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Film Fest Gent

Film Fest Gent (Alexandre O. Philippe x Alex Heffes, 2023)

NotesPart of Special Issue1: 25X250

How many people know that one of the first chapters in the story of the moving image is set in Belgium? Alexandre O. Philippe’s short pays tribute to Joseph Plateau, a physicist at Ghent University who in 1832 came up with a device through which an illustrated cardboard disc could be spun and viewed in a mirror to produce the illusion of movement. Alex Heffes sets the stage for Philippe’s return to film’s prehistory, providing him with a stirring orchestral miniature that recalls the swashbuckling romance of cinema’s golden age. As Heffes’ fluttering strings build to a triumphant major chord, illustrations of nineteenth century Ghent make way for a portrait of Plateau himself and early daguerreotypes of the city he would have known. The rest of the film is given over to his invention, called the phenakistiscope, from the Greek for ‘deception’. Lush animations bring to life a selection of the early phenakistiscope discs—snakes, jugglers, ballerinas and a host of other kinetic wonders—allowing us to relive the world’s first glimpse of pictures in motion. Amid these visual delights, Heffes’ score quotes the melody from which his whole piece is in fact extrapolated: ‘Happy Birthday to You’. Here is Philippe and Heffes’ little fiftieth birthday present to Film Fest Gent, ready for us to open.