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Abandon Normal Devices

Dazed went to check out the festival of new cinema and digital culture in Liverpool

Taking its name from an instruction by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Abandon Normal Devices (AND), launched it's premier festival 23-27 September in Liverpool. AND is dedicated to manifestations of innovation in cinema and digital culture. Spiraling out from its centre at FACT, the festival presented a wide range of events and interventions in the northern cultural capital. Lead by Kate Taylor, the festival director, AND presented an eclectic timetable of things to see and do around the city, from art installations in the city's galleries, all night parties at the amazing warehouse turned gallery, A Foundation, film screenings, live music and artistic interventions such as, Krzystof Wodiczko's 'War Veteran Vehicle', a military jeep which projected snippets of interviews with local members of the armed forces onto Liverpool's monumental architecture.

Housed in FACT's galleries, was the latest project by pioneering Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose sensual and blissed out features have established him as one of contemporary cinema's major stylists. Primitive is an intricate choreography of videos made in a village, Nabua, in Thailand. Moving away from his highly personal films, he has been exploring the political and mythic history of this remote region and the fledging communist movement which was brutally repressed by Thailand's ruling monarchy between the 1960s and 1980s, forcing survivors to flee into the surrounding jungle. The installation consists of a range of videos depicting ghostly apparitions in the local village, military training and on another screen, levitation of a UFO. In order to channel the displaced presences in the region, Apichatpong constructed the UFO with descendents of communist farmers to bring their experiences, memories and dreams into the project. As he stated in his masterclass at the festival, “the teens are growing rice and I'm just growing my movie – [the exhibition] is my harvest, my mini-movies.”

Other films at the festival included the innovative zombie film Pontypool, seen from the perspective of a late night DJ, Mock Up On Mu, a hallucinogenic sci-fi mash up, describing the cosmic connections between occult leader Aleister Crowley and scientology visionary Ron L Hubbard. China Town, by young New York based artist Lucy Raven, is brilliantly constructed from thousands of still photos in order to trace the emergent electrification of China. Turner prize nominee Phil Collin's Zasto ne Govorim Srpski (Na Srpskom) / Why I Don't Speak Serbian (in Serbian) deconstructs the documentary format to explore the paradoxical relationship of language and conflict in the Balkan region. Attempting to create a culture to accommodate these innovative and diverse selection of films is key to the festival.

Their special guest Jamie King, a piracy provocateur and co-director of Steal this Film, gave a talk outlining his philosophy of exchange in the new networked landscape, introducing the pioneering torrent site VoDo and pirate networks to legally distribute challenging material to broad audiences in collaboration with the filmmakers. He presented a sneak preview of Dark Fibre, his first feature film, a radical exploration of the global exchange of capital and information set in the 'Silicon Valley of India' Bangalore.

The crowning event of the festival for me, which unified the disparate themes and strategies of many of the events was DJ Spooky's live Rebirth of a Nation held at the historic St George's Hall, embedding the festival into Liverpool's history and current status as a cultural capital. Rebirth of a Nation is a reworking of DW Griffith's notorious silent film, Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, which is credited with establishing the language of the dramatic feature film as well as promoting racist perspective of the American Civil War and Reconstruction by celebrating the Ku Klux Klan, the film's heroes. This highly contentious material has fascinating ramifications for the present, depicting as it does a turbulent America, paranoid of terrorist attack (the film is the first to use the term 'terrorist') and attempting to come to terms with black political power, which is shown being triumphantly repressed in the film. Merging his work as a producer and musician, DJ Spooky introduced Rebirth of a Nation as an exploration of the 'director as DJ,' meaning each performance is unique. The footage was reworked over three screenings, fractured and replayed, sections and events highlighted with subtle graphics drawing attention to details buried in the imagery, penetrating into the fabric of the film, which as Spooky stated, contains the "DNA of America." By combining the basic configuration of cinema and music, Rebirth of a Nation  threw light on an America adjusting to its first black president, dealing with the threat of terrorism and rise of home grown fanaticism; a disturbingly contemporary statement drawn from historical material.