Theme 2023: Against Gravity

69th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, 26 April – 1 May 2023


Against Gravity. The Art of Machinima

The first extensive overview of experimental machinima at a major film festival


This year, Oberhausen will be the first major film festival to present a large-scale overview of a relatively young genre: machinima. Machinima is defined as “the art of making animated films within a real-time virtual 3D environment”. Makers of machinima use video games or game engines to extract or produce moving images for their artistic purposes. Having emerged from a grassroots gaming community, machinima has become not only a huge phenomenon among gamers. More and more artists and filmmakers have also taken it up as a fruitful visual tool. They experiment with new aesthetic possibilities, explore, analyse, subvert and deconstruct the conventions of gaming worlds such as Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, and lay bare their political, economic and social frameworks. Curated by Vladimir Nadein and Dmitry Frolov, “Against Gravity. The Art of Machinima” will consist of eight sessions, including one live performance, and a panel discussion, and offer an opportunity to experience a genre that has evolved from the gaming subculture to become a new artistic medium.


“Machinima is a very young but rapidly developing medium in the age where the question of medium specificity becomes less and less prominent. The border between traditional cinema and new forms of filmmaking is blurring dramatically. We believe that machinima can be a liberating tool for visual artists of all kinds and deserves to be treated as a form of avant-garde cinema.” (Vladimir Nadein/Dmitry Frolov)


The film programmes:


THEME 1. Start the Game ↵ (Live Performance)

“Against Gravity. The Art of Machinima” will open with a new iteration of the in-game performance Everyday Daylight by the award winning media guerrilla group Total Refusal (Austria), performed live in Oberhausen. Exploring the GTA V Los Angeles simulacrum named Los Santos, the collective introduces various movies, performances and art projects to address the widely-debated notion of hyperrealism in video games.


THEME 2. Hold the Controller

This programme focuses on the dual nature of computer environments and avatars, which allow us to become someone or something else while remaining ourselves. The works range from a music video in which two avatars have been re-programmed to breakdance (Dance Voldo Dance, Chris Brandt) via virtual reality environments programmed to help soldiers overcome PTSD (My Own Landscapes, Antoine Chapon) and a step-by-step tutorial exploring ideas around patterns in nature and existence (How to Fly, David Blandy, commissioned by the John Hansard Gallery) to a sensual and gender-fluid experience (But I wanna keep my head above water, Federica Di Pietrantonio).


THEME 3. Crack the Code

The first makers of machinima were hardcore gamers who used to crack the codes of computer games to produce their films. This initial subversive impetus has survived and become one of the major driving forces of artists working with machinima. The films in this programme reveal the patriarchal and capitalist ideologies in Second Life (Ain't Free, George Roxby-Smith), draw a parallel between the exploitation of digital bodies and the history of colonisation (It's in the Game '17, Sondra Perry), and examine how prevailing cultural conventions are projected into the game space (Why Don’t the Cops Fight Each Other, Grayson Earle).


THEME 4. Don't Forget to Save

The focus of this programme is on the uses of machinima in historical preservation and memory in the digital world. The works included are imbued with nostalgia for the gaming experience of the past (Codes of Honor, Jon Rafman; The Grannies, Marie Foulston), serve as an archival tool for digital environments and its inhabitants (Le Moment Fabriqué, Alan Butler), or use machinima to help uncover historical narratives hidden in video games (End Time and the Trajectories of Ancestors, Edwin Yun-Ting Lo).


THEME 5. Open the Map

This programme explores the ability of machinima, a perfect tool for the imagination, to serve as a catalyst for utopian thinking. With its help, artists can create and test models of the future, like the brave new world envisioned by queer teenagers from New York in Minecraft (Tracing Utopia, Nick Tyson, Catarina de Sousa) or three proposals for Mars habitation created by means of a game engine (The Martian Word for World is Mother, Alice Bucknell).


THEME 6. Unlock the Real

A selection of films examining the complex interrelation between the physical world and its “realistic” technical representation, with works by Harun Farocki, who dedicated his last completed piece to video games (Parallel I), by French artist Benoit Paillé, who highlights the failure of the mimetic paradigm with the time-lapse effect in Grand Theft Auto V (Hyper timelapse GTA V (crossroads of realities)), or Jacky Connolly, who demonstrates the loneliness and fear that haunt us when we are torn between the virtual and the material (Descent into Hell).


THEME 7. Cosplay as ...

What makes people imitate acclaimed and cult art pieces, such as Mulholland Drive or La Jetée? What makes filmmakers play with the heritage of great artists like Maya Deren or Andy Warhol? Remakes and re-enactments are at the centre of this programme, which asks what these digital doppelganger creations can tell us about the future of cultural production and consumption, from Clint Enns’ Rotterdam Tower to Gina Hara’s Sidings of the Afternoon.


THEME 8. Phil Solomon. Interplay

The programme concludes with an homage to Phil Solomon, a key figure of the American film avant-garde and Oberhausen award winner in 1990 for Remains to Be Seen. After a radical shift from photochemical filmmaking to machinima, he made his first work in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with his close friend and filmmaker Mark Lapore, who died shortly afterwards. This programme features Solomon’s trilogy In Memoriam, dedicated to Lapore, and two seminal 16-mm films: The Secret Garden (1988) and Twilight Psalm II: 'Walking Distance' (1999).



Panel Discussion

Between Cinema and Video Games: Exploring the Elusive Medium of Machinima

A discussion of the relationship between video games and cinema, looking at the evolution of machinima, its boundaries and potential future. Particular attention will be paid to the recent practice of using machinima by contemporary artists and independent filmmakers.

With: Alice Bucknell (artist and writer, London), IP Yuk-Yiu (filmmaker, media artist, art educator and curator, Hong Kong), Gemma Fantacci (curator, Milan Machinima Festival), Dr Tracy Harwood (Professor of Digital Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester).



The curators:


Vladimir Nadein (b. 1993, Moscow) is a curator, artist and film producer based in Taipei, Taiwan. His works were presented at the solo exhibition Deep Play, VT Artsalon and Greater Taipei Biennale. He produced an award-winning film Detours, supported by Hubert Bals Fund, received the Eurimages Lab Project Award at Les Arcs Film Festival and was shown at Venice Critics' Week, Viennale, Thessaloniki IFF, Berlin Critics' Week, FICUNAM, Jeonju IFF, IndieLisboa, Beldocs, FILMADRID, Camden IFF, TFAI, Barbican Centre among others. In 2016, Nadein co-founded the Moscow International Experimental Film Festival and directed it for five editions. He curated special programmes and screenings for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, Hamburg Short Film Festival, Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Garage Museum, University of California, Los Angeles and other venues. Nadein tutored at the Moscow School of New Cinema and is a member of the filmmaking duo together with Dina Karaman.


Dmitry Frolov (b. 1988, Kaliningrad) is an art and film curator and researcher based in Izmir, Turkey. He holds a BA in Сultural Studies from the Russian State University for the Humanities and an MA in Film Programming and Curating from Birkbeck, University of London. He has curated a variety of screenings, panels, performances and exhibitions dedicated to such artists as Maya Deren, Chris Marker, Tony Conrad, Vladimir Kobrin, Yoko Ono, Michael Snow, Annabel Nicholson, James Benning, Alain Cavalier, Aura Satz, Cao Fei, Ana Vaz, Cyprien Gaillard, etc. His texts have been published in Iskusstvo Kino, Spectate,, and other media. Since 2017, he has been working as a curator at the Moscow International Experimental Film Festival (MIEFF). Currently, he is also working as a film curator at Pushkin House, London.


Stills from “Against Gravity” are available for download here:


Oberhausen, 12 February 2023


Press contact: Sabine Niewalda, phone +49 (0)208 825-3073,