Sunday, 21 July 2019

Interview with filmmaker Finn Harvor

O Planet will be screening at the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival

How did you get into making films?
As I said regarding my first statement, I started out as a visual artist and writer. I was always interested in films, but, never having been to film school, was intimidated by the process of making them. It wasn’t until after I moved to Korea that I got serious about the process. Making ambient movies and video-poems became my focus. And even then, there was a long learning curve involved—even though what I do is technically fairly simple.

I’d like to add that I’ve learned over and over that making movies isn’t something you “finally learn” or “completely master”. It’s an intricate task with multiple layers of complexity, even when the project seems fairly simple from a technical point of view. There’s always the risk of gremlins with sound, or exact focus, or proper exposure. Someone once said a big part of successful movie making is troubleshooting. There’s a lot of truth to that.

*What inspired you to make your movie?
I was travelling a lot because of my job and because of friends and family. Also: for several years, because of my brother’s illness (alcoholism) and eventual death (the topic of other video poems). As I was travelling with my wife on trips or by myself to conferences, I realized how extraordinarily well planned systems of travel are: you take a subway to a bus to an airport to a plane to another airport, and so on. We are caught in a matrix of transportation systems that benefits us on an individual level but is part of a much larger set of industrial systems that harm us on a planetary level.

More : these systems have been evolving in a “modern” sense for over a hundred years, and have taken on their own logic. Put differently, human beings have a relationship with their machines, and this relationship is frequently taken for granted. But in reality, we have already seen how catastrophic these industrial systems can be, even though in the past we did not perceive industrialization as being so harmful to the planet it might destroy us. 

The example I’m thinking of above all is how industrial systems span out of control during World War Two. The Nazis and Imperial Japanese used industrial systems to horrific effect, and, in order to defeat fascist Germany and a Japan, other industrial systems that were also horrific were also used. I’m thinking here of air war — carpet bombing, fire bombing, and atomic bombing.

But after all the destruction of World War Two ended, the machinery that enabled industrialized war remained. And so we now find ourselves globally at peace — yet at the mercy of the machines and systems that make war possible. In a sense — if we view history not so much as a series of political and/or social events, but as a series of technological developments and system refinements — we see that even in time of peace we can be as threatened by machinery as during war. 

*How has your style evolved?
Started off with short pieces that were sort of loosely determined by how much good footage I had and an intuitive sense of what “felt” right. Am becoming more interested in projects that are either strictly defined by a time limit (say, one minute) or using only certain elements (say, sound collage or vocal singing), or else are very ambitious (feature-length, with my own art, text and music). However, one stage of evolution just leads to another, and am sure I’ll be trying different approaches still in a year or two.

*Tell us any strange or funny stories while making the film?
This project is based on footage shot over a few years as I travelled to a conference in Berlin, and also personal trips with my wife to Tokyo, Toronto, and Ottawa, as long with a lot of footage around Seoul. I was using different cameras, simply trying to capture the feel of the places we were in. 

Tokyo had one of the strongest effects on me in terms of the sheer complexity of the city. At one point we were riding an elevated train that had no human operator and I realized I felt like I was in a Moebius drawing. The future is here, and has been for a while. Ditto with sensations of being in big commercial jet planes and thinking of what a pervasive technology they’ve become. 

We tend to think of future technologies as digital because we use computers in our offices and studios. But we also rely on transportation technologies, even if we’re movie makers obsessing over our camera, or editing software, or computer specs. It’s true that these transportation technologies are more and more managed digitally — like, for example, an electric train without a driver. However, already-existent technologies like cars, trains, ships,  shape our working and personal lives more than we care to admit. So when we think about the “future” in terms of human-made systems that can affect the planet, I think we should realize it’s been radically affected since World War Two.

Finally, we as a culture should always make a conscious effort to remember the catastrophic human cost of the systems and technologies of that war. And because of the Cold War — which never seems to end but just keeps shape-shifting, as we move from one perceived enemy to another (Russia, China, Iran, North Korea) — we are perpetually at risk of another political catastrophe. 

And finally, we’ve reached a point in the pervasiveness of our technologies that even if we don’t have another world war, we might nevertheless have a  “World War Three of the Ecosystem”.

*The Misrule Film Movement & Pink8 manifesto bring what to mind?
I agree strong that low and no budget filmmaking have a strong future. Also agree with a kind of punk, DIY aesthetic. Filmmaking of this sort is merging with visual art, music, and video-poetry — and that should continue. More and more artists are becoming multidisciplinary and I think that’s great.

Re: the point of view that filmmakers should put their work on social media and make it publicly available: I’ve done this with a lot of my work, and will continue to do so. More: it drives me crazy when alternative festivals insist that film submissions can’t have already been online. Incidentally, since I’ve done a lot of writing for small literary magazines, I’ve encountered the same rigid rules for poems and short stories. Generally, none of these places pay, so one has to ask: At what point is it just a will to power? However, I need to emphasize that I have sympathy for filmmakers who keep at least some of their work private. The art world is what it is, and people need to build “reputations”.

*What can we expect from your next film?
Im going to continue with video-poetry, and also do more video-stories — maybe another video-novel.