Belgian literary magazine Deus Ex Machina’s Filmpoem Album

I’ve long been interested in exploring different delivery systems for poetry films. Though videos on the web are Moving Poems’ bread and butter, and are clearly going to remain the dominant delivery system for years to come, that doesn’t mean we should ignore other media and venues, such as mobile apps, exhibition spaces, festivals and DVDs. And as Deus Ex Machina #149, Filmpoem Album, demonstrates, there’s no reason why literary magazines have to confine their video publications to the web. Poetry editor Michael Vandebril called upon guest editors Willem Bongers-Deck and Judith Dekker to develop this collection in time for Filmpoem‘s program at the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp this past June.

The DVD and accompanying print journal are also available from their website, and they were kind enough to send me a review copy. The poets are all from Belgium and Netherlands and I don’t know Dutch or French, so of course I can’t fully evaluate the films as videopoems. But based on what I do understand, I think that other print literary journals should pay close attention to what they’ve done here — it’s an example well worth emulating, with a couple of possible exceptions which I’ll discuss below.

The above trailer includes snippets of all but one of the 11 short films included in the DVD. As these snippets perhaps suggest, many of the films are watchable on account of their imagery alone, which speaks to the expertise of the filmmakers. For what it’s worth, I was especially taken with the imagery in films directed by Philippe Werkers, Reyer Boxem, Anton Coene, Jeroen Sebrecht, and Dimitri van Zeebroeck. The absence of Marc Neys from the line-up seemed a little odd, but perhaps they wanted to show that there was more to Belgian filmmaking than the otherwise nearly inescapable Swoon. The branding by Deus Ex Machina was minimal — just enough to provide a thread of continuity to an otherwise diverse mix of aspect ratios and approaches, including a few animations, color as well as black-and-white, etc. All the directors chose to include the poems as voiceovers — as opposed to via text — which also helped unify the collection. The longest (7:07) and most experimental poetry film came at the end, which was probably a wise programming choice.

I should stress that overall this is a really high-quality product. The journal issue is perfect-bound with printing on the spine and the DVD tucked securely into the flap of the back cover. The poems appear in the same order as they do in the DVD, so one can read along. Oddly, though, the information about who directed the film made for each poem is not included alongside, but only in the table of the contents, and fuller credits only appear on the DVD. Instead, opposite each poem on the left-hand page is a full-color photo of the poet, and while this makes for a very elegant design, and it may be the way other issues of Deus Ex Machina are set up, it struck me as an odd fit for this issue. I would’ve preferred stills from the films, accompanied by the credits; the author photos could have been relegated to the bios at the back. And the fact that the directors don’t also have photos in the magazine bothered me a little bit. Why should poets get all the glory?

These minor quibbles aside, I’m very impressed with the obvious care and attention that went into DEM’s Filmpoem Album, and I hope other literary magazines will consider following suit. Also, I’m flattered that the Foreword (also on the website) cites Moving Poems as (according to Google Translate) “authoritative,” though it must be said that my nearly exclusive focus on English-language videos, or videos with English subtitles, does make the site a bit less inclusive than it might otherwise be. But that’s precisely why we need projects like DEM 149 to help pick up the slack.

Dave Bonta

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for all the praise. I can answer some of your questions.

    As curator for the filmmakers i wanted to choose some filmmakers who were not known names in the filmpoem world, some artists, photographers, documentary makers, filmmakers. We wanted to expand the medium to these filmmakers. There are only two possibly familiar names. Alastair Cook, he was picked because of his involvement with FelixPoetry Filmpoem day in Antwerp. The magazine premiered there. Judith Dekker, relatively new on the moving poetry scene but last years winner of the Filmpoem prize in Dunbar.

    The magazine is belgian, hence the poetry in the native tongue of the Dutch and Belgian poets. We are working on subtitled versions! We’ll keep you posted.

    • Thanks for clarifying the filmmaker selection process. Your strategy of approaching people new to the genre certainly seems to have produced some interesting films! And you anticipated another question I had, about the possibility of English-subtitled versions. Do let me know if/when those become available on Vimeo or YouTube so I can share them at the main site.

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