Interview with 2016 joint winner Daphne Rosenthal

Daphne Rosenthal, joint winner of SFF 2016

Interview with Daphne Rosenthal

Daphne, first of all, congratulations on winning this year’s competition! How did you hear about the Swedenborg Film Festival and what does it mean to you to have won?

Last year the Alchemy Film Festival, where I’ve shown my film, Meanwhile, looking elsewhere, sent out an email about the Swedenborg Film Festival. And I remember passing by the bookshop after closing hours a couple of times, always wondering what this was about.

Of course, I am very honoured to have been awarded the prize for my film Meanwhile, looking elsewhere. During the festival I felt a strong connection with some of the films shown, especially with the work of my fellow winner Toby Tatum. He seems to share my interests in tactility, ungraspable spheres and delicate balancing of colour.

I should admit that I hardly knew a thing about Emanuel Swedenborg. Some exquisitely published books on his work were part of the prize. I have started reading them with great interest.

Your film portrays a microscopic world of material wonders being shifted and sundered by out-of-sight forces—what role does the metaphysical play in your work? 

I am fascinated by the act of staring at things and how this makes us more perceptive to the world that surrounds us. When humans experience euphoria, hopelessness, a laughter attack, boredom or lethargy they may fall into a vacuum; a sensation of being fully absorbed in the here and now. A feeling so strong it makes you forget yourself. This empty state of mind opens up our senses and can make objects almost come alive before our eyes.

Most of what we see has been produced and made with a purpose. But things also exist outside of their functionality. When objects are being placed outside of their domain, their role—let alone their origin—may get lost. They are of no use to anybody; they can only be what they are. At this point they are fit for a part in one of my films.

I play with these materials, search for their characteristics as I might have done as a child with my puppets. I construe an abstract scenery that I film as if making a documentary, always leaving my hands out of sight. I let the materials be amongst themselves and show what they can be like. This way, they become the protagonists of my films. Wool falls softly, even on metal, and can become a warm nest for tiny beads. I never have full control over the outcome, but let myself be guided by the objects. The landscapes have no borders and some sort of neverendingness will arise. There is no storyline, it is more like a way of being that is shown.

A very important part in the making is watching the footage. I never can tell exactly what will end up in the final edit. There is no exact formula, but one of my basic principles is that I want to forget my hands were ever there to trigger these movements.

Still from Meanwhile, looking elsewhere

In Meanwhile, looking elsewhere there is a great emphasis on focus—the visible adjustments of the camera lens; the calling of the viewer’s attention to details and processes that would perhaps ordinarily go unseen; and the evident concentration and study that goes into craftsmanship—but is the film less concerned with what we look at (or overlook) than the way we look at things?

A dazzling amount of things are happening simultaneously all of the time. By focusing on tiny inorganic things a breathing space, a shelter from the demands of life may form itself. The inorganic world doesn’t want anything from us. Focusing on it makes me feel free, detached from my worries and strangely enough very much alive.

When I am playing around triggering movements, the camera is digging through the sets like a mole. It’s a very intimate process, with a hypnotizing effect. The uncensored presence of the camera with its recognizable sounds can sometimes act as a spell breaker. I embrace this, because it throws the ball back to the viewer sitting in a dark space watching a film. The gap between being drawn into a narrative and being thrown back to one’s self is smaller than it may appear. Film as a medium offers us unique ways to attempt bridging this gap.

Still from Meanwhile, looking elsewhere

The title of your film invokes both time and place—is memory, or even nostalgia, important to the film? 

All objects can evoke stories, memories and experiences. At the same time, in the inorganic world there is no place for memory, let alone nostalgia. It’s a world of a different order. The camera registers the events, creating a spell and then breaking it. Balancing these two positions is very important in my editing process.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment and where can we see your next films?

Currently I am working on a new film closely connected to Meanwhile, looking elsewhere. In this new work my focus is on shimmer and shine. I have made a load of ceramic objects especially for this purpose. Nothing shines like glazed ceramics: it is cool, yet very versatile and lively; sudden movements of light can be caught in it.

This new film will be shown in February 2017 at the Rotterdam Art Fair, at the yearly exhibition Prospects & Concepts, organized by the Dutch Mondriaan Fund. Last year this fund has granted me a Stipend for Emerging Artists.

Still from Meanwhile, looking elsewhere

Daphne Rosenthal, Meanwhile, looking elsewhere

Meanwhile, looking elsewhere presents elementary sensations such as falling, rolling, pressing, trembling and tingling. The materials act along the lines of their characteristics. Their movements resonate in our bodies as we perceive them. The camera digs like a mole in messy and strange, yet familiar worlds. For more about Daphne's work, please visit here.