PH at Berwick: Desktop Documentaries

Gautam Valluri

All That is Solid (2014)

All That is Solid (2014)

The tagline (and overall theme of the event) for this years Berwick Film and Media Arts festival is ‘Fact or Fiction’. One can find banners carrying this phrase throughout the town and sometimes even in small alleyways. This is also the string that ties together the various short works programmed under the Berwick New Cinema Shorts umbrella. This is what happened.

The program kicked off with Tim Leyendekker’s Blinder, a film that stuns the eyes. The film allegedly ‘consists of 6,386 photographs representing every character and object featured in the English translation of José Saramago’s novel Ensai sobre a Cegueira’. These ‘images’, filmed in lush black and white flash at breakneck speeds before the viewer can even manage to process their relevance on screen. The synopsis further claims that the film’s soundtrack ‘is comprised of 6,386 audio samples extracted from Blindness, Fernando Meirelles’ feature film based on Saramago’s novel’. The film is an incredible visual experience and garnered a heart-felt round of applause from the audience even as the next film’s opening titles started rolling.

The second film in the program was Jean-Paul Kelly’s The Innocents. This is a dissonant, loose-collage piece that is brought together by the looming shadow of Truman Capote’s seminal non-fiction book In Cold Blood. Kelly’s film is incoherent and jumps between found photographs with circular forms of various sizes cut out of them, a ‘re-enactment’ of a Truman Capote documentary (as the synopsis claims) which involves Kelly himself donning a white plastic bag over his head and lip-syncing (probably) to sub-titles of Capote’s text and grainy footage of painted circles that probably are the cut out parts from the first section of the film. The film briefly starts seeming interesting once it starts addressing Capote’s explanation of a real-life event possessing all the qualities of an engaging fiction piece and then having the added dimension of having taken place in reality.

KING JAMES VERSION GENESIS CHAPTER NINETEEN (title has to be capitalized for all purposes) is an unexpectedly tacky masterpiece. A film by Martin Sulzer, it takes us into the grey world of tacky 3D motion-capture animation. It is a word-to-word literal adaptation of the take of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are presented with graphic (literal here too) images of nudity, sexual practices and even incest, much like the original text in the bible. Sulzer, who was present in person at the screening, did a brief Q&A with the audience during the break in the program and he seems to stand by his decision to make a very literal film adaptation of the text. The visuals are horrifically presented and is perhaps very fitting in a program that asks if something is fact or fiction. Is the literal adaptation of a text a fact or a fiction?

Hacked Circuit by Deborah Stratman is a slow-moving single-steadicam-take film about a team of sound engineers carefully re-creating the sounds of Gene Hackman breaking down his apartment towards the end of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. The film, dedicated to Walter Murch and Edward Snowden, very cleverly alludes to the idea of surveillance. Stratman’s camera floats through a circular path beginning on a street and then walks through a sound studio and then comes back out onto the street to the very same point where it began.

All That is Solid is perhaps the most-boundary pushing film in this program. Louis Henderson’s ‘desktop documentary’ uses Wikipedia, iCloud, Mac OSX video preview and Quicktime video window layering to play the hard against the soft/hard drives against cloud storage that is. Or is it? It is also about neocolonial gold mining in Africa. The film claims to have an agenda to ‘dispel the capitalist myth of immateriality of new technology – thus revealing the mineral weight with which the Cloud is grounded to its earthly origins’.