One of my favourite scenes in Vertov’s Man with the movie Camera (1929) shows a woman blinking repeatedly, and this image is interspersed with others – a blind intersected by the sunlight, etc. -. In a similar manner, the opening sequence of Un chien Andalou (1928) by Luis Buñuel shows an images of the dissection of an eye interspersed with images of the moon in the sky, as if Buñuel wanted to open up that organ of perception and see what was inside of it. Both movies also interspersed those images of eyes with images of light – the sun and the moon – as if establishing a connection between the camera and the eye, as the organ capable of capturing ‘light’. In this sense,Vertov’s ‘cine-eye’ seems to capture the sunlight and, in a sort of surrealist inversion, Buñuel’s camera catches the light of the moon, embodying an introspective camera, which seems more concern with the world of dreams than with the ‘objective reality’ – as in external to the individual – of everyday life. Obviously these are my impressions, and that might not have been Buñuel’s or Vertov’s intention but I like to think that the free association in poetic filming is somehow related to an idea of representing perception in all its complexity and incoherence.
When I started this project I was thinking that the best way to convey a sense of space was by editing in a somehow surrealist fashion, less structured and more evocative. However, as I confronted the task of editing, I realized that this was a language completely new to me, and I had to learn how to use it before I could deconstruct it. So, although I believe my film is evocative of the Southbank space, the editing ended up being far more conventional than I anticipated. Still, that conventional editing was a real challenge and made me realize how much we take for granted things we see in movies, when they seem to form a ‘natural sequence’, when reality is so much messier and difficult to capture than that. For example, this simple skateboarding sequence, took me not only a long time to film, but also some time to edit. The sequence is composed of three different shots that had to be selected from several similar ones. I was actually lucky that they skaters were doing the same thing over and over, so I could get enough shots to construct a ‘believable’ sequence.
After doing my interview with Maria – and because I knew some of my shots were quite shaky – I asked if I could film her doing things like watching the river or walking along the Southbank. In a way, I asked her to perform. However, this ‘performance’ turned out to be a rather interesting exercise, and as we were walking through the space, she came up with new ideas and new experiences to narrate in front of the camera, and although sometimes I had to ask her to say things again, so I could record them, I believe this made a nice contribution to the material for the film.
After transfering the last video files to the computer, I realized that recording sound, keeps being very tricky. First of all, there is a wonderful fuzzy gadget that you can attached to the microphone which allows it to record sound in windy enviroments (On the yeti where I filmed my interview with Maria the wind was blowing non stop). So now – although the sound in the interview is very good – the fuzzy microphone cover makes these small black hairs appear on the top right corner of the screen, as you can see in the following clip:
Secondly, after the interview, when I was filming Maria’s impressions of the South Bank, sometimes she would point at something and I would direct the camera towards what she was refering: Big mistake!. When recording with a directional microphone, as soons as one turns the camera away from the subjects one looses the sound, sounds is only recorded in the direction the microphone is pointed out. This seems pretty obvious now, but at the moment I didn’t think it was. So, in the following clip, you can actually see how I loose what Maria is saying and I accidentally start recording the conversation of the two old men sitting on a bench in front of us.
The search for the film’s subjects was one of the main concerns during the process of this project, because due to the nature of my project – anthropology of places – the subjects were not defined in advanced (I could work with anyone who knew and used the Southbank space). Moreover, if I wanted my film to be ethnographic, it could not only be an account of my perceptions of the space. I needed to construct a narrative that could combine both my experiences and other individuals’ perceptions of it. Soon, it became clear that if I wanted the film to represent an ‘in depth’ exploration of how the space was lived and experienced, I needed to narrow down the number of protagonists. After all, I did not want my film to resemble a superficial survey of people’s appreciations of the Southbank space. Therefore, I identified one main subject: Maria Devlin, and made my film centre on her experiences.
The second time I went to the Southbank was also the first time I had the courage to start talking to people. For me, the idea of approaching strangers and ask them to let me interview them seemed almost impossible. Therefore, I spent my first visit just observing people and shooting them and the Southbank space. On my second visit, however, as I started interviewing people I was surprised and relieved to find out how willing people were to collaborate with the film. I had an amazing day and I got to interview several people – all of them performers who work at the Southbank -. However, a couple of days later, as I was transfering my clips to Final Cut pro, I realized – as in one of my worst nightmares – that during all of that time, all of those interviews, the microphone of the camera was turned OFF! I had plenty of images of that day but no sound, (talk about rendering your subjects speechless). The lack of sound, ironically, reminded me of how important sound is, and how images without it seem somehow disconnected and decontextualized (specially in a space like the Southbank where sound is always present). That terrible disappointment forced me to rethink my film and I realized that it would be better to centre it around one subject and explore her/his experiences of the Southbank a little more in depth. However, I still feel a lot of remorse about loosing all of those interviews, and although the microphone failed to record them, they still resonate in my mind. Because of this, I created the following short film.
I started this project with an interest on film and its potential to evoke a sense of place. Considering place not as an empirical reality but as a social construction, whereby “individuals attach values to space through social and personal experiences” (Lawrence-Zuniga, 2003:19). Therefore, my interest was not in describing a physical space but in trying to evoke how spaces – in this case a public space – were lived and experienced by people. This evocative quality of films is found in some of the poetic documentary films of the late 1920’s. For example: Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), which represents an attempt to capture the reality of the Soviet Revolution. In this sense, Vertov is not only evoking a sense of place, but a sense of place and time, and thanks to what he called the ‘kino-eye’, (the cinema eye) he explores the capability of the movie camera to enter unusual places and represent alternative perspectives on ‘reality’. The ‘kino-eye’ is then not only representing empirical reality but also impossible perspectives on reality, perspectives in which the influences of surrealism on Vertov’s work become very clear.
Another evocative but more ‘realistic’ type of documentary is Humphrey Jennings 1942 work Listen to Britain, in which Jennings depicts the reality of Britain during the Second World War. In this sense, Jennings – the same as Vertov – offers a depiction of reality grounded in space and time. I believe this emphasizing of temporality is what relates both films to human experience.
My film, on the other hand, attempts to depic the Southbank of the winter/spring of 2012, the Southbank as lived by Maria Devlin – my main protagonist – and the other people in the film; and even if the space of the Southbank prevails after these people are gone, or have stopped frequenting it; will never again be the same ‘place’.