Sara Ferro: "Encounters with the occult have been kind of numinous phenomenology through my whole existence but rather in homeopathically dilutional intakes. Always already present there, a live-action spectre ready to manifest itself, mostly in the folds of a popculture-erudition, which I fancied above all to enjoy. I became aware of how much our culture was unawarely prone to ghosts and phantoms of a future time which failed to advance. Then, when I wrote my master thesis about the sociology of nostalgia, I understood how much ontologies had transformed themselves in hauntology – quoting a Derrida’s neologism through the crypto punk scholar’s interpretation of him in the CCRU members’ neurotic space of realist reflections – a change old as modernity but materializing itself in its bolder form after the no future of punks mixed up with the phosphoric fluorescence of the ‘80s. Losing the terrain of the future, a retroverted gaze spread out. Fertile soil for the conceptions of Perennialism, which conquered me.
My pivotal confrontation with occult sciences was a very much Italian story under an obscured sun of an early afternoon of a similarly Italian summer in the ‘80s. Umberto Eco’s Foucault's Pendulum came by mail from a readers' club and the element of air together with what I wanted so much to see as a facet of secrecy because of the book society, enhanced by the arcane sigils on the book cover’s black background, let me begin despite being a child, with that reading, which at that age I obviously couldn't grasp, first of all for the fact it commenced with all the oddest lucubrations about a password in front of a file hermetically guarded by a computer, a device which I had barely already seen in reality and that since the moment on I was pretty sure it would serve the purposes of strange inquests which had to be mysterious and sinister on behalf of obscure individuals with an uncommon learnedness in the matters and fields of at the time advancing cybernetics. Thus, quite the opposite of the idea of the Personal Computer we are accustomed to, decisively towards cypherpunk. Perhaps all these secretiveness and mystery were due to my innate cliquey, cabalistic vision of the society, which has in common many tenets of the ones who earlier or later reencounter themselves on the perennial path, yet abhorring conservatism for its disdain towards the vulnerable part of humanity (too simple!) and so much as traditionalism for being prone to compromising and consequently being abused by the lovers of commonplaces. On the contrary, insisting that a hint of accelerated anarco-progression might be the secret ingredient to achieve alternative to states - not only politically speaking - but also alternative states of conscience, because, if preserving is paramount for getting informed, and to be informed is holy, the act of creation is at least its ontological preceding. The discovery of an underground occult path continued on a fictional way in the same years through the adventures of Dylan Dog, another Italian antihero although he was invented to be a bad (English) boy. To sum up, in the beginning, there were detective stories with encyclopedic imprinting, adventures of the mind, telepathically intraminds but also a hell lot of ghost stories, victorian or homemade. So, I found myself pretty early attracted by the unknown, maybe likewise many children, but I challenged the interest itself by inventing situations where diffusive attractive feelings could materialize and bring the fascination farther to the point that for instance the expedition to an ancient castle, a private mansion in the neo-gothic revival style, quickly developed into a quest for uncover hidden meanings once in some architectures or any artifacts, a passion for pinpointing symbolism in art and detecting hermetic plots or esoteric allegories and metaphors in cultural production, e.g. in movies. Later on came the discovery of cardinal texts and authors of the American counterculture and Psychedelia, such a bright and enlightening vision that inflamed me; i must admit, I have never been a member of something gothic and dark because I found that subculture somehow as lacking taste or after all in a few cases really creative. Then in the ‘90s, verily the grunge years, I was indeed in the grip of the first exclusive postmodern celebration of nostalgia for a style and a decade, the ‘70s. I could discover there in related trivia, memorabilia and fashion some Ariadne’s threads that brought me to a journey for knowing more about some esoteric findings evocatively disseminated also in writers who are not directly associated with something occult like Henry Miller and Don De Lillo, namely with Tropic of Cancer and The Names for not speaking of masters of supernatural and magic realism like Gustav Meyrink or Hermann Hesse. Other stirring points were my interest in understanding some features deep at work at the roots of German culture, which I pointed out for being the matrix of the Western counterculture, back to the age of the Reform and subterranean movements around it like the one of the Rosicrucians but also incentred on figures like Paracelsus and later Samuel Hahnemann as reformers of medicine as well as polymaths like Agrippa von Nettesheim or Athanasius Kircher, yet above all, illustrious or obscure professors in the fields of religions studies and philology at the edge of the 20th century, bookish men all in all, who let a terrific heritage of bits of knowledge on terrains who nobody before has had the insight to plow with such an almost divinely driven and frenzy engagement. Then I moved to austere groupings yet with an artistic attitude like the ones who strived for reforming society and culture via changing lifestyles, the beautiful losers, and daydreamers of the so-called "Lebensreform" movements, Monte Verità and other communes. Meanwhile, on the path of my graduate studiesin Sociology, I focused on deviance theories, personal adaptation to anomie, and almost by chance I came across chaos magick theories, socio-cultural experiments as MKUltra, Echelon and the contracultural response to such projects, as Discordianism. Much inspiration came from some books by a neoteric psychogeographic collective named Luther Blissett - today Wu Ming. In such a manner I felt to be part of an “invisible college”, like in the rosicrucian work Speculum sophicum Rhodo-stauroticum by Theophilus Schweighardt.
So my background up to a very sounded interest in the occult hasn’t been through practices belonging to particular subcultures, like the ones for example linked to black and death metal neither connoted by an active participation in any circles, but a pretty bookish, imaginative, idiosyncratic approach. Another source, just sui generis and unique in its genre was Franco Battiato’s music and the love for prog-rock with the inception of this adoration in the soundtracks of some Dario Argento’s films, as in Profondo rosso with the scores of the band Goblin from Genoa, but also more international bands as Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Album covers gave me often a glimpse in the occult world, yet one off-the-wall, truly mine, whose flashes were colourful psychedelic as already mentioned, a bit like in Rogers Dean’s LP covers. By looking at them I detected much more than something leading to science fiction or fantasy worlds, as the inspirational sources of all this, something archetypical but also learned and handed on by distinctive members of certain traditions of thoughts, perennialist strains. Covers often load with mythology, ancient lures and occult imagery but who wanted to create futuristic music after all. Last but not least, parallel to those cultural or subcultural discoveries, there were some strange events in my family on my mother’s side, mostly regarding dream interpretations, spiritualistic beliefs, a sort of paranormal storytelling about what was on in some of the family’s members lives, which had a profound impact on the course of events in my life and above all on how I interpreted the whole. Growing up adopting conduct of life imbued by precepts deriving from naturopathy naturally led me first to adopting a Weltanschauung with a strong tenet in the teachings of homoeopathy first and later on, studying alchemy. To the splendour of coming to approach at least speculatively the Great Art contributed my bibliomania: it was because of my passion for rare books and for job experience in an auction house dedicated to such a trade, for which I acted as a contributor. By compiling the catalogue I more and more came in contact with alchemical symbology, but this encounter set in motion the conviction that this imagery deserved to gain new life, but how? By transforming them into moving images or rather, into motion pictures. It was precisely at that time when I decidedly understood my real vocation had to be becoming a filmmaker. I moved from sociology to antique trade to filmmaking and curating filmmakers who seek to instil some spirit in their works. All in all, my existence is marked by later moves for seeking career changes or more existential ones, I am a total lateral entrant and I wish to remain as such because only change persists - in this phrasing all the inconsistency of us human beings that always occurs when confronted by the idea of change!
I neither see myself as a participant in any coterie or as a devotee to any particulartradition with a neon name nor I am a follower of any path but the one emerging from my inner vision where many rivers of conscience steam, hopefully, higher and higher. I scrutinize the wide spectrum of phenomena inherent to the occult with the outlook of a sociologist for some aspects or even more with the gaze of the cultural studies, because I do not only analyze behaviours, values, structures but biographies, cultural artefacts, oeuvres, texts, the arts, I am much more focusing on the content itself and its hermeneutics. I look at the occultism as a methodology for producing every time a new or semi new magical system based on synergies between spiritual complexes taken out from religious schemes which worked well to free the spirit, something modular where each module is harmoniously coactive for producing effects at the level of the earthly existence and beyond, which in the end is pretty the same thing.
Occult images got ubiquitous, they spread from distinctive, especially subcultures and became the heritage of other ones, a cross-over phenomenon typical of revival we experience in postmodern sub spheres – which hasn‘t to grasp necessarily in the days of old, they can be short-term too –, because if occultism is intrinsically periodic in history (even in antiquity so as in Renaissance), its waves are nowadays irresistible, you feel the push to surf them. If the occult was modernist matter par excellence, it is now more than congruous it is nostalgically boosted by postmodern culture. Perhaps there is an esoteric agenda at work which predetermines this evolution. It would be interesting to analyze the interplay between such occult forces at the top or above the social structure and the subcultures who have appropriated themselves of occult themes in order to fight the system and dominant culture, it would be curious inquiring whether the goals are akin, complementary, at least compatible or they simply differ. But let’s come back to the imagery, then to the images and pictures, all moving or in motion, so, fundamentally, films. This imagery has already found one of its exclusive places in the movies, first because cinema was born in an age which has been central to the wave formed revival of occult science, then, fin-de-siécle was en epoch with a resurgence in the interest in the mystery-laden arts and in taking part in certain gathering committed to experimentation with contacting spirits and celebrate rituals along with brand-new theories and exotic ideas. To invent a film festival consecrated to occult and esoteric motion pictures and moving images, given the emergence of a solid awareness that cinema had something occult dated back to its very origins was mandatory, we felt a call!
Reading the marvellous stories of Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt, for instance, Favola di Venezia, was the first source for a certain kind of fascination towards Venice, it was the imprinting event which shed a peculiar light on the already quaint play between shadows and lights which is crucial in that unique city. Quite a gnostic vision. The dualism aspect presents itself there manifoldly, a crossroad between East and West, Christianity and Judaism, for both the cases unorthodoxically aligned, although never under the Teutonic Empire, Venice was attracted by some feature of the radical Reformation. By the same token, the lagoon city hasn’t directly taken part in classical Humanistic circles but attracted distinguished occultists in a disguised form, almost as agent-provocateur, because itself interested in power-driven strategies. The presence of cabalists and crypto-jews who practised Judaism in secret gave shape to practices of always reading circumstances and things diploidy. And, at the end of the day, what better place could you find to establish a film festival utterly new in its specific way in the city which hosted, with the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema di Venezia, the first film festival in the world?
Right in the city of Casanova, Freemason himself, hand in glove with the Count of Saint Germain and Cagliostro, what is more fascinating? Along with some cryptic narrations, Venice might be a repository of the arcanist Sancta Sanctorum paraphernalia kept secret in the city’s very paramount places as either hosting some of the oddest secret societies, sects and churches, as well as, vampires, luring in the calli in the darkest of the nights!
Let’s reflect upon some expressions like “occult arts” and “occults sciences''. The first locution fits well the premodern and early modern ages so as the postmodern phenomenon of the insurgences and ubiquity of occult images covering the space from tattoos to cinema and the fine arts. It’s still something arts and crafts ante litteram. Occult sciences refer instead to systems, either the emerging one of science commencing in the baroque age, when also leading scientists urged the acceptability of the occult phenomena and qualities in natural philosophy – other than in the Aristotelian systematics, where everything was restricted to the human senses - or however to established systems of thought, systematized believes which are at the same time utmostly syncretic and ideologically working towards a semiotic closure albeit being overt to the most diversiform possibilities, given that they pre-eminently functions through symbols and the complexity of the multilayered society of ours. Now, irrespective of the urge of a more in-depth theoretical discourse about modernity/postmodernity, the fact is that in modern culture and in the arts there are plenty of references to the occult world, some more blatant and unabashed than other, rather for salonnières, other pretty undercover and which built the core of secret societies or very exclusive secret affinities as in the case of Fulcanelli. So if the interest in the occult sciences is primarily a feature of modern times, through the very postmodern peculiarity of reenacting and revisiting figures and stories pertaining to a previous epoch, principally constituent the lineaments of modern arts for instance, then we assist to a resurgence of those interests in form of a even more syncretistic fashion, promiscuous, miscellaneous, hybrid, dada."
Chris Weil (Technical director) and Sara Ferro (Festival director)
Sara Ferro and Chris Weil: filmmakers and artists, curators and founders of the Hermetic International Film Festival. Besides their engagement for the Indie film festival community, they produce feature documentaries with a focus on the esoteric and the occult, arthouse movies, and experimental shorts. Their goal is to expand the conscious mind by using hypnosis and psychedelic approaches for their Avant-garde cinema. Moreover, the duo creates Audiovisual Shows, Cinebitions, Expanded Cinema, Moving Images, Video Art installations, and VR experiences.