Xcèntric, the cinema of the CCCB (Barcelona)

Xcèntric is the cinema of the CCCB, the contemporary cultural centre of Barcelona: a space dedicated to experimental cinema and art films.

The Xcentric project of experimental cinema was born in 2001 among the cultural project CCCB and has, over the years, turned into the meeting place for cinephiles and students wishing to discover rare pieces of cinema. This is where we met with Gloria Vilches, coordinator of that programme she cherishes, who guided us through the various spaces and activities of the place.

The films selection for Xcentric is made in a special manner: a team of guest programmers composed of specialists, university professors and artists submits their list of choices – from experimental films to creative documentaries or local film-makers pieces – , from which they structure a programme following a theme. « Creating a programme is like making a film, you gather pieces to create a coherent ensemble. In a way, it is a creative work. »

Thanks to this this collective work/mission, a wide span of artists are selected from all over the world and whose pieces – recent or older – are shown in their original format whenever it is possible. Those films share a common features : difficulty to access them and their non-circulation in distribution circuits. « It is very costly, having a film roll to be shipped  from the US, for example, can be as much as 500€ for a single screening ; we know we would not have such luxury if we were not a public institution ». Each session is a unique event. « Generally, there are only a few existing copies. The artist owns one, some times the distributor has another, and we have to handle them extremely carefully, but, before anything, it is about locating them! This why I love my job, it’s like being a detective»

Creating a programme is like making a film, you gather pieces to create a coherent ensemble. In a way, it is a creative work.

In order to unearth these films, they collaborate with numerous international distributors like Canyon Cinema and Filmaker’s Coop in the US, Light Cone in France, LUX in the UK, but also with museums such as the New York MOMA or the Pompidou centre in Paris, and European film libraries (International Federation of Film Archives). Programming builds itself naturally from films discovered at festivals like in Rotterdam, the 25FPS in Croatia, the Courtisane in Belgium, the Oberhausen in Germany and special sections such as the Experimenta within the London Film Fest or at the Views From the Avant-Garde at the New York Festival.

« We intent to have an equal number of males and females in our selection », continues Gloria. « It always surprises us that there are not more female directors. Within the traditional cinema industry, there is an issue with the lack of trust from funders to let a woman manage a big budget ; but with experimental cinema, films are generally cheaper to fund and created by just one person. This is why it is a great field for women to express themselves. But unfortunately, there are still not that many women, and we have to make an effort for discovering them. So go on female directors, make films! We will show them! »

In the prospect of widening discovery work, a special department was born at the CCCB, Pantalla CCCB. One month, one artist. « We have realised many students were making films, but often they didn’t know what to do with their work afterwards. There was a no man’s land between being a young artist creating first pieces and being an established artist. What to do when you start? Where to send your work? Where to show it? It is easy for an institution to programme established artists, it guarantees an audience, but it is riskier to show the work of emerging artists. And that is the very purpose of Pantalla, to offer a screen to young artists » explains Gloria. The audience can get familiar with their work in a dedicated space or online on the CCCB website.

We followed Gloria in the archive room, Arxiu Xcèntric, located in the Audi visual Space of the CCCB, composed by monitors and a small free-access cinema screen where the public can come to watch films from a collection of about one thousand experimental films, most of which you cannot fin elsewhere.

A specially designed interface was created for this space; it allows you to research pieces via tags, or to navigate through films collections, offering spectators time to explore at their own pace, or to get inspiration from the short films selection « menus » fashioned by the Xcèntric team.

« I believe that for this type of films, you need someone to open a little door for entering their universe. This is what we try to do with archives and other educational programmes. » This state of mind also is an invitation to reconsider frontiers between amateurs and professionals, encouraging everyone to dig their own furrow. « We love that term “amateur”, it is something that is very important to us, and it is a very positive word to us. In the traditional cinema world, if something is “amateur”, it is seen as something bad, something non-professional, coming from someone who doesn’t know how to make films. But in the experimental world, amateur which comes from love, “amar”, people film only what they love ».

The CCCB organizes editing workshops, montages, where the film roll is used as a primary material. The playful and practical approach allows the public to forget clichés experimental art often suffers from, and then discovers it as new expression medium. Gloria played us different extracts from animated films and stopped on a Norman McLaren short-film, a regular user of direct roll work. « This is so great, when I see that it makes me mad to hear people say experimental art is elitist or boring. »

The CCCB also publishes books and dvds; the last one was a collection of short-films recounting the history of Spanish animation. In order to reach a wider audience, the CCCB organizes outdoor projections every summer called “Gandules” in the central courtyard of the centre and welcome about 700 people.

The Xcèntric proposes an exploration of fields beyond traditional narrative forms: it attempts to distance itself from elitist approaches in order to favour a communicative passion drawing to curiosity.

Translation by Eva Jaurena ♥