Expanding Consciousness imagining a different future

Filmmaker & artist Nida Sinnokrot from Palestine, director of the documentary Palestine Blues (2007), whose new film installation As in Those Brief Moments was exhibited at Solitude, in an interview with Jean-Baptiste Joly, director of Akademie Schloss Solitude, about the »horizontal cinema« and the duty to contribute if someone says: »Please tell my story!«

Jean-Baptiste Joly: During the weekend, you presented your film Palestine Blues (2007) to the Solitude fellows and to our guest, the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin. The reactions were unanimously enthusiastic but it was not the first time that I had the feeling you are not totally satisfied with the cinematic medium, isn’t it so?

Nida Sinnokrot: A long time before I made Palestine Blues, I strongly felt attracted to film and video as a way to escape from the reality around me, a way to construct different realities. As a child, I grew up in a conservative family and was always asking how things work, why they are as they are. One day I took apart my father’s watch, which was something like aggression, couldn’t put it together afterwards and got in trouble. This was indeed the action of a troubled child and when I came to film school I continued this, taking apart the material of the school: the flatbed editing station, the Steenbeck, the table with the monitor, the projector itself. The linear way stories were told with this technique, the linear logic of editing with one frame following the other was a part of my disappointment. I was rather looking for my own logic, using drawings and maps, searching for other ways to capture certain spaces and new relationships between the film and the viewer, taking apart a technology that is too slow and alienating. As an example: I made the video-installation Barking Dog in 2001 because I was so frustrated by technology.

JBJ: Nevertheless, you were educated as a professional filmmaker, studying film and photography at the University of Texas in Austin and at Bard College!

NS: Yes, but I never really made films in the classical way: My films had light, movement, and distance, but they were spatially constructed. I forgot one traditional film I made, a film you put in a projector for a theater, it was about chaos theory and colonialism. But I had the feeling that something was missing, that it was not possible to use this conventional technology, in other words that it was impossible to capture what I wanted about chaos with this medium. One day, I bought at a flea market a Minox spy camera with a subminiature slide projector, close to 16 mm. I put the film first through the Minox slide projector and through the Steenbeck, one frame lying in one direction, the other in the other direction. This double or even triple perspective was opening a new space, depending on the control of the slip. Being aware of the technique of cinema, I was becoming aware of cinema technique, aware of how it influences our understanding of cinema.

»As in Those Brief Moments«, 2014, Nida Sinnokrot
»As in Those Brief Moments«, 2014, Nida Sinnokrot
»As in Those Brief Moments«, 2014, Nida Sinnokrot

JBJ: What is the difference between technique of cinema and cinema technique? Something like adding a subverting dimension?

NS: With a different history of cinema technique, other possibilities of consciousness would have arisen! If you put together snippings, short ends, if you choose some footage hanging next to you on a hook, you improvise and create something more attractive, something with a sculptural dimension that is expressing an essential part of this film material. A single strip taken as a function of time and speed says much more to me than a traditional film projection. In the single strip, something is released that is suddenly appearing because you have eliminated the shutter. The shutter, creating frame by frame with a succession of light and darkness is an illusion of space, imprisons the real potential of light and speed, steals the soul of the real, cuts the architecture. Can you imagine the violence of film reorganizing the logic of space? There is a close relation between camera and colonization! As I am interested in the semantic of the frame line that disappears with the shutter I am also interested in the cross section. Formally much of my work is about slicing, making incisions.

JBJ: By saying this you speak almost like a scientist. Obviously science plays an important role in your practice of cinema. How would you describe your relationship between science and film?

NS: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts that the physical properties of a particle, like speed and position, can’t be known simultaneously. If it is so simple in science, why isn’t it the case in real? Why are science and film so far from each other? Coming closer to this question could be an antidote to the conventional use of cinema. My dream would be to create a cinema by its own form; not content that opens consciousness, not empathy that prepares you to accept new ideas, but a liberated film technology, liberated from the shutter and from the illusion of space, allowing you to see more than you had seen before!

JBJ: Going back to the very beginning of the history of cinema, do you think that the potential of film could have created something else than the illusion of space and movement?

NS: The main character of the Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, one of the very early films by the Lumière brothers, is a locomotive, for me an object of fascination. Personally I am susceptible to jetlag, to that slippage of the body in time, and I always found it amazing the way the machine takes you away from your relation to time: a powerful symptom of that time, a moment of resetting, of becoming aware of yourself. In the installation The Horizontal Loop, that I made in 1998, you can see how a simple action can unlock a great potential: The walk of the performer in the diagonal of the space was filmed from the four walls with a Bolex camera put on its side. Re-projected in the space, the film runs as a loop from zero to 100 frames/second through three light sources. For this installation I use parts of the Steenbeck and a stepper motor with an isolator controlling the speed. Coming from the properties of light, you have to solve technical challenges, you have to deal with mechanics! But technique and mechanics are just tools! The real challenge is to recreate or to find new ways of telling, of expanding consciousness, of imagining a different future.

JBJ: Would you say that this other way of using cinema technology could open a new aesthetic, something like Horizontal Cinema?

NS: The interactive nature of Horizontal Cinema gives the audience agency over what they see and hear through their movement within the installation, effectively re-socializing the cinema experience. The audio component and image rotation seduce the audience into walking around the room. This circular navigation in turn activates the installation environment, effecting what is seen and heard. As viewers cross the space, the picture and sound react by changing their speed, like Chinese scroll paintings that reveal themselves in response to the movement of the viewer. In addition, this system of »stop and go« evokes a feeling of restrained movement felt by many people around the world.

JBJ: Yes, I understand what you mean, but why did you gave up Horizontal Cinema and went back to conventional cinema with Palestine Blues?

NS: The reason why I made this movie was a question of life and death. Originally I went to Palestine to make a film project on horizontal loops, but meeting Palestinians who were asking for immediate help I had to do it in terms of emergency. For me, as an artist, it was a kind of right of passage, a duty to contribute, but it was also a real struggle to speak the film language, the dialect. People in Palestine were asking me: »Please tell my story!« and I couldn’t refuse! You pick up a gun like you pick up a camera!

JBJ: Your contribution to the Palestinian cause?

NS: The recurrent question I have in mind with my artistic work is: How does it affect the real, and for whom? What does it mean in a gallery? Always fractured from trauma and from its relation to space, can the work be contained in a gallery? My art practice is something that conveys information, transmitting it in its editing process, something that should empower Palestinians, but also an artistic work in the logic of the gallery. So, I had to take on the burden of two audiences, one in Palestine, one in the US. At first, I decided on a film structure that an audience would recognize on some way. But finally I destroyed it. By obfuscating and removing the original structure of a road movie, it became a road movie in a disappearing landscape. Now, after seven years, the time of exclusivity for the distribution company to whom the film was bound is expired and I could finally imagine screening it again publicly…

The interview with Nida Sinnokrot by Jean-Baptiste Joly was conducted on July 23nd, 2014 at Solitude.