Thursday is Shorts Night, so we have a lot of directors to talk to. Canadian director Matthew Rankin tells us about his fantastic and fantastical Midnight Short Tesla: Lumiere mondiale.
What inspired you to make a film about Tesla, and what made you decide to use this approach?
“There were three inspirations: Formal, historical and narrative. I had been experimenting with long-exposure light painting and wanted to explore it further as an animation technique. It struck me as the perfect formalism with which to tell a story about Tesla, whose life and personal image-systems are so intimately connected to electricity. Historically, I am fascinated by failed utopias; it’s a theme I return to frequently in my work, and Tesla’s downfall is such a sad and beautiful one in the history of our world’s utopian longing. Narratively, I was drawn to Tesla’s account of his romantic feelings for a pigeon, in large part because it reminds me so much of my own relationships.”
After watching the making of it seems that the creation of the effects was one of the most creative, challenging and important things for this film. What did you learn from it? And are there things you would never do again in the same way?
“I burned almost 15,000 sparklers, one frame at a time, to make the images you see in this movie. My film sets seem to become more and more toxic. In my last film, Mynarski Death Plummet, the raw material was javex bleach, some 4 litres of which I splashed on the 35mm celluloid (artistically distressing the celluloid) to make my animations. In the process, I managed to kill my beloved jade plant which hitherto sat encouragingly next to my desk. Surely the chemical fumes of sparklers cannot be any better for you than javex; they’re probably made out molten asbestos or something. What I have learned from all of this is that my next film must be filmed in the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor.”
Do you think it is important for a new generation of filmmakers to learn how to work with 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and other gauges as well as digital formats? How do you foresee the future?
“I do think it is important for filmmakers to have options in their image-making. Emulsion-based knowledge stands on the precipice of a dark age and we need protect it. I think workers in celluloid will become more and more radical in this age of digital hegemony, much like painting became more radical with the rise of photography. Unable to compete with photo-realism, painters moved radically away from figurative portraiture and delved deep into the abstract materiality of their form. I really think emulsion-based cinema will follow a similar trajectory.”