Viera Čákanyová • Director of Notes from Eremocene
“My film is conceived as a future analogue fossil, a time capsule preserving the remembrance of mankind”
- BERLINALE 2023: Cineuropa caught up with the filmmaker to talk crypto-anarchism, exploring a different formalistic direction in documentary filmmaking, and why she was shooting at Burning Man
Slovak experimental documentary filmmaker Viera Čákanyová returned to the Berlinale to premiere her latest audiovisual essay and the final instalment in her “post-humanist trilogy”, Notes from Eremocene [+see also:
interview: Viera Čákanyová
film profile], in the Forum section. Cineuropa caught up with her to talk about crypto-anarchism, exploring a different formalistic direction in documentary filmmaking, and why she was shooting at Burning Man.
Cineuropa: Notes from Eremocene was originally planned as an essay on crypto-anarchism. When did the film take a different direction?
Viera Čákanyová: Actually, two films that originally had different, but related, topics merged together. When I was working on FREM [+see also:
interview: Viera Čakányová
film profile], which featured the topic of artificial intelligence, I was also curious about cryptos and how they work from a more philosophical and ideological point of view, rather than an economic one, as well as the inventions behind them, such as blockchain. I started to meet people from the crypto-anarchist community, which has a strong base in Prague.
Not all of the topics conceived for FREM made it into the film, and one of them was a story about a depressed software engineer working on an AI project, which was shot in New Zealand. A fraction of the footage made it into the prologue of FREM. As I was pondering the ideas of how blockchain and AI could fundamentally change the social and political paradigm, this subsequently led to a world that precedes the reality in FREM. So, I basically prolonged the short introduction in FREM, which became a separate film: Notes from Eremocene. It is conceived as a future analogue fossil, a time capsule preserving the remembrance of mankind.
Did the post-human trilogy – comprising FREM, White on White [+see also:
film profile] and Notes from Eremocene – originate organically?
Yes. Since FREM ended up as a conceptual and experimental work, I had the urge to tackle the other topics in a different form. I think it’s the best possible outcome. All three films are connected, and they reference each other and share similar motifs, but at the same time, they stand alone.
Your works, style and working methods diverge greatly from the local documentary tradition. How did that happen?
I don’t know. I don’t ever think about any traditions while making my films. I try to find a way to express what I mean in the most appropriate formal way. I play freely with any visual or aesthetic reference I can find around me.
Notes from Eremocene references some kind of documentary storytelling because I used 16mm and a Super8 camera, which evokes a kind of semi-amateur, diary style of narration. I was not consciously influenced by any domestic documentary works.
Were you influenced by Karel Vachek?
Well, kind of – his early films. I remember talking about cryptos and blockchain with Karel back when I was at school. He listened very carefully, and maybe it did even inspire some ideas in his Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy [+see also:
film profile]. However, Karel didn’t have that much influence on me with regard to style, but I think he also understood that Western society had got into this severe political and social crisis, and that some kind of transformation was necessary.
Notes from Eremocene is a combination of various forms and styles that differ from conventional norms.
What is conventional? Educational documentaries? There are facts, but I used them to create an imaginative narrative. You can hear some explanations in the film formulated in a mathematical language, but they are set within a fictional concept. And that’s my approach: I take some facts from objective reality and mix and transform them through my artistic imagination.
It was surprising to see snippets of Burning Man in your latest film.
I had in mind this cult of “desert people”, and this was an opportunity to visualise them. Because the film had a very tight budget, I couldn’t afford to stage these scenes. I was looking for situations that I could insert within my narrative with a different interpretation. And those visuals fitted in.
Does that mean you had a script prepared for the project?
Kind of. I knew what the overall narrative structure would be. I had in mind the outline of this post-world, so to speak – something like JRR Tolkien with his Middle-earth. It was necessary to draft the basic mythology, invent a few neologisms to designate new phenomena, and describe different groups of people and their practices. The digital layer of the world is governed and organised by artificial intelligence, G-DAO. All of this was created beforehand with the topics I wanted to have in the film.
You mentioned shooting footage and then repurposing it for your narrative. Is this your preferred way of shooting – to go out, improvise and get caught up in whatever unfolds?
Yes, but each film is different – some are more prepared than others. Usually, I do not follow a detailed script or insist on a template that was prepared up front. I know what I want to talk about, and I am looking for an appropriate visual representation of these ideas in real life.
The ideas and concepts in Notes from Eremocene transcend one specific place, and the film is international in this sense. However, most of the footage is local, shot in Slovakia, except for Burning Man.
There is also quite a lot of footage from New Zealand, Germany and Greece. The local context – Slovakia and the Czech Republic – is used mainly in connection with the motifs of representative democracy, elections and national state symbols. This was due to the fact that elections were happening in Slovakia at a convenient time. But it is not important in what country those visuals take place, because the discourse on democratic principles is universal.
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