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'Alias'

My experimental short film, 'Alias', went live online this week, so I thought I'd write about it for my first proper post...

alias-still.jpg

Earlier this year I saw an extremely powerful and affecting performance called 'Mental'.  It was created and performed by James Leadbitter, an artist and activist who goes by the name of The Vacuum Cleaner.  

The performance took place in James' bedroom.   I sat around the edge of the small room with 11 other people (no room for any more), with the huge duvet spilling from the bed, over our legs.  James emerged from beneath the duvet and began to tell the story of his mental health, through the prism of his police and medical records which he projected onto the wall behind him with an overhead projector.

I found 'Mental' incredibly moving, and when I was asked to make a film in response to it, I jumped at the chance.  However, it was difficult to know how to approach such a fully realised piece of work, and my ideas only started to come together when I stopped trying to recreate aspects of the performance and concentrated instead on my own emotional response to it.  The end result, a short, impressionistic film called 'Alias', continues a theme I've been loosely working on for some time - the portraiture of people and places.  Not just people in their natural habitat, but a complete portrait with an equal weight on the environment and the person.  I've also been thinking about filmed portraits lately - work that is neither a documentary, a typical narrative film nor a traditional portrait, but that perhaps contains aspects of all three.  'Alias' is my first step towards that idea.

I chose to put together a series of what I call 'living stills' (static, or almost static scenes filmed as video).  I used three video cameras, each with their own distinct flaws and weaknesses, and focussed on using those flaws as expressive tools:  for example, forcing a camera to try and focus on something too close, or using the striped patterns on the bedspread to create moire and focus issues.  Creating fizzing digital noise by pushing the camera's sensor beyond it's low-light capabilities.  The sound is just what the camera naturally captured, with no enhancement or editing, so the clicks and whirrs of the focusing mechanisms or shutter buttons are included, becoming part of the character of the piece along with the strains of music that leak in from the outside world.  In a way, I've used all the bits of footage that you would normally throw away in making a film - all the technical hiccups and idiosyncrasies that cameras create as a by-product of the way they work as technical instruments - and tried to use them to prompt an emotional response. 

'Alias' can mean "an assumed or false name", but in electronics aliasing is "the distortion or artifact that results when the signal reconstructed from samples is different from the original continuous signal ." (Wikipedia)

You can read more about 'Alias' and watch it on Vimeo here.

You can learn more about The Vacuum Cleaner and his work here .