Friday, August 27, 2010

On Seeing #1

Emile Zola declared, "In my view you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it". But in spending so much time photographing things in one way or another, I spend a lot of time wondering if I have, in fact, lost that ability to really see. Everything has become a minute calculation of space or movement, an echo of a past image or a mental snapshot of an image to come.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


"I see a camera as a sort of weapon for good and bad purposes. As filmmakers, we can uncover, expose and effect social change; but the medium can be used as an exploitative device that adds to our problems. Filmmakers don't take enough responsibility for the images they put on the screen."
Jay Rosenblatt

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quiet, Wordless

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Girls and Cigarettes #2

Yearning #6

Fellow travellers at Yeah Right, Jono Hill and Tim Mummery have recently finished this beautiful clip for Khancoban.

Yearning is an elusive and difficult human state to capture on film but there is a simple beauty to the way this clip allows a small, fragile story to unfold about the space of yearning between two people. It seems effortless, light, organic and deeply felt, which is about as good as you can get when you know the difficulties in making this damned film stuff work properly.

Later this year, we'll be unveiling a large new collaborative venture with these good people and some other like-minded film folks. More to come on this.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A New Manifesto

A few years back I came across Xiaolu Guo's film 'How is your Fish today?'. I'd read one of her books at that point - '20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth' - which I dug, but I was taken aback by the light, playful and inventive approach in the film, which danced easily between literary, documentary and cinematic forms. Insanely prolific, she has been published in numerous forms since the age of 14 and had written 8 novels prior to directing her first feature film (although she had previously directed documentary film 'Concrete Revolution'). This past week, the Melbourne Film Festival screened her new flick 'She, A Chinese' which, to me, was one of the festival highlights. Lightweight, handmade, sexy and ambitious. As much as it was intimate in character, it was expansive in journey and landscape, following the heroine from a remote village to a life ultimately lived in London. Like her novels and her films it has a literary episodic structure, playing with the separation of titles, reality, dream and fiction, using the interruptions of chapters to make leaps across time and space.

from 'She, A Chinese' (2009) dir: Xiaolu Guo

The language of the film seemed aligned with contemporary creativity in a way that makes the increasingly homogenised approach to narrative in film seem ancient and anachronistic. It was as if it was a result of that same urgency that fuelled Godard to issue his battle cry of the New Wave when The 400 Blows was selected for Cannes in 1959:
"...we attack you for your betrayal, because we have opened your eyes and you continue to keep them closed. Each time we see your films we find them so bad, so far aesthetically and morally from what we had hoped, that we are almost ashamed of our love for the cinema. We cannot forgive you for never having filmed girls as we love them, boys as we see them every day, parents as we despise or admire them, children as they astonish us or leave us indifferent; in other words, things as they are. Today, victory is ours..."
And, increasingly, this is how it feels. 50 years on and the sparks that might have flown around cinema in the past have cemented into a dull monolith of entertainment. Cinema, in it's inventiveness, it's language and it's storytelling is falling behind the energy fuelling most every other expressive form as a result of the loosening of rules sparked by social creativity across the web, and a constant oneupmanship in playfulness, provocation and depth in and between most artforms these days. Yet, in filmmakers like Xiaolu Guo (among many other emerging filmmakers who could care less about that monolith) there is a sense of something more vital finally emerging in cinema. Something that does feel urgent, that does feel mobile, expressive and personal. Like the nostalgic that I am, lingering still in films of the 50s, I look to another piece of writing from '59 to make sense of and express what must happen (simultaneously aware of the dumb irony that I'm using the words of filmmakers from 50 years ago to best describe the cinema to come):
"The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them: it may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation… and it will be enjoyable because it will be true and new… The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure. The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love."
So, energised by 'She, A Chinese', I nerded online to see what Xiaolu Guo has been up to other than churning out novels and films and this is what she’s up to... A Manifesto... You might dig it.

While the full manifesto can be seen here, I've included an extract below. You can also see a newer addition in part two of the manifesto. Nice.


Sometimes it is difficult to know if you have died. We have woken up to our own death. The death of cinema. Who are the undertakers? We know the finger points to that peddler of dreams. Hollywood tells us we are alive, although we sense our own death. It wedded us to story telling as God, and the God squeezed out our life.

But, there can be life after death.

We call our filmmaking metaphysical cinema. This expresses our rejection of classical story telling that merely serves the dream machine function. ‘Story’ in this sense is a dangerous force, since the audience becomes a passive consumer of the
cinema, which shrinks and reduces its potentiality. It ends up as any other industry product. The so-called narrative keeps being interrupted by the voice of propaganda, the voice of the pseudo objective mass media, and by the alienated individual status of

Narrative is important to us, but its function is negative. Metaphysical cinema wants to reveal a world beyond narrative. Our method is this —instead of looking at the object in the scene, we look to the shadow it casts. The shadow is the more basic reality: the emotional vision is written on those shadows.

Time and space in fragments, point of view: call this the fabric that makes up narrative reality. Metaphysical cinema is about the transformation of narrative reality. It uses narrative as a tool, not as an end. The psychological attitude that is revealed in
classical narrative is that story is destiny. That story-telling is everything, that we as humans are defined by our stories, and our identity is given by story. This is close to the enticing but fatal idea that identity is given by history. We - the Metaphysical Syndicate - say no to this kind of empire of the story. We say no to storyboarding where a voice is no longer a subjective voice; where a voice ends up as a non-reflective, unexamined manipulation of a God’s Eye view.

You might ask—has this not been done before? Of course, it has been done partially, and in various ways. In the 50s and 60s, European cinema explored this visual potentiality, but it stopped in the 80s when the industrialized cinema of Hollywood
came to dominate the global business.

So what do we support? We – the syndicate -- support a mosaic, reflective, plural-voice narrative. This is born from a post-industry mode of production, from a world of broken fragments of memory and recounting. Therefore, amongst the dust of the production power of mainstream cinema industry, our innovation is a cinema which:

1. is guerilla in style, not hiding our humble financial status. We refuse the producer-managerial production structure and studio professionalism. We embrace amateur cinema and the author.

2. takes in and uses all kinds of materials – documentary and TV footage, fictional conventions, text, home video, photos, tape recording, archives. We use all those possibilities in weaving our new narratives.

3. constructs its own comrade-based independent distribution network – through internet, film festivals, educational circuits, street events, bars, cafes, any venue where the Hollywood cinema doesn’t have final control of the product.

4. promotes a cinema of non-perfection. We do not want a mediocre perfection or technical perfection. We prefer a provocative and fresh cinema with ‘mistakes’. The mistake is unavoidable, so we incorporate it with cautiousness and a spirit of self-criticism.

Finally, in contrast to the mode of operation of Hollywood – in which the viewer enters and is swallowed by the dream -- our cinema is the awakening of a lucid dream. A controlled abandon, a sober pandemonium, our vision is that of a crazed honesty falling headfirst into reality. The syndicate costs nothing except for the energy of those who chose to make the journey.

Written by Xiaolu GUO, Steve BARKER and Metaphysical Cinema Syndicate - 2010
This manifesto was written during the making of PANDEMONIA in London, Angkor Wat, Tasmanian and Tian Mu Mountain