By Mónica Delgado

Films such as earthearthearth by Japanese filmmaker Daïchi Saïto cry out for a return to the cinema screen. Not only because these are experiences that require a dark room, but also because perhaps festivals, galleries or some performance, with their presence, made these projections acts of communion. However, generating the proper conditions at home in the face of streaming in times of a pandemic becomes an obligatory rite, even if the epiphany that works like Saïto’s produce can’t be fully achieved. In this sense, I feel that my text on earthearthearth may reveal only a half-experience (of a film with very experiential effects).

Made in 35 mm and filmed in 2015, earthearthearth (2021) is the recording and photochemical intervention of the Andes, in the territories of Chile and Argentina, as a constant horizontality, which in its fluid materiality follows various cycles or oscillations. As in other works by Saïto, such as Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009) or Engram of Returning (2015), nature is subverted with an exploratory and poetic purpose, to take on an abstract dimension, which has a background between the philosophical and the ecological.

For 30 minutes we witness a work process that depurates or transgresses various sunsets, which in Saïto’s montage -and with Jason Sharp’s saxophone – (very reminiscent of Colin Stetson’s improvised atmospheres for very different films) form an everyday climate transformation, of an Andes that loses its stable or immobile image to become part of a cadence of reddish skies or solar halos. Juxtapositions of sunsets generate new rhythms from these horizontalities or superimposed geological layers, which are building a new territory. Or as Saïto said in the conversation with Kim Knowles within the framework of the festival, bring to light that which those landscapes (and the Andes) hide or what they show, something which is not on the surface, but also the fragility or instability of the environment in relation to the constantly changing landscape.

On the other hand, it is not the first time that Saïto has worked sound montage with the Canadian musician Jason Sharp (they collaborated in Engram of Returning), who here proposes an improvisation that matches very well with these climates that seek to bring out the hidden or strange of these open landscapes. Saïto’s idea of generating a rhythm from probably static shots, something which Sharp’s music expands as a mantra or rite, shows new layers, exploring this horizontality from these overlays, from peaks to peaks or sunsets to sunsets, thus creating atmospheres of unreality of a territory that is perceived unscathed.

Despite the difficulties I mentioned about watching a film of this nature in streaming, earthearthearth was one of the great works seen in this edition of Rotterdam, if not the best, both for the delicacy of its montage, the craftsmanship in the photochemical work by Saïto, and Sharp’s accompaniment. This work, together with Malena Szlam’s Altiplano, from the Montreal collective, Double Negative, form an unexpected diptych about the “material” atmospheres of the Andes. In addition, both projects were produced by Media City Film Festival, directed by Oona Mosna.

This recent edition of Rotterdam Film Festival also had other interesting bets from the experimental camp. In the competitive section of shorts for the Tiger Award, some works were shown, such as Surviving You, Always, by Morgan Quaintance (of whom we could see other works in editions from Oberhausen or CPH:DOX) who, together with filmmaker and artist Ayo Akingbade, is part of a generation of young directors from London with a social and political outlook.

In Surviving You, Always, Quaintance returns to the influence of the 90’s: 16mm material from a Bolex, old grainy black and white photographs and the voice-over of Timothy Leary, writer and great promoter of the virtues of psychedelic substances. Memories as a teenager, of the marvelous and painful encounters with LSD; scenes that are fused with the testimonial voice of Leary (and also of his friend and guru Ram Dass), and subtitles with reflections and confessions of the same filmmaker about this lost time, now recovered.

Quaintance comments on this past time, on his experiences as a teenager, not only in relation to a personal experience but to a social context in London that has mutated. In Surviving You, Always, he reconstructs this past from the look he had of his surroundings, friends, school, neighborhood, from his records and photos from the nineties. This updating gives rise to the possibility of repairing the gaze, even the distance with which it was observed or the familiarity that is barely visible. The result is a short film that works in a therapeutic way, but at the same time functions as a new memory narrative of an emotionally difficult period.

Perhaps the use at the end of a song by the Paganicons by Saccharine Trust is right there with the confirmation of a nostalgia, of a period of anger and nonconformity that was based on breaking with a reality assumed as absurd and to look for existential answers at the doors of perception. But the best of the testimonies that make up Surviving You, Always is towards the end, when the essential revelation appears, of the impossibility of some situations or of the acceptance of heartbreak or disagreement (that also finds sense in the title of the short film). A successful work on how to return to adolescence, or how to give it a new corporeality from what remains of those memories.

Directed by Daïchi Saïto
Camera and editing: Daïchi Saïto
Edition: Daïchi Saïto
Music by Jason Sharp
Sound Design: Jason Sharp
Sound: Radwan Ghazi Moumeh
Produced by Daïchi Saïto, Oona Mosna
A project of Media City Film Festival, with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, ACIC
Canada, 2021, 30 min

Surviving You, Always
Director, editor, camera, sound, sound mix: Morgan Quaintance
UK, 2021, 18 min