FICCI 52: Three in the Wave – Mathieu Ravier

Sydney-based programmer and Festivalist Mathieu Ravier, discusses the symbolic nature of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena (FICCI) poster campaign.

8516928329_c4563d97bc_bImage: Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena by David Shankbone , creative commons license.

Cartagena de Indias is a colonial town located in the North Eastern Caribbean coast of Colombia. While it may be out of the beaten path of the mediatised festival circuit, it boasts one of the longest-running film festivals in the world, certainly in the Americas.

The Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena (FICCI) celebrated its 53rd edition this year. It opened and closed with South American films and in between, screened 140 titles from over 30 countries. All of its 290 screenings are free, making it one of the most well attended (and well-loved) film events in the world.

While it currently sits in my top three list of festivals I’d most want to attend, it only really came onto my radar at the end of 2011 just before its 52nd edition, and it did so thanks to a series of three striking posters.

It is very difficult to convey the many facets of a film festival in a single piece of graphic design (or even in a series of three, for that matter). Some festivals allude to the cinema they wish to be known for showcasing, others to the sheer diversity, scope and breadth of their program. Some focus on the assets of their glamorous seaside town, others on those of the stars who walk their red carpet. Some capture the frenzy of activity found at a bustling event, others the unique, solitary communion between viewer and screen.

Some attempt to encapsulate it all, using graphic shortcuts that have become clichés, from directors’ chairs to overflowing popcorn, from 35mm film projectors to omnipresent strips of celluloid. It’s astounding how many posters still put 35mm front and centre when most festivals have now converted to digital projection. Even these clichés have evolved in recent years. The camera-toting gunslinger recently replacing the giant eyeball or the man with a camera for a head as the strangely recurrent visual motif in film festival posters.

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FICCI 52’s photographic triptych comes courtesy of Bogotan firm Mottif and Colombian artist Max Steven Grossman. It depicts an ocean wave at three different stages: just before tipping point at the peak of its potential, as it crashes down, obliterating everything in its path, and finally as it explodes into a cloud of white water spray.

The obvious reference here is to the postcard-perfect Caribbean coast on which the port city of Cartagena is perched. The deliberate framing and composition of the photographs, however, invite the viewer to look at them as abstractions, or to ponder deeper symbolisms.

In the words of FICCI director Monika Wagenberg, “the triptych Las Olas by Max Steven Grossman reminds us that cinema is ultimately made of a series of stills assembled to create movement. Movement is also suggested by the tension between each of these frames… they form a remarkable aesthetics, much like the cinema we seek out. The reference is cinematic, not only geographical.”

In capturing movement with a photograph, the artist doesn’t just go back to the basic mechanics of filmmaking, he conjures a sensual narrative out of thin air, a suspenseful build up, a climax, the promise of release. He captures the incredible narrative power of the present moment, even obscuring with an irreversible flow of raging water the calm, distant horizon.

This Festival, the image seems to say, is about the here and now. It’s a powerful disturbance traveling through space and matter, a transfer of energy you can’t (and won’t want to) resist.

Waves crash upon the shore in a steady uninterrupted flow, following a pattern a viewer on the beach can easily predict. And yet when you are caught in a wave it’s a whole different story. Each wave has a unique character, its underestimated force a constant surprise. It can bowl you over, flip you upside down until you lose your bearings. It can leave you panting, exhausted as you crawl up the beach or excited, exhilarated, as you swim out for more.

The wave in this poster is a strong visual metaphor for both cinema as an art form and for film festivals. FICCI, like many other international festivals, prides itself on delivering a snapshot of filmmaking at a particular moment in time, on showcasing the latest trends – the new waves, as they are invariably called – of local and world cinema.

Beyond the excellence of concept and execution, there is elegance and harmony in the detailing. The number of 52 rises dramatically above the horizon, the festival dates laid out like geographical coordinates. The undulations of the ocean reflect the typographical wave of the FICCI logo, its golden statue icon giving the landscape a vertiginous sense of scale.

Surrender, festival goer: let FICCI wash over you.

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Mathieu Ravier lives in Sydney, where he runs The Festivalists, a non-profit organisation dedicated to festivals and cultural events, including Possible Worlds, the Sydney Film Festival HubKino SydneyJurassic Lounge and Young at Heart@mattriviera