Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. This month, we bring you Izik Alequin’s Freedom of Panorama.
This month’s resident video, Izik Alequin’s Freedom of Panorama, is an atmospheric exploration of rhythm and movement intensified thrice by the panoramic use of split screen. The film draws influence from glitch art and experimental filmmaking techniques all while staying within the confines of the beat, resulting in an abstract expression of light and color. A critique of the increasingly voyeuristic side of technological development seeps through the abstraction as Alequin displays images of CCTV cameras and deconstructed faces, causing the viewer to reflect on the potentially ominous effects of advanced technology on the human race.
Many of Alequin’s films explore complex psychological themes unique to the human experience. His background in directing gives him a certain expertise in deconstructing physical, spatial, and emotional relationships. His short film The Hard-Boiled Omnibus won second place in the experimental category of the 2015 Chicago Shorts Film Festival, and he was a 2015 winner of the Verizon Reel Talent Contest. Alequin studies Cinema Art & Science, along with directing, at Columbia College Chicago, where he is set to graduate in 2016.
In Freedom of Panorama, you create an intense atmospheric space through rhythm, pace, color, and movement. The film seems to emphasize style over content, drawing inspiration from electronic music, glitch art, and experimental editing techniques. How did these influences affect your storytelling?
Freedom of Panorama was heavily influenced by electronic music and the cinema surrounding it. I’m a huge admirer of Chris Cunningham—a major impetus behind my film was a video installation he made a few years ago, an “audio-visual remix” of Gil Scott-Heron’s “New York Is Killing Me”. In a way, Freedom is my own response to or reinterpretation of Cunningham’s film. Just as Cunningham’s film is a “remix”, mine is a kind of “cover”, to continue the musical analogy. But it’s a cover that renders the original unrecognizable, much like Cunningam’s remix renders Scott-Heron’s song unrecognizable.
It’s interesting that you mention the issue of style over content. I don’t know why we don’t allow film to do the things music does—most music, at least instrumental music, essentially lacks any real meaning or content, but when we hear Autechre or Charles Mingus or Vivaldi we never question why there isn’t a story or message. In those cases, it’s enough that we have an interesting visceral, physical reaction to the sounds.
If that happens to be the case with a film—if it’s a mostly visceral and aesthetic experience—the positive reaction is to categorize it as “experimental”, and the negative response is to call it superficial. It’s a kind of binary dilemma that most people simply don’t have with music, and I don’t know why. Maybe once you add the visual dimension to a work it immediately demands a greater share of attention from the viewer, and therefore the viewer expects to receive a little more in return. Not simply a pleasurable experience, but a meaningful one.
Your approach is fast paced and collage oriented, giving the viewer a wide variety of content in short time. When we do see a face or an object, it tends to be blurred or come and go with little processing time. The clearest images are during a brief montage of security cameras. This seems to create role reversal, as if the viewer is being watched rather than vice versa. This can be very discomforting. Why the change of perspective?
Regardless of how you feel about CCTV and mass surveillance in general, whether you think it’s a necessity in a dangerous world or an invasive instrument of oppression, these things are an ever-multiplying fact of life. There is, quite literally, no escaping them. My thought was that if you can’t destroy or outrun these cameras, you might as well make them dance, right? It’s a way of reasserting control. I do think the camera segment is a role-reversal—but not in regards to the audience.
It’s the cameras who are having their role reversed, who are now being watched without their knowledge, their image stored in an unknown location (my hard drive) and edited, disseminated, and employed for purposes they never agreed to.
There’s anthropomorphization in this. I think the erosion of our privacy is such a diﬀuse, collective thing that there’s really no single person or organization to hold accountable, therefore it’s only natural to humanize an object so we can take our revenge out on it. This sense of “presence”, of life existing in the inanimate, is found in other parts of the film. The construction horses at the beginning, for example. When I first saw that arrangement, all the horses coagulated together with their lights phasing, I thought, “That looks like a group of people talking or fighting.” And the voices at the end—those could be the cameras’ voices.
Freedom of Panorama is glitchy and corrupt, an aesthetic that’s becoming more and more common in the age of digital burnout. As a filmmaker, how do you feel the evolution of video and its uses, CCTV for example, have affected the art form?
The whole glitchy/digital decay aesthetic is already almost a cliche. It’s been increasingly employed in popular media, and whenever an aesthetic proliferates like that, it simultaneously becomes diluted and acquires its own oversimplified shorthand. Datamoshing and computer “errors” are routinely employed in films and video games as a kind of pessimistic commentary on technology. We literally entrust our lives to this soft- and hardware, so it’s totally valid to bring it into the realm of critical discussion, but I feel like that “critical” part of the discussion has stopped. We’ve lapsed into a kind of routine of jaded/ opportunistic hypocrisy regarding digital technology where we’ll uninspiredly bemoan how it’s rotting our brains and isolating people but still use it more than ever.
It’s the same thing with digital cinema. Everyone is always trying to achieve that “filmic” image (or that “cinematic look”, as some folks vaguely refer to it), applying grain scans and overlaying mattes and so forth. They try to hide all the digital qualities of the image. My intention with this film was to do the opposite and emphasize the digital nature of the images as much as possible. The glitching was not intended as a negative commentary on technology (which I feel is the hackneyed approach), but as an exploration and demonstration of how fluid, organic, and unpredictable the digital image can be. There is nothing about film that makes it inherently “more organic” than digital. That’s a slogan thrown around by aging cinematographers and desperate Kodak ad execs. I think more and more filmmakers are thankfully seeing through the prejudice.
Many of your films have a psychologically or existentially investigative style. How was your directorial experience similar or different in approaching a more abstract exploratory film like Freedom compared to some of your more character-based narrative pieces like Umbilical Cord or Argumentum Ornithologicum?
A non-character-based film like Freedom brings me closer to the editing process, which I feel is the most fundamental part of filmmaking. Kubrick once said that editing is the only aspect of cinema not shared by any other art form. It’s true. I do love making a film with a story, but I also relish any opportunity to just have pure editing job. With a film like this the only steps are to gather the footage, then edit. Those are my two favorite parts of the filmmaking process, in reverse order. And sound design. My third favorite. Everything else I see as being various degrees of unpleasant, but necessary. Ultimately, though, art is about people. I can only make so many formal films before I want to leap into something like Argumentum again. I’m currently in the process of making my first film with a real “plot”. It has scenes, rising and falling action, an exposition, a conclusion. All that stuﬀ we usually take for granted but is really incredibly diﬃcult to pull oﬀ. For me, that’s experimental.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.