Running as a documentary film at the interfilm short film festival, VOOR FILM (Netherlands, 2015) directed by Douwe Dijkstra, reveals the organic fusion of a number of challenges to theoretical understanding of art, critical concepts, and assumptions about narrative.
The challenge begins with the concept of genre as VOOR FILM simultaneously embodies documentary and fiction. Purposely conflating the territories of objective investigation and fictional account, the film’s script consists of actual statements from interviews of movie-goers while the cinematic visualization comprises an imagined, fictionalized storyworld, made up of animations, models, manipulated live-action and montages. This combination makes clear that the conversation taking place within the film has multiple participants: the interviewed movie-goers portrayed in their statements, the cinematic framework in which their statements are embedded, the live spectators watching the film, and the film itself. Rather than discussing theories of multiple gaze in cinematic storytelling, viewers experience this through the juxtaposition of observations, visualizations, metaphor, and provoked self-interrogation.
As a nonlinear, impressionistic exploration of what makes up a film, VOOR FILM explores how film communicates with viewers, the influence of culture and experience on viewer reception and expectation, and thus reveals the diversity of media perception and interpretation from spectator to spectator. The responses of interviewed movie-goers as to movie experiences are assertions that lead only to questions: When watching the opening credits of a film, do spectators see colors and letters or information? Are they looking for clues to the film or playing with their cell phones, ignoring a segment that filmmakers consciously employ to set up the film? Do the closing credits have any meaning now that viewers can look up the relevant information in the internet? When viewers respectfully watch the credit sequences, are filmmakers watching from some remote place in our CCTV heaven or sitting somewhere hoping that they’ll read the names? Or is this just some silly ritual?
Does a movie really need sound? A deaf viewer says no, scoffing at CC information such as [loud music] or [shouting] and saying, “the images say everything.” What world does a blind spectator perceive upon hearing the soundtrack of a film? One blind spectator remarks that it’s “weird not seeing any images” but then adds that this is “no different from the rest of my day.” These moments of shared perception are underscored by the film techniques used to present them. In the first, viewers read subtitles while watching an actor silently sign his lines. In the second, viewers hear the voice-over of the blind interviewee’s response while watching a black screen.
Suggestive statements related to perception are constant: “There are things I don’t need to see on a huge screen.” While this line is spoken, a wide screen shot of a 9-person rowing team is shrunken to a closeup of one team member, the result of reformatting for television. The implicit question…What do we lose in meaning when we narrow our frames of reference? Another sequence, this time animated, conflates a living room window and a television screen, implying the role that television images play in presenting the outside world or “other” in our lives. In this way, the film flees from one seemingly random observation to another, slowly constructing a cumulative picture of the unique territories of perception that every viewer takes into the cinema–nonlinear experiences that, as in life, we must piece together into a complex understanding of perception, whether of film, media, or otherwise.
All of these moments deconstruct film experience without the theoretical assumptions that the film questions, those that may merely interfere with the most basic education regarding the active reception of media. How is learning by interacting with “intelligent” media products different from being “taught” by theory to see? Aside from revealing how differently viewers experience film, the film suggests the idea that our general capacities and limitations of perception make generalizations about what film experience almost impossible.
As the internet and digital technology have become more and more ubiquitous in everyday life, commerce, communication, and education have all become infused with increased focus on nonlinear or nonhierarchical structures: flat hierarchies, flat network topologies, self-determined paths in pedagogy, and more. Simultaneously, with the repeated questioning of the literary and artistic canon in the 20th century, entrenched theoretical approaches to the understanding of art, literature, and film have undergone continuous scholarly interrogation. VOOR FILM is more delightfully educational and much more aesthetic than most classroom experiences, and yet is in itself a creative work. It is perhaps one of the best arguments for letting artists teach art that I can think of.