the association of ideas.

ARTE! - How did your transition from a psychology degree at the Sorbonne University to filmmaking occur? Was it something natural?

I finished my psychology degree, graduated and knew I didn't want to work as a psychologist. In the 1970s there were many good films to see, it was a very rich time, with authors such as Alain Resnais, Ozu, Wim Wenders, Glauber and the new cinema, the Czech new cinema and the Swiss cinema, Bergman; every week there were at least four movies that I wanted to see. Besides, at the French cinematheque – which I lived close by – I could see great films of all kinds, classics or other things I didn't know about. The cinematheque was, for me, a great school. That was my education, I learned by doing.

ARTE! - Having lived in Brazil, Paris and residing in the USA, do you believe that language interferes with our creative thinking? Do you notice a gear shifting as you reason between different languages ​​and territories?

I prefer it to be creative thinking that interferes with language rather than the other way around. For me, it is not so much the reasoning that changes between languages ​​and territories, but what changes is, for example, what is said and how it is said.

ARTE! - In his work there is the interposition of his recordings with archival footage. When we search an archive – personal or public – in a way we are exploring the right to be remembered. Today, with social networks and the internet collection, which does not spare or free anyone who has set foot there, would we be fighting at the same time for the right to memory and for the right to be forgotten?

For me social media is a double-edged sword, because while you can see very ingenious and creative things in 30 seconds or a minute, we are drowning in an ocean of images that no longer fit.

To talk about the right to be forgotten, it is true that, nowadays, you can find almost everything on the internet, just as it is true that certain things that you would like to forget, you cannot. But, at the same time, there is a way to dig up things that have been forgotten and turned into garbage. For example, the work of the Swedish filmmaker Mai Zetterling, who, when I started in the 1970s, was a major figure in the history of Swedish cinema. Zetterling was an actress for Bergman and later began directing her own films. Today, nobody knows her anymore, however, she was one of the only women who could get money to make a feature film in a movie theater, she was very feminist. Now they are restoring her films in Sweden.

ARTE! - On his selection for the second edition of the Scratch Collection, he said he looked at works he hadn't seen in a long time, on the one hand, and at the millennial generation looking for something new, on the other. As a result he selected films dating from the 1940s to 2021, totaling 33 filmmakers from 14 nationalities. What do you miss from the classics? And what, in the new ones, welcomes you?

I love them both, I love the classics and I don't miss anything because they are more accessible than ever, thanks to YouTube, Vimeo, Ubu Web, among others. As for the new ones, they are new directions, new themes, such as ecology, identity, gender. So I think it's very good because you have access to both. If you are still hungry, you can “open the fridge and get what you want”, more than in the past, because before you had to wait to go out to the cinema to see…

ARTE! - The festival took place between October and November. We are still going through the pandemic, but little by little the shows and movie theaters seem to be heading towards the return of their presentation rhythm. Did the 2021 Scratch Collection schedule suffer from pandemic limitations?

There was no limitation, I was even surprised. I cannot say “after the pandemic” because we still have 50 cases of Covid-19 in France a day. I mean, we are not out of the pandemic, but out of the lockdown, of things closed. Because of this, people were hungry to go out and go to restaurants, cafes, brasseries. Despite this, the theaters were half empty and the theater owners were worried. So, when the Scratch Collection started, I was expecting very few people, even more so because, in general, experimental cinema has a much smaller audience than “normal cinema”, which is better known. But the sessions varied between 90 and 115 people, as it happened, there were more and more people, many young people, many people from art schools, film schools, this made me super happy.

ARTE! - In Brazil, how do you see the experimental cinema scene?

It's something that makes me happy because there's a lot more interest now than when I started and there's been a lot more talk about the experimental scene in Brazil. I can highlight the Dobra International Festival, organized together with MAM Rio; the Experimental Cine Brasil Exhibition, in São Paulo; Videobrasil; some sporadic shows carried out by the IMS; Yann Beauvais himself, who has a teaching center in Recife, presents films. This is very exciting because from the 1980s to 2000s there was almost nothing, when I was organizing women's experimental film festivals nobody knew about it.

ARTE! - In the visual arts, is there a certain prejudice against film and photography? To the point that, many times, the moving image only has its entry on the radar of art publications when it is placed in a gallery. Do you observe this?

I was part of the committee that selected films for the Pompidou Center. This was a while ago, when there was a lot of difference between film and video, two different fields – nowadays that border has disappeared – and, at that time, what I noticed is that when it was time to buy a film, it was worth a lot. any less. In these cases, the museum bought directly from the filmmaker, but when it came to video art there was already a gallery behind it, and with that the price was ten times higher. However, when you compared the prices of video – even video art – with those of painting, there was no comparison possible because it was hardly even considered part of the market. Another thing that is very important is in terms of criticism and articles in art magazines about video or film, there is very little…


ARTE! - In the first two decades of cinema (late 19th century), there were more women working in the industry than there are now – reports critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson. Will we be able to reverse these numbers in this decade and put an end to the idea that certain roles in film production are “reserved for men”?

It depends on the profession, specifically, because automakers are mostly women. In the beginning, however, until the 1970s, there were almost no women directors of photography and they said that it was not possible because the camera was too heavy and the woman could not bear it – nonsense like that, but today it is changing, a qualitative change, not only quantitative.

ARTE! - How did your friendship with Brazilian artist Ione Saldanha begin, who will be honored with a retrospective exhibition at Masp from December 2021?

Ione was a great friend. I was introduced to Ione by a friend of my parents. She wasn't from my generation, she was an older generation and we sympathized a lot, I loved her work. They told me how she worked with bamboo and how curious I am I went to see the works in the studio, in Rio. That was in the early 1980s and until her death we were great friends… As it was a pre-internet time I had a great correspondence with Ione. Knowing this, Adriano Pedrosa, curator of this exhibition, asked me if I wanted to write a letter, another letter to her. I decided it was a good idea and wrote to Ione trying to include things that were very typical of her and that gave an idea of ​​who she was as a person. She liked my films, I remember that when MAM Rio did a retrospective of them she had an audience that was made up of Lucio Costa, Lygia Pape. It was fantastic.

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