The Shifting Ecologies of Photochemical Film in the Digital Era
7 to 11 June 2021, Aberystwyth University, Wales
Reach_documentation_film_retrieval02-470session 9a ECOLOGY 1, Friday 11 June 2021
Hybrid Landscapes
The presentation critically reflects on a series of direct animation films I have created with 16mm and 35mm in recent years. I’ve made films using direct animation techniques since 1988 - my screening prints for cinema were produced by laboratories using film internegatives, with high quality video versions for television broadcast made via the telecine process. Then, production modes began to shift from analogue film to digital video and, by 2000, all my films were made digitally. But I missed the feel and presence of film, its material and haptic properties… and began to experiment with short lengths of 16mm or 35mm film, such as clear or black leader or discarded exposed and photochemically processed footage that had not been used in the final cut, and to work with film as a material artefact in an aesthetic response to landscape and place.

Using a selection of these 21st century films as case studies, I will show the range of direct animation techniques I use to mark the surfaces of the filmstrip, such as cutting, bleaching, overprinting, pressing fragile botanical forms onto the filmstrip, and planting film in muddy riverbanks. Films include: Verge (2005), Flora (2011), Reach (2014), Measure (2017) and Flow (2020). In these works, the moving imagery is created through photographing the strip ‘frame by frame’ using a DSLR or HD video camera. The processes by which these works are created generate filmstrips that are too short to be ‘played back’ at speed: sprocket holes may be damaged or destroyed by abrasion, and the filmstrip often deforms, twisting the material laterally and rendering it 3-dimensional and unable to be passed through a film projector, pic synch or editing table. This hybrid production strategy enables me to work independently with photochemical film in ways that used to be impossible.

Image: documentation, retrieving a 16mm filmstrip from the River Tamar (Reach, 2014)