Film, art lovers, and audiophiles take note: this fall Mechelen will be celebrating 10 years of the Contour Biennial of Moving Images, with a programme lasting from September to November and dedicated to Belgium’s special relationship with the silver screen and all things audiovisual.
From exclusive film premieres to live events, documentaries, installations and sound works, you are bound to find something to help ease you into autumn in style.
1. What’s the story?
Produced by Mechelen’s nona arts centre, the Biennial is an eight-week programme, curated by the production and distribution platform powerhouse that is known as ‘Auguste Orts’ (comprising Anouk De Clercq, Fairuz Ghammam, Herman Asselberghs, Manon de Boer, and Sven Augustijnen). For this 2023 anniversary edition of C0N10UR, diverse works are brought together across generations, regions and experiences, linked only by the fact that the artists Auguste Orts has chosen to highlight all reside in Belgium.
As such the festival offers a unique perspective on modern filmmaking and audiovisual arts in this nation that encapsulates the European (and post-colonial) experience, positioning the works in iconic venues in some of the country’s favourite cities.
Branded C0N10UR, the 10th anniversary edition of the festival focuses on four Mechelen venues, within easy walking distance of each other, so they are ‘rooted’ in Belgium but ‘flow’ as the festival literature boasts.
To be honest, the venues are worth the visit in themselves: Museum Hof van Busleyden, the city’s majestic Renaissance palace, is otherwise closed for renovations until next year, so this is a unique chance to visit. Cinema Lumiere is a beautifully-transformed 19th-century assembly hall. Industrial contemporary art space De Garage joins the gang; as does nona – a former printhouse in the centre of this former capital of the Low Countries. Thanks to the venues’ proximity to each other, visitors can “see, hear and experience the entire exhibition in a single day”.
Outside Mechelen, just two other venues are invited into the carefully curated selection of spaces showing the Biennial’s works. They are: argos centre for audiovisual arts on the industrial canal quays of Brussels, and the stunning former Dominican Monastery, Kunsthal Extra City, in Antwerp.
3. What to see?
This very Belgian Biennial starts as it means to go on at nona, with an homage by six artists to cult Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose extraordinary 1975 chef d’oeuvre, Jeanne Dielman, is ranked in the BBC’s top three films directed by women.
At Cinema Lumiere, La Force Diagonale premieres at the biennial on September 9 and is another must-see, showcasing filmmakers Annik Leroy and Julie Morel as they explore fault lines in the lives of their interviewees, whether it concerns “a forced or voluntary exile, a withdrawal from the world or the eruption of a traumatic event” that changes the direction of a life forever.
Nona is also presenting two more premieres, this time from Alex Reynolds, who challenges us with these short but hard-hitting films. One, Palais, is a vision of the monolithic Brussels architectural icon that is the Palais de Justice. This is accompanied with an experience of what one of Europe’s justice systems feels like in Segunda Persona, Tercera Persona (Part 1) – drawing on interview transcripts to bombard the viewer with the interview questions that asylum seekers in France must face.
Tales from the Source, the new film by Léonard Pongo, will represent the rural DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in “all its unfathomable strength and diversity”. Treating the landscape as a character in typical Pongo style, the Kasai region and its eternal cycles of new life and destruction are brought to the screen. Here Brussels and Kinshasa-based Pongo hits us with a timely reminder that territory is land and land is an essential source of life-giving elements, including tradition, philosophy and consciousness.
What’s more, one-off weekend events to complement the programme include performance arts, live music and artists’ talks. This includes the opening and closing events of the festival.
On September 9 at 9:00 pm, fans of music and the spoken word will want to be sure to catch Coming Together, “political art as expressive and accessible as Guernica”, according to American music critic Robert Christgau.
Composed by American Frederic Rzewski (1938–2021), who lived in Brussels from 1977 to his final years. Rzewksi is perhaps known best for his tour-de-force world music version of Chilean socialist anthem The People United Will Never Be Defeated. Here however, C0N10UR presents the equally-stirring Coming Together, inspired by 1971’s four-day Attica Prison uprising in New York that ended in 43 deaths, 39 of them gunned down by US law enforcement officers – the highest fatality rate in any US prison riot. A stunning piece dedicated to the prisoners’ rights movement, it pulses with the enraged delivery of texts by a solo speaker and is, unspeakably, relevant still today.
Check out the whole C0N10UR programme here.