Originally published by Tao Films, 9 June 2018
Witches Walk / Witches Walk Monochrome – Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais
Interviewed by Nadin Mai, Tao Films
NADIN: Daniel and Clara, I’m very happy that we can show two of your films here on tao. It’s such a pleasure and a real honour. Thank you for this opportunity. Can I please ask you to tell us something about your way into cinema, especially into experimental filmmaking?
DANIEL: Making art has been a constant activity for me since childhood, I always knew that I would be an artist but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens on one rainy Sunday afternoon when I watched a tape of Derek Jarman’s film The Garden (1990) that everything changed and my path became clear, by the time the film was over I knew that cinema was my medium. As much as I loved painting, poetry and music, seeing that film opened my eyes to how cinema was an art-form, that I could make films as personal to me as Jarman had made to himself. I began shooting my own films on Hi8 and VHS, editing in camera and making soundtracks on cassette tapes, I created around 50 short films over a few years, experimenting and exploring the possibilities and unearthing an approach that felt natural to me. Then in my early twenties I shot my first feature film Come On Thunder (2006), a very personal contemplative film inspired by Chantal Ackerman and Andrei Tarkovsky (although it isn’t really like either!) but this was my first time working with a crew, actors and a script. I don’t particularly see myself as an experimental filmmaker, I am just an artist whose medium is cinema, the work we make ranges from short diary films, to abstracted contemplative pieces, to feature length films with actors and expanded cinema performances, for us it is all an exploration of the same interests, it is all creativity, it is all cinema!
CLARA: My love for cinema has been with me since a very young age and I knew very early this is what I wanted to do with my life. I grew up with a Hi8 camera on hand, always filming holidays and family outings but I didn’t end up with the regular home movies, I usually focused more on the act of looking at things and how they changed when looked at through the lens, also how my perception and sense of space was affected when I walked around looking through the viewfinder. In my mid-teens I became increasingly dedicated to making films and thinking of cinema as an art form just like any other medium, I devoured not only cinema but also art history and mythology, and was interested in literature, painting, dance and performance. I was born in Portugal and had some art school training there but when I was 18 I moved to the UK to study cinema in London, it was only then that I discovered a wider range of cinema, it was amazing to find this hidden history of films made by those existing outside of the mainstream. But I didn’t really see this as alternative cinema or different to the cinema that I already knew, but as an extension that expanded and deepened the language and experience of cinema that I was already fascinated with, it opened so many possibilities in my mind. Not long after this I met Daniel and within a few weeks we began working on our first feature film together, Savage Witches (2012), and we set up The Underground Film Studio as a banner for everything that was created through our collaboration, a space where we can dedicate ourselves to a very personal exploration and celebration of cinema.
NADIN: With Witches Walk, you have created a cinematic diptych that makes for an interesting viewing experience. To me, personally, each film evokes different emotions, despite their being more or less the same thing, except for the change in colour. They’re one and the same, and yet separate films. What moved you to return to the original Witches Walk in order to rework it?
DANIEL & CLARA: Both of these films grew out of our feature film Savage Witches which was the first project we made together, the founding of our friendship and where we established the dynamic of our collaboration. As time goes on we see that Savage Witches is a kind big bang moment for us, somehow everything we have done since then has contained some atoms of that film, everything can be traced back to it. Over the 18 month production of Savage Witches we shot such a huge amount of footage and every so often we find a piece and it inspires something new, this was the case with these films. Witches Walk was completed in 2012 but it was only screened once at that time. Then in 2016 we began a series of expanded cinema performances and as a part of one of those performances we created Witches Walk Monochrome.
Witches Walk Monochrome is the same footage as Witches Walk but presented in black & white and with a different soundtrack, we found this idea quite interesting, it is like they are twins, they look almost the same, have the same DNA but there are differences and their personalities are unique to each of them. We feel like they are good companions, one feels light, bright and ethereal and the other feels darker, earthy and more mysterious, both take us on the path of the witch, which is the path of feminine magic, of nature and transformation.
NADIN: I would like to hear more about your process of creating this film. It is highly experimental and I know that you have worked with VHS. Can you tell us more about this, please?
DANIEL & CLARA: We have a particular love for VHS and Hi8 video, they are both quite magical formats that can create incredibly painterly and expressionist images. The original footage for these films was shot on VHS then projected onto a wall and re-filmed again onto VHS, there were several passes and then the final projection was filmed in HD. The particular quality of these films is in part about the VHS and HD cameras which we used but strongly affected by the quality of our rather eccentric old digital projector which has an interesting effect on the colour and texture of the image. This is a process we’ve explored a lot and every slight variation can give very different results, we’ve sometimes used source footage shot on DV or HD then passed it through different cameras or re-filmed it from various TVs, the possibilities are endless and the results are always fascinating and exciting. One of the things we love about this technique is that the filmed image becomes fluid, it transforms and mutates and can have the quality of watercolour or ink.
In 2016 we shot a feature film called In Search Of The Exile (2016) using a similar process, this was filmed in HD but then processed through the projector and refilmed with both VHS and DV with the final pass being HD, although strongly related to these films visually there is in the detail a different quality. We are still really interested to see what more can be done with this technique, next we’d like to explore these techniques for a monochrome feature film.
NADIN: That you worked with VHS is very interesting because there is this debate on analogue vs digital, especially in arthouse cinema. There is a strong group of people that argues for the advantage of digital in that it is cheaper and therefore more accessible. What is your take on the debate? Where do you position yourself?
DANIEL & CLARA: Personally we find it strange that this debate continues, it is a particularly patriarchal western perspective that there has to be one thing or another, or that one thing is better than another, we think there should be both, why can’t we have available to us all of these different mediums and formats so each artist can choose the one that is right for them? Each format has its own qualities that are totally unique to it, VHS has a special painterly quality that could never be replicated on film, and HD, 4K, Mini DV and any other format has its own particular personality too.
Personally we are interested in exploring how particular formats, cameras and lenses all have something unique that can be used as a tool for creating moving images and that serve and inform the particular project they are being used for. Celluloid is interesting because it is physical and chemical, it is something you can handle and hold up to the light and see, it has material nature. Whereas digital is very mysterious and magical in a very different way, it exists as a secret code, it can’t be handled, there is something very mystical about digital.
It is a really exciting time to be a filmmaker, most people now have access to the tools to shoot and edit regardless of their economic or education background. Even though much has been created over the first 130 years since the invention of film cameras we feel that this next chapter of cinema history will see the art-form flourish and move into new territory. Finally the cinematic medium has been set free, those with the will to create can create without permission and without restraint! So we don’t take the position of either/or but both, let’s have both and enjoy and explore the endless possibilities of these magnificent tools!
NADIN: Witches Walk is an experimental film, but I find that it simultaneously explores the role of duration and cinematic slowness. We do not witness an action in real time. Instead, you use slowness as a way to lure the viewer in. In this way, Witches Walk becomes haunting. The perceived slowness on screen really helps to leave footprints so-to-speak in your memory.
DANIEL & CLARA: One of our central interests is the narrativity of the cinema experience. All films are narrative but we have been surprised to find that a lot of people categorise films as either narrative or non-narrative – what we are seeking is a more nuanced understanding of what narrative is. A film of any kind has a start and an end and in between there is movement, from this simple concept we begin our investigations of narrative. These two films could be considered contemplative narratives, this implies that the narrative dimension of the works is one which takes place more in the mind of the viewer than on the screen. That is, that the narrative shape of these films, although informed by the mood, rhythm and structure of the films, is one that exists in the flow of thoughts and feelings in the viewer’s mind. Narrative is inseparable from an experience of time, and as you point out we slow the onscreen action down, for us this is to cast a spell, to evoke an atmosphere of day-dreaming, and give us a glimpse of timelessness that can only be experienced in moments of ritual, magic, meditation or similar experiences.
We love films that we can get lost in, that sweep us beyond the limits of ourselves. Sometimes this can be achieved by long complex stories which suck you into the plot and action, and it can also be achieved by slowing things right down, simplifying things and focusing in on the miniscule. Something that has come to mind to us this week after thinking about our films in relation to the other works on Tao is the question of what constitutes slowness. Speed is something relative and in a way slow cinema is something that has come into existence in a compensatory relationship to the increasing speed of the rhythms of mainstream cinema and the pace of modern life. It would be interesting to think about if slow cinema was the mainstream would the counter-movement be even slower or would it be fast cinema!
One of our favourite filmmakers is Andy Warhol, he could be considered as one of the filmmakers using the slowest of cinematic tempos, his early films are often one act studies of single actions presented at a reduced frame rate. In relation to mainstream films it might seem that nothing happens but when you tune into these films, when they click with you, they become incredibly full and dynamic narrative experiences, something as small as a blink becomes a dramatic and meaningful moment. This is something we like about slow cinema, it has the power to reveal to us moments of the human experience and human perception often overlooked in the chaos and speed of daily life. Slow cinema in a way is about making contact with yourself, returning to an experience of being in a body, in a place in a particular moment in time. This is something there is a great need for in the world today!
NADIN: I know that the film contains several layers, and I mean this in a literal sense. But those visual layers, which, together, make up for this haunting piece, also allow us as viewers to imagine several layers of meaning to what we see. Would you agree?
DANIEL & CLARA: Actually there is no layering of images, it is a single shot filmed on location and then put through our refilming process, so what you are seeing has no layering of footage, the transformation all comes from the projection and refilming.
We are interested in making first person cinema experiences, particularly in creating cinema experiences that do not impose on the viewer a fixed reading of our films, these two films in some ways are our most minimal in terms of narrative, they are meditations within an atmosphere evoked by the sound/image combination. What is interesting is that the reduction of imposed narrative elements puts the viewer in a place where much of what the film experience is takes places in their bodies and in the thoughts that materialise as they watch. No two people ever have the same experience of any film, even if they arrive at similar intellectual readings, the moment to moment physical experience will be totally unique to them, and whereas most films attempt to resist this we encourage it. We seek to give value and celebrate the uniqueness of each individual’s experience – whatever the viewer thinks or feels is right, it is of value and it belongs to them.
NADIN: What’s next for you and The Underground Film Studio?
DANIEL & CLARA: We are currently working on an ongoing Studio Diary Series, which will eventually consist of 100 short films and 1 feature film produced throughout 2018. The project is well underway and we have been releasing the shorts online as they are completed, each one is filmed, edited and released on the same day and they capture moments of our daily work at the studio.
We also have several other shorts that we are working on over the coming months and we are planning a new feature film about the end of world called Dream Pavilion which we’ll be shooting this Autumn.