EVENT ‘A Wall Is A Screen', a project initiated by Hamburg-born artist Peter Stein, drew a curious audience at Elliot's Beach to its short films projected on walls

I t was a strange procession that crossed Elliot's Beach last Wednesday evening — three young men bounced a fully-loaded handcart through the sand, followed by a few dozen people laughing and talking and children who hopped about the cart excitedly. Were the beach-goers about to witness a new spiritual ritual, perhaps? No, this time it was not religion that brought the people together, but art.

What the three young men were pulling across the sands was a mobile cinema: a laptop, a projector, and two speakers. From time to time, the three halted the procession and screened one or two of their short films, which they projected in succession on the walls of buildings — the Schmidt Memorial, the wall of an athletic club and a self-made tarpaulin held by two poles.

‘A Wall Is A Screen' is the name of the project initiated by the Hamburg-born artist Peter Stein in 2003 and with which he has been travelling the world since. “The idea behind it is to win back the public space for the people,” explains Stein. It is dominated all too often by consumerism and commerce, traffic or trash. People are driven away from it or forced to adapt to the prescribed uses. One good example of this is the hubs of big west European cities, where people only work or shop, but no longer live.

Taking it across the world

Stein has already set up his mobile cinema in 135 towns; he's been to Morocco, Lithuania, Moldova and Texas. “But, I've never shown films on a beach,” Stein said following the screening in Chennai. It was strenuous, but lots of fun. The perspiration was shining on the foreheads of Stein and his companions Thomas Baumgarten and Sven Schwarz when they dragged their heavy vehicle to another spot on the beach.

The tour began right next to the skating rink with a short, powerful, fast-cut film from France projected on the opposite wall.

It showed a man in athletic gear doing exercises at various places in a city, deep-knee bends and stretches. Loud music boomed in the darkness. People approached, at first hesitantly, and curiously looked at the scene. Children hopped in front of the wall, some tried to catch the rays emitting from the projector. In the second film, young people spoke of their dreams of a humanitarian city, a project by the Goethe Institut together with German filmmaker Anja Schütze and students from Chennai. The spell was broken when the third film climaxed with a proper Bollywood-style happy end.

The highlight of the evening, however, was ‘Prakash Travelling Cinema', a film by Chennai director Megha Lakhani on two men in Kolkata who operate a travelling cinema for children. These men take the discarded remnants of professional films and piece them together to make a movie.

Peter Stein and his colleagues showed nine films that evening. They have 700 on their programme. Stein is pleased with the response. The percentage of invited guests and passersby was fifty-fifty — a good proportion, he said.

The next day, the films were screened at L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy. The films were also screened in Mumbai and Delhi on the invitation of the Goethe-Institut as part of the Year of Germany and India. Stein and his companions are heading back to Germany, but some of the visitors to Elliot's Beach will certainly remember ‘A wall is a screen' for a long time to come.