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Who The Hell Is Aryan Kaganof?

If you live in the U.S. — and probably many places in the world — you don’t know who filmmaker Aryan Kaganof is. His films don’t screen at festivals here. Never has his work been released on DVD here. Nor is he ever written up on any U.S. film website, except the one you’re reading. While the above video produced by One Small Seed is more abstract than a proper intro, the piece gives a good feel of what this South African cinematic provocateur is all about. WARNING: NSFW in the least!

At any given time, Kaganof would top an Underground Film Journal list of filmmakers who deserves wider appreciation. I wish his films would make it to the U.S., so everyone could see what they’re missing out on. Luckily, I was introduced to his work via mutual friend Dionysos Andronis, who co-directed the documentary By Any Old Light, which features Kaganof meeting one of his idols, Peter Whitehead, the British avant-garde filmmaker who is also mostly unknown in the U.S.

Some of Kaganof’s work can be very difficult and tough to take. I almost had to turn off his short film Dead Man II: Return of the Dead Man during an absolutely horrific opening sequence, but happily I stuck with it for a rich, beautiful and challenging experience.

The feature films that I’ve seen of his are complex moral and intellectual exercises, whether it’s mining the dark side of human nature as an autobiographical exercise in Ten Monologues From the Lives of the Serial Killers; or making the first ever feature film shot on a cell phone about prostitutes and their pimp on Christmas Eve in SMS Sugar Man; or exploring the nature of reality and consciousness on the set of an avant-garde film production in the documentary Civilization and Other Chimeras Observed During the Making of an Exceptionally Artistic Feature Film.

Civilization and Other Chimeras was named the Underground Film Journal’s 2009 Movie of the Year.

What one gets the most out of the above embedded video interview is how Kaganof weaves together the innocent and loving with the profane, with a sprinkling of the political. In the interview, he goes from discussing the love of his baby daughter to the sexual nature of the universe to South African politics. His films do much the same, weaving together several diverse, philosophical concepts into a rich, textured tapestry.


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