60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero: Film Review
60 directors give 60-second odes to 35mm film in this project full of life and love.
TALLINN, ESTONIA -- Perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea three days before Christmas, shivering with a crowd of over 4,000 under constant confetti of snow at Port of Tallinn, the 20x12 meter screen projection of 60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero nonetheless mesmerizes with the primal power of moving images that go out with a blast -- the film strip and the screen are set aflame at the end so the work will never be viewed again in this omnibus form. With the exception of two films, the work as a whole is a glorious silent movie, enhanced by live musical accompaniment that eclectically fuses together such different sounds as Scott Joplin's The Entertainer and minimalist electronic notes. Naturally, any theatrical or ancillary prospects will remain stillborn.
The project, developed as an ode to 35mm film and dedicated to "preserving freedom of thought in cinema," is funded by the European Capital of Culture Tallinn 2011, the Estonian Minstry of Culture and EU-Japan Fest Committee. 60 filmmakers (please scroll down to credits for full list) from around the world are engaged to shoot for one-minute on the theme of the death of cinema, choosing as a motif one of five elements: earth, wind, fire, water, spirit. Despite the somber subject, most participants exploited their diverse disciplines to come up with liberal and life-loving interpretations of their medium, most of them delicate and personal observations on their habitat and people around them. Even though the director's name is introduced with each new film, taking in each of them is as challenging as memorizing scenery from the window of a bullet train in motion. The last 15 or so films inevitably have the disadvantage of coming close to the end of a viewer's attention span.
Among the bold mix of A-list masters, experimental visual artists and young short film directors, the better known they are, the laziest their undertaking. Germany's Tom Tykwer just tosses in a scene in an art museum from his feature Three that even to discerning viewers bears strenuous relevance to the project's preoccupation with cinema, life, death or the elements. One of Korea's top-grossing directors Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) recycles a scene from his 2005 A Bittersweet Life though its shot of leading man Lee Byung-hun shadow boxing exudes a dynamic vibe that stands alone as a short. Kim's equally illustrious compatriot Park Chan-wook also snipped a minute from his short Cut in the horror omnibus Three Extremes.
An exception to the above is Cannes multiple-winner Naomi Kawase (Hanezu, The Mourning Forest), who gave the project some heart and soul. Appropriately, she has chosen the motif of "spirit." In tune with her central philosophy of Nature's beatific presence, she captures the sun's reflection in a rice field and other manifestations of nature. Finally, in a sublime moment, the sun's ray is reflected in her young son's pupil as he sits inside a speeding train and exclaims "beautiful!"
By sheer coincidence, Scottish experimental visual artist/documentary filmmaker Jes Benstock also uses his son Jacob as his muse and metaphor for "Early Cinema" (which taps into human dreams and subconscious) Mixing the look-and-feel of pre-digital home movies and super 8 experimental films, he interweaves REM shots of the infant Jacob (indicating he is dreaming) with POV shots of the baby negotiating the world of gawking, cooing adults and monstrous toys by placing the camera behind his back. The impact is simultaneously sweet, scary and surreal.
Another participant who addresses the subject with great thoughtfulness, wit and improvisational creativity is Mark Boswell, American experimental filmmaker and expert on agit-prop cinema. For his film "Royal Flush," he visited his neighborhood sewage treatment plant in Green Point, Brooklyn. Channeling Antonioni's Red Desert, he shot some of the factory's pipes and machinery in gorgeous closeups, juxtaposed with stunning views of New York's cityscape seen from the rooftop. In an meta-filmic gesture, he then takes a print-out of the factory in Tallinn where Tarkovsky famously shot Stalker, set fire to it, and flushes it down the toilet, where presumably it would end up at the sewage plant. Boswell's compositions are one of the most stunning in the whole project.
Two filmmakers better known as horror-meister and up-and-coming genre auteur respectively, tease and surprise with subjects that are a little removed from their usual menu. American Brian Yuzna (Society, Return of the Living Dead III, Amphibious) offers two for the price of one with Peter and the Wolfman and The Living Doll. The former is a wickedly funny and grotesque street portrait of a topless, stocky, bald-headed man, who makes gurgling, cackling, howling noises as if he might combust from within. Not much to do with cinema or the elements (except wind?) he claims, but the image sparks all kinds of symbolic interpretations -- of cinema as a bloated, imploding medium or as a loud, freakish, larger-than-life presence demanding to be seen and heard.
At the opposite stylistic spectrum, Britain's Simon Rumley (Red White and Blue, The Living and the Dead) eschews the complex and sophisticated film language of his features to read out a litany of his favorite films in front of the soon-to-be-demolished cinema he frequented in his formative years. Both an obituary and a tribute, it stands out as the most personal and direct response to the project's theme.
A personal favorite is Icelandic painter-video-artist Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson. His "Urna" is a dreamlike, musical sequence of monochrome images of pristine formal beauty, depicting human figures within a domestic interior with the august and meditative mood of Ingmar Bergman and Carl Dreyer (one thinks of Gertrude). His camera glides elegantly around the rooms of a genteel and old fashioned home in deliberate, hypnotic motion, capturing in meticulously framed medium shots the shrunken, mournful faces of its aged residents. One of them, an old man, sits in his study with a urn on his desk. He scoops ashes from the urn and stirs it into his teacup and drinks it. Final image beautifully segues into a beach where a younger man reaches out to the crashing waves. A haunting meditation on mortality and life's cycle.
Twentysomething emerging short film directors also make their mark with works that display resourcefulness (with budgets, time, etc). 24-year-old Italian director Maxi Dejoie crystalizes the concept of death and rebirth and the diametric relation of fire and water with one puissant formalist move -- of a naked archer standing on the seaside, shooting an ignited arrow at a table topped with a computer and other symbolic paraphernalia of modern technology.
Through "I Dreamt of Someone Dreaming of Me," 26-year-old Japan-based Malaysian Edmund Yeo expresses his cultural duality with split screens, one following a Malaysian girl in a cheongsam as she loiters around the city, the other featuring a Japanese girl against backdrops of traditional architecture in the snowy North. Bookended by one standing by the sea and the other by a pond, he integrates the water motif into a broader idea of the flowing, ephemeral nature of filmmaking and of this particular one-off screening.
Directors: Adam Wingard, Aku Louhimies, Albert Serra, Amir Nadieri, Andres Tenusaar, Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson, Auraeus Solito, Brian Yuzna, Brillante Mendoza, Bruce McClure, Edmund Yeo, Eric Khoo, Feyyaz, Gereon Wetzel, Gillian Wearing, Gustav Deutsch, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson, Sogo Ishii-Gakuryu, Jan Ijas, Jeon Kyu-hwan, Jes Benstock, Jorge Michel Grau, Jussi Jaakola, Jussi Reittu, Kang Kiyoung a.k.a. Dalpalan, Kari Yli-Annala, Ken Jacobs, Kim Jee-woon, Moon Kyungwon, Malcolm Le Grice, Manuela Kaufmann, Marina Manushenko, Mark Boswell, Mark Cousins, Mart Taniel, Maxi Dejoie, Michael Glawogger, Mika Taanila, Naomi Kawase, Norbert Shieh, Oliver Whitehead, Park Chan-wook, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Phie Ambo, Rafi Pitts, Ronni Shendar, Shinji Aoyama, Simon Rumley, Tolga Karacelik, Tom Tykwer, Veiko Ounpuu, Viktor Kaganovich, Ville Kerimaa, Vimuktthi Jayasundara, Woo Ming Jin.
Authors: Taavi Eelmaa, Veiko Ounpuu.
Producer: Birgit Krullo.
Programmer: Sten-Kristian Saluveer.
Set designers: Neeme Kulm, Villu Plink.
Music: Ulo Krigul.
Live performers: Ulo Krigul, Mart Taniel, Lauri-Dag Tuur.
Vocalist: Maria Juur.
No rating, 60 minutes.