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Berlinale Bloggers 2020
Abstract Cinema About Minorities: Inaccessible to Newcomers?

"Matata" by Petna Ndaliko Katondolo
"Matata" by Petna Ndaliko Katondolo was shown at the Forum Expanded of the Berlinale 2020 | © Alkebu Film Production/Nottingham University

Experimental and abstract cinema is something that has always intrigued me, but I’ve never known where to start. The Berlinale dedicates two strands to abstract cinema, Forum and Forum Expanded. I was excited to watch some more unconventional films for the first time, and chose Untitled Sequence of Gaps, and Matata.

By Neelam Tailor

Matata used movement and dance to tell the story of colonialism and African representation. The passion and emotion in the dance was easier to connect with on a human level, but the lack of structure and plot in the films is what makes them tricky to piece together. I think it’s important to go into abstract films with an awareness of what you’re looking at, almost preparing your mind to think completely differently.

"Matata" by Petna Ndaliko Katondolo

Untitled Sequence of Gaps flitted between heat maps of the body, coloured flashes, a close-up of popcorn in the microwave, and scenes of witch-burning rituals, soundtracked with the filmmakers voice speaking poetically, though their message was difficult to decipher. The aesthetic was pleasing and then curious, but at the end there was a feeling of fragmentation as the audience struggled to put them together. I am very conscious that perhaps I don’t have the knowledge to understand it, there were members of the audience who had a grasp on the lateral thinking needed for abstract cinema and it definitely challenges the observer to think outside the box, not giving us the message on a plate.


Looking at the experimental film programme, many of the films are created about minority struggles. For me, it felt jarring that films about the struggles facing minorities who already find arts spaces inaccessible, were inaccessible to newcomers. I think there were many people who were trialing these films for the first time in the room, as the theatre was split between bewildered faces and knowing looks alike. It truly took the Q&A to explain what the film was about, despite me analysing the message while it was playing. On reflection, perhaps it’s easy to think too much in these films, and the power of them may lie in the ambiguity.

Abstract Film As Cathartis?

During the Q&A with Vika Kirchenbauer, I found out that it was about memory loss and queerness. But it also became clear that many people took their own meanings from the film as a couple of people in the audience voiced their interpretations, which were clearly at odds with that of the filmmaker. In a way, I can see how the ambiguity gives people an opportunity to project their own experiences onto the film - something which can be very cathartic. I am keen to continue my journey with abstract cinema, and I truly respect the artistry of the filmmakers despite finding the genre unimpactful.