Victor Orozco Ramirez is a filmmaker with all his heart and soul. Living in Germany since 2002, the Mexican by birth has been a long-established name in the German and international short film scene with his experimental shorts. He is, however, still placed by many in the “animated film” pigeonhole, although he regards himself as a documentary filmmaker. For Orozco Ramirez, who studied among others under Pepe Danquart at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts (HFBK), animation is quite simply “one recording technique among many” that he avails of to narrate and tell his stories.
Stories that are concerned with the desire for the instantaneous and the critical scrutiny of (digital) realities, yet which never lose themselves in painterly escapism, and instead focus – in a poetic and at times dizzying manner – on their immediate surroundings. Doing so, his own view and the irreducible personal perspective play a role not to be underestimated.
This is already exemplified visually in his early film TATEIKIE BEHIND THE CURTAIN (2008) that transports us to the independent indigenous village of Tateikie in the Mexican Sierra Madre. For a long time, the Huicholes, who have been natives there for centuries, lived a very reclusive life as mountain farmers and hunters in this impassable region. This permitted them to remain one of the last aboriginal tribes of Mexico just minimally affected by civilisation. Increased contacts with civilisation only first occurred over the last few decades, meaning that their ancient religious rites in adoration of the father-sun and mother-ocean nature gods, as well as of the maize, eagle, deer and peyote sub-deities, create an interesting liaison at times with the newly added Roman Catholic rituals today.
TATEIKIE BEHIND THE CURTAIN (2008) © Victor Orozco Ramirez – full film on Vimeo
In Tateikie, Orozco Ramirez wants to film the ceremonies during the Roman Catholic Holy Week, which have become mixed together in a crossover with the ancient indigenous celebrations of the beginning of spring. However, at first, he does not receive permission from the village council to do so. They have become too angry at letting themselves be persuaded over the last few years to be filmed by camera-bearing tourists making the most disparate of promises to them, without these gringos ever actually keeping these promises. Orozco, who has travelled back from Hamburg to Mexico specifically to film in the village, initially becomes annoyed by this. But he soon realises that the young people in the village, which has only recently been electrified and thus has TV reception as well now, see the situation quite differently. The youth clearly sense that at this very moment their community is experiencing decisive changes. They ask Victor to film despite the ban and help cloak his efforts to keep the camera as hidden as possible during the shooting. Two brothers take him under their wing, invite him into their home and, by doing so, make him one of their own. Unlike the other tourists and journalists, he is permitted to stay in the village overnight during the festive days and is soon no longer perceived as being “foreign”.
Ultimately, Victor decides to turn the clandestine camerawork – originally just a stopgap solution – into a stylistic aspect of the film. Over and again, the image is constricted by curtains and drapes, behind which the camera peeks out, or by slits in wooden crates, through which the camera follows the procession as it moves through the village. And according to Orozco, already by the second day no one was interested anymore whether he filmed or not. Suddenly it was possible to have the camera right in the middle of the action when a cow was sacrificed and the people made music in their peyote intoxication. But what Victor Orozco Ramirez wants to shoot is not just a further ethnographic documentation of indigenous rituals. Instead, with “Tateikie. Behind the curtain”, he poses the question of which role one’s own view plays in a documentary and how the irreducible constraint resulting from the subjective perspective shapes our image of the world. In this film, the observing is at least as much of its focus as that which is being observed.
REALITY 2.0 (2012) © Victor Orozco Ramirez – full film on Vimeo
Questions like these have preoccupied Orozco Ramirez to the present day and repeatedly play a role in his films. This is also true for REALITY 2.0 (2012), his graduation film at the Hamburg art university. Again, this film takes a look at his homeland of Mexico. This time, however, it does not do so in a direct manner, but rather from the perspective of the exile Mexican living in Hamburg. He maintains the connection with his homeland by consuming countless YouTube videos and television reports on and from Mexico. These videos are repeatedly concerned with the escalating violence by the drug and criminal cartels there, with corruption and despotism. The director asks himself which consequences this spiral of violence will ultimately have for Mexican society and how the human craving for voyeurism fans the explosion in violence – both in real life and in the media. What happens to us when we are surrounded by images of violence? Which influence does this background medial noise of hate and violence – which seems to have become a new normality in Mexico – have on the human soul?
In REALITY 2.0, Victor Orozco Ramirez used rotoscoping to distort the original footage he had gathered from the internet. He handled the video snippets, which were partly oozing with savagery, like some dangerous contaminated raw material that had to be processed with great care, so that it would become unable to continue appealing to the lowest instincts of the viewers. The usage of the rotoscoping noticeably curbs the glaringly excessive explicitness of the violence in the video images. The filter was like a veil placed over the horrific images, abstracting and defusing them, and thus permitting a critical reflection of what had happened. For that however, the unchanged soundtrack in the videos still bears witness to the horrors in the original scenes and is barely endurable at times. Here and there, it is overlaid with an off-screen commentary spoken by the filmmaker himself, which links together the various scenes and episodes, and accords the film its stringently media-critical message. REALITY 2.0 is the Mexican filmmaker’s most successful film to date, with it being screened globally at countless festivals and awarded numerous prizes, including the German Short Film Award for the Best Documentary and the First Steps Award.
32-RBIT (2018) © Victor Orozco Ramirez – full film on Vimeo
For almost two years, Orozco Ramirez travelled around the world with REALITY 2.0, attended a multitude of festivals at which the film was screened and joined in dozens of discussions. As he says himself, to some extent he forgot that he was a filmmaker at this time, simply succumbing to the trips and the festival life. But at some point, the time came for him to focus on his next project. This was occasioned among others by some personal misfortune. A hard drive crash caused an irreparable loss of data for him. This also concerned the edited versions of his four older films, SPARE THE BLOOD, SPOIL THE CHILD (2005), THEATER OF CRUELTY (2004), SQUAREHEAD (2003) and MAKE ME A SAINT (2002), which were suddenly now only saved on old DV cassettes. Years of work had ended up on the very abyss of forgetfulness due to a wrong combination of keys. And it was the collectively displaced transience of the digital memories that led him directly to his next film, 32-RBIT (2018).
The film recounts the history of digitisation as the story of a disappointed love – a love for the internet with its concomitant promise of the complete availability of information and networking. Only after a honeymoon phase in which, like most of us, Orozco Ramirez regards the internet as a democratisation machine in the land of limitless digital possibilities, does it gradually become apparent that the medialisation of life also entails some grievous downsides. The internet’s promise of freedom turns out to be the ultimate enslavement tactic. Instead of all the content and distractions that nurture the illusion in us of actually knowing about the world for free, in fact with every click we pay for this with our personal data. And our rigid look at the virtual world actually blocks our view of life. It seems we are damned to repeatedly make the same mistake and presume freedom is there, where in fact we are only submitting ourselves to the rules of the attention economy, rules that are not so hidden at all anymore.
Technically speaking, 32-RBIT is somewhat similar to the prior film REALITY 2.0. Here too, the found footage from the internet is processed using rotoscoping. However, the images seem much flatter and far less digital. This may also be due to the fact that the backgrounds in that film – unlike with 32-RBIT – are all painted by hand. The colouring is quite a bit gloomier, and rather than the green-white-red “Mexican national colours” with which many scenes in REALITY 2.0 were recoloured, 32-RBIT works solely with black and white contrasts.
Speaking about himself, Victor Orozco Ramirez says he is an artist who progresses from the fragment to the whole. The connecting element between the self-contained scenes consists of the off-screen commentary he himself speaks, which revolves around his theme in an essayistic manner. The images and commentary are precisely aligned with each other, however never in an illustrative or explanatory manner, but always with a fine sense for the gaps between the images and the commentary that the audiences themselves can, must and may fill in with meaning.
As he does in fact abhor off-screen commentaries, it took a while for him to realise that the common thread in his films has often been exactly these off-screen commentaries. Up to the present day, Victor Orozco Ramirez has completely avoided using “classic” commentaries that recount precisely what you see anyway or inflate the scenes with a meaning that does not result from what is shown. Instead of using the commentary as a targeted manipulation of the audience, by now he has perfected the art of turning his narrative voice into a stand-alone, independent level next to the image, sound, music and editing.
It is not only for these reasons that his working method is far more similar to that of a documentary or essay film filmmaker than to the classic approach taken in animation film. Ultimately, his films first emerge on the editing table. While animation filmmakers often meticulously plan their projects in advance, approach the work collaboratively in larger teams and usually know from the outset how their film should “look and feel”, Orozco Ramirez is more likely to work spontaneously and remain solely responsible as an auteur filmmaker for everything to the very end, including which ideas, images, themes, sounds and found footage he uses. For him, short film is not some practice run, and definitely not a calling card to open doors, but rather the genuine medium in which he wants to express himself. His working approach entails his requiring much time for each of his films, for which reason it is not surprising that art, personal life and the everyday are often brought together in a tight combination in his works.
In his newest film REVOLYKUS (2020), for instance, we see his own house in a small village in south Germany, which he bought in a dilapidated condition and renovated bit by bit in a process lasting for years. The fact that he not only did the work without using any heavy equipment, but also recorded many of the working stages using stop-trick, such as the removal of various layers of wallpaper or the dismantling of ceiling panelling, meant that the renovations inevitably took a lot of time. But they did result in an outstandingly animated short film, one that is dedicated to the subjects of radicalisation and racism. On the visual level, REVOLYKUS is clearly distinct from his two prior films because this time around the rotoscoping images processed in the computer no longer take centre stage, and instead only self-shot images of the house and its surroundings are used. Various stop-trick variants are utilised in the work, as well as direct animations on the walls, floors and furniture in the house, in a manner reminiscent of the work by the graffiti artist Blu. It seems as though the artist, after his two previous media-critical films that were completely based on YouTube footage, has now liberated himself somewhat from the medial embrace and wants to come in direct contact with the real world once more.
REVOLYKUS (2020) © Victor Orozco Ramirez – Trailer on Vimeo
The connections between the visible and the audible have clearly become more fragile in this film, which the quality of the off-screen commentary emphasises even more and the hypnotic impact of the editing underscores. It is possible to view REVOLYKUS without difficulty several times, also without once having the feeling of having grasped all the levels of meaning. With this film, Victor Orozco Ramirez had drawn a deeply horrifying image of the present (in Germany), in which racism, xenophobia and narrow-mindedness are generating a new counterculture in both everyday life and the media. While the house is progressively robbed of its typical petty-bourgeois fixtures and fittings, the narrative in the commentary develops to become a lament presented without any anger whatsoever, one that gains in force and vehemence minute by minute. REVOLYKUS is a dystopian commentary on the circumstances in pandemic-ridden Germany, in which the political sphere is characterised by the fear of the citizens drifting away from it to the right. Commencing with a small, dilapidated house that would become the new mainstay of his existence, Victor Orozco Ramirez has cast his eye with great clarity on how inner and outer circumstances condition each other and where the country that has become his new homeland is moving.
„Since some time ago, I don’t get out that much. Outside is is quite cold. Besides, that’s how I avoid the stares. Inside here, in this wrecked house. I hope to escape this journey at the end of the night.“ (Quoted from REVOLYKUS)
MAKE ME A SAINT (2002)
THEATER OF CRUELTY (2004)
SPARE THE BLOOD, SPOIL THE CHILD (2005)
TATEIKIE BEHIND THE CURTAIN (2008)
REALITY 2.0 (2012)