Four Talks by Isiah Medina
2019 - 2021
The following is a collection of excerpts from talks and Q&As given between 2019 and 2021: 2019 at Close-Up Film Centre (London) after showing a retrospective of Medina’s work, a Kinet Media event held at NYU (New York) showing 2 of his films, a 2020 Masterclass given on Twitch for the Berlin Revolution Film Festival, and a Zoom Q&A given after a screening of Inventing the Future with PUP Bukluran sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino (PUP-BSP) (Alliance for Filipino Psychology), an academic organization from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (Manila).
The text has been edited for length and lightly revised for clarity.
Close-Up Film Centre, July 2019
So in 88:88, you link the idea of the cut to a condition of scarcity, whereas Inventing the Future will think of post-scarcity. I was wondering about the development between the cut as representation of nothing and the cut in relation to post-scarcity.
I was thinking of UBI in relation to the entrenchment of capital as individuating, so people live individually rather than collectively. Can you speak on this and how you will relate UBI to the cut?
The cutting may appear to superficially be slower, but acceleration is not speed. It slows things down, like slow motion uses more frames, so things appear slower, there’s more frames of reference, frameworks of thinking that we can use. But when you have less, you might even need to cut what little you have to find a way to tie the world together, and to simulate the smoothness of the intermittent mechanism. There’s also a greater degree of abstraction — “you can’t point to money, or your father, or your mother.”
I’ve been thinking about it as a question of trust: not just the way a trust fund secures the future of some rich people, but a universal trust, a whole net of institutions that’s not localized into an individual or a family, a spirit of trust in a community where you trust how others spend their money. A cut in relation to trusting that someone will make the inferential link and will have the time to make the inferential link. In relation to this link and how the ideas are distributed, slowing down, somehow the type of inference will be made both individually and collectively, in the same way that there’s no necessary contradiction between UBS (universal basic services) and UBI.
Going from 88:88 to Inventing the Future, would you still consider yourself a fatalist?
Yes of course, nothing has changed, it’s just a way to think freedom as a determinist. There’s a determinist element in Inventing the Future, so rather than a question of exit, the question is how to re-appropriate this end. For example, we can talk about how Walmart has similarities to a planned economy, and Disney movies point towards a type of collective childhood and unconscious. With all these remakes, we can pivot to thinking how we can remake our world in a fatalist universe, remake the world adequate to our norms if there is this sort of eternal repetition, or reproduction of the world. The power of this remaking is linked to the fatalism that grounds this revision.
Kinet, NYU, December 2019
I’m going to recollect the trajectory that passes from Semi-auto colours, 88:88, and idizwadidiz, to Inventing the Future. It’s an attempt to get less personal, and less tied to narrative.
In Semi-auto colours, there’s a play with religious narrative, with the texts asking “What’s up God?” and if one found a job, or if God found a Job. And with Job, awful things happen to him, and he refuses to find meaning in it. At the end of the movie, you see me shooting the tree on fire. So within the narrative, there’s already a simple operation to get out, but still we’re inside and the sound briefly syncs up at the end, maybe for the first time in the film. I went out of my way to try narrative, as if it was a Griffith Biograph short. But even at the end of the film it shows me shooting the tree on fire — already we’re trying to find the break within the time of the narrative, and trying to point a way out of it, and this attempt to find meaning in any sort of suffering.
(question from the audience)
No, I wasn’t thinking of music videos at all. I was thinking of silent films. Text messages as intertitles. I’ve never felt a distance from the history of movies, so I felt I had the right as anyone to think in silence. The speed of the movie came from this idea of Serge Daney saying that John Ford only gave you enough time for the eye to see all that the frame contains. I like this, and I think in my films the images are always on screen just as long as they need to be, and to see all there is to see.
In 88:88, the title comes from being unable to pay for one’s bills, and the light, water, and heat gets cut, and then when one is able to pay again, all the digital appliances flash 88:88, - - : - -. —. There’s a robbery sequence in Semi-auto colours and talk of not having a job, and then in 88:88 nobody is really working. It was a condition of the production of the movie - we weren’t working, so we could shoot. I worked for a brief period and it’s in the film, I was working at a photography store that sells cameras and prints photos. But I lost the job, since there was less and less demand for printed photos and either you print it at home or just have it as a digital copy, and so the store had to close. In the film you can see the store is beginning to empty out, there’s a lot of empty shelves and there are very few products at all. There was a point where I could just go to work and expect to listen to music and read books on my phone until my shift was over. So you can see a development from Semi-auto colours to 88:88 to Inventing the Future, from looking for a job, robbery, having a job and it disappearing, to full automation, a UBI, and to a post-work politics.
And from here, I’ve been thinking about the question of characters, like how in Plato there are characters talking in these dialogues. But not just the characters as in persons, but characters as in letters. So not only the possibility of multiple people with their perspectives, but also the characters of logical symbols interacting and their relation to dialogues between people. And somehow, we get to these logical symbols that in a way do not presuppose specific people talking. A different type of character study, and with Semi-auto colours, by the end we have text messages that are interrupted by the question mark, and later end with the One. And of course, in 88:88, we have the title and its appearance on digital appliances. In Inventing the Future, I want to follow this interaction of characters as both persons and letters to more complex possibilities. Letters can be used in many ways, they can be used poetically, but also the way letters are used in mathematics, and this double use of the same material is what I’m excited about, the way a cut in some sense can produce the function of a letter.
You can see this in the history of cinema with the very first reverse in Lumière’s Demolition of a Wall (1896), where the wall falls and is reversed back up. The same frames are seen twice, and at the point of the reversal there is a freeze because it’s the same frame twice, side by side. We see the frame’s difference from itself, even if it’s the same frame. I think there is a link here between letters you can use in poetry and letters you can use in mathematics. It’s the same letter but by framing it differently, mathematics can do some things that poetry can’t. We can have all this free time in poverty and not having a job, but perhaps there’s a reversal, a different way of organizing this free time, without poverty, in a manner analogical to this. This is the type of trajectory I’ve been trying to go through.
In this relationship to letters, I’m thinking also of this movie I watched last night called Rumble in the Bronx with Jackie Chan. I was interested in it because in the New Line Cinema edit, it’s all dubbed and Jackie Chan is dubbing himself. He is not speaking English in the actual shooting of the movie, but he dubs himself in English. There’s no need for another actor, he’ll do it himself. I like this idea because even when you can speak the language in question there’s already a gap, there’s an attempt to match with yourself and your own voice. I’m very moved by this distance that one can have in relation to oneself, and this distance is the distance a letter can have in regards to being used poetically or mathematically.
There should be other ways of making films that aren’t that of narrative art. We tell ourselves so many stories and get into a mess. There should be different ways of presenting the way we experience what we live. I was in a university in Toronto showing 88:88 and a student asked, “Why is there so much racialized language if no one in the movie is black?” The other students in the class immediately said, “the main character is black,” and then the initial student said: “I couldn’t tell what race everyone was because the cutting was so fast.” As a quick note, I also try to say “count-as” before I name some sort of racial identity — I don’t want to naturalize any of these concepts. But anyway, perhaps if I cut slower like Griffith and segregated everyone via the cross cut, you’d be able to tell what everyone counts as much more simply. Again this why I’m not into that type of narrative and you can see this link between how certain stories are told and how it naturalizes concepts of race and who should appear where. These aren’t the most useful categories or ways of telling stories to understand peoples’ lives as characters in the double sense, as persons and figures of thinking. It speaks to how we have been conditioned to accept certain stories, certain appearances, and how to organize who should show up where, and how, in a film.
(question from the audience about social amnesia)
Amnesia is linked to the question of anamnesis, and remembering how to remember. In 88:88 there was a question of starting again, or as some people say ‘go back to zero.’ But there’s always a reactionary tendency in all ‘back to zero’, ‘year zero’ talk — there’s the religious paradigm of going back to the beginning. It only works if we’re talking about a history of beginnings, different structures and breakthroughs, a history of going back to the beginning. We can retroactively draw a line through the localization of these moments of ‘zero’. In the same manner, there is not just one ‘end of history’ there’s a history of the ‘end of history’.
For example the space between frames is actually what allows us to get from frame to frame, but that space doesn’t count. You can screencap a frame but not a cut. You see a lot of wealth in the world and in film, and those who work and invent this wealth are the cut. They bring it all together, make it appear, and make it move. But they count as nothing. But not every cut is the same, so it’s not the same localization of this ‘zero’ if you want to call it that. When you localize it, it means it’s in a history. There’s not one cut. There’s no God.
And this is why I really don’t think if you get enough people who are historically marginalized into a Hollywood picture and they tell their story in these forms that it will be worth anything. If we can’t play with changing the form of movies then I don’t really see any value in it. The localization of the void is the same, there’s no new localization, so nothing will change.
It’s a fight against this idea of personal cinema. I’m trying to get less and less personal. I don’t want to give in to what’s already given to me. Paradoxically, in poverty, all you are given is the given.
Just because we have a phone and our personal identities and personal life, it doesn’t mean we have some sort of immediate access to our own world. The distance I have to my thoughts is the same distance to things external to me. It takes the same kind of conceptual work to understand my own ideas as it does to understand someone else’s.
And there is also a myth of the taken. You can’t say you were just “taken in” by something - there has to be some sort of conceptual process you went through to be “taken in” by the given. Think of Marx saying that manual labor is conceptual. When you are doing manual labor you are doing it for money, so it’s not like you are doing it for food directly: we are already in the realm of concepts. It’s this type of the idea that we are always in the realm of concepts. So we need more conceptualization and we need a better grasp of the realm of appearances, and how we could shape what’s given or make new shapes.
In Inventing the Future, we’ll go from thinking in the shape of a square to the shape of a hexagon - it’s a very basic move. I bring this up because when Godard talks about movies, and thinks in terms of lists, such as the 10 greatest movies, he has also been known to say we make these lists because we have 10 fingers. Or in the 80s, when Godard said he wants to have 2 soundtracks, because he has 2 hands and 2 ears. If we keep basing everything on our material constitution, we will never get beyond that. It’s contingent on the number of fingers some humans may have, and perhaps any other variation based on fingers, hands, of a particular type of human body. Despite the fact we do not have to use a base that is part of our current form of appearing, using the body is often an example that one turns to to make ideas more intuitive. For example, base 8 has been a standard in computation since the beginning of the use of binary, and a typical example to make the octal number system more intuitive is Mickey Mouse’s hand. As we know, Mickey Mouse exists in animated movies, and if we can use his fingers to understand that base, why rely on the given fingers we have?
In the same sense - within the structure of 88:88, there is a givenness of time of “9 o’clock at work” or whatever. But what is not given in the same way is the idea of time’s suspension in “88:88” and we should read that instead.
We shouldn’t immediately say “I am my body.” I think there needs to be a minimal split in order to think. Our initial body is a given and I think we should refuse what's given because there's other things we can construct. Especially with all these sort of futurist ideas of uploading your mind to some other place — I do think it's worth thinking about. And to think about it might mean giving up some of our notions about identification with our body: we can create other bodies and there's also other bodies of work - artists produce bodies of work, when you are a couple or any number of people in love that might be a different body than just your own. I always liked when Saint-Just said “I despise the dust that forms me to speak to you” and I cut to turn things to dust — maybe if I thought bodies were the key, I’d do more long takes. It goes back to Jackie Chan dubbing his own voice because his voice is not his own, he's already in this gap. And it's these gaps that constitute us more than any given voice, any given body, any given language, any given race.
I have one question about your process as far as editing goes, I couldn’t stop thinking about how many times there were certain aspects of the audio clips that were reoccurring, and I started thinking more and more about the editing the more that happened, and I’m just curious for you when you’re editing, do you ever feel like you’re playing an instrument or a MIDI keyboard where you copy and paste certain things over and over again? What is the editing process like?
Montage is less about cutting together shots but cutting together different cuts. Montage’s material is montage itself. To make it clear, let’s say I am editing, and I have shot A and B. But if I export it as a file, this movement from A to B is now itself a shot, let’s call it AB. Now I have a new shot to cut to. So again if I export the cuts from C to D to E and have CDE, but of course it can be more intricate than that, let’s say some crosscutting in the form of C to D to E to C to D to E, and and let’s call that CDECDE, and other ways of getting from A to F to G to H, or AFGH, and all sorts of montage forms, shot lengths, etc. So each export of cuts is now each its own shot, and each shot has a different logic of montage.
I can now montage the forms of montage: AB can crosscut, collide, show identity and/or difference, from CDECDE, if there are variations within CDE that are different from CDECDE, I can cut CDE within CDECDE, or A and B themselves can have a new relationship to AB etc. And you end up with a whole new set of interactions between internal logics of montage within what now counts as shots, and these have their own geometry and produce thoughts that can touch on the entirety of the picture. So it’s not only the tripod, lens, sensor, and memory card that produces shots, but the shots themselves when cut and exported produce shots. It escapes what’s given in experience, this point of view that is assumed to be guaranteed within a shot, it turns shots into something more immediately conceptual. Exporting becomes a form of shooting or recording.
But this method is also how I treat sound because the idea of the cut precedes the idea of the material. The logic of the shots have to be followed to the end, as do the logic of the sound. Then the sound and the image are combined or separated according to their own interior logic, and the ‘exterior’ interaction between image and sound has the same interior logic that the image-track and the sound-track have with themselves. The nested, hierarchical logics of the sound/image frames allow us to organize the complexity of the idea.
What do you think is the next step in self-produced independent cinema?
I think it’s important to fight for state funding. Even in the United States, there’s films like Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye and Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs that were state funded. It’s important to fight for public funding, even for the right to public funding, as an independent filmmaker, to get out of the market mindset. I’ve heard people say “I’ve heard that when you get state funding it’s not as free as when you’re in the market and you have to follow strict guidelines” but this is simply not true. Inventing the Future is state funded and I have had no difficulty at all. There’s a lot of clichés about freedom in relation to the state. I started out making films thinking about distance from the state but you need a state to be distant from. You can’t just be distant from nothing, it’s a site of contention. We need true material power. We’re always told to be a realist and get your hands dirty with the market but you should really get your hands dirty with the state. What’s really beautiful is that you don’t even have to make any money back. I don’t even have to think about that. What’s important is you’re expected to make an innovation, and not simply a profit.
There’s a distinction between independence and freedom, and independence is deluded into thinking it’s more free because it doesn’t rely on institutions but true freedom comes from working through institutions. Not just changing institutions but also institutionalizing change. You’re more free with the capacity to be free. And having these capacities is important for an ‘independent filmmaker.’ It’s less about becoming an independent filmmaker than becoming a free filmmaker. You could even say in a broad sense that 88:88 was independent but maybe Inventing the Future will be free.
Berlin Revolution, Twitch, April 2020
It’s funny you wanted to make a silent film, from what I’ve seen with your shorts and Inventing the Future, there’s a lot of ideas with cutting and rhythm so maybe talk about why silent films when you seem to be so…
I like to discuss with friends a really silly question, that is, “which contemporary directors could survive in the silent era?” It’s completely silly but it’s a fun game. I like to discuss who knows how to cut, who has strong compositions, who doesn’t necessarily need the recourse into a screenplay. But in that same breath it’s also a way of thinking “which contemporary directors can survive in the internet era?” And I think these two questions are very close because it’s a question of first principles, it’s a question of inventing, but also developing a language that is not tied directly to the spoken language of the movie.
Well, it ties to stream-of-consciousness, with 88:88 I felt like I was just looking through your eyes, not like a memory but I’m in your brain, with all of these things happening at once. So it makes sense to me that you would not include strict dialogue.
Well, the cinema is a machine, automating a type of picture. It can replicate some particularities of our sense experience, what’s important is that I can cut, and I can shoot, and the fact I can tell a story is a later question. When we think of the history of movies, it’s not just Lumière, it’s scientists doing motion studies, trying to discover how things move, getting exact recordings of that so we can discover something about movement. And that’s not necessarily a narrative question. A scientist isn’t a narrator. There’s no narration, there’s no narrative unfolding in nature. What science sometimes also allows us to do is predict, and not merely record. So by recording something, maybe via montage we can predict something else, and this is important to me as well.
I’ll play devil’s advocate here. A scientist isn’t a narrator and that’s true and a filmmaker doesn’t have to be a storyteller, and a scientist explores a hypothesis, so there’s an intention and a point of reference, with which to portend to. What is that in your work?
There’s ideas guiding the work, there’s a hypothesis. When we say ‘experimental film,’ I don’t think experimental film is just trying out a bunch of things, it’s experimental like experimental science. We have a hypothesis, we have predictions, we have mathematical formulae. In this way we can talk about a theory of montage, a theory of the edit, and it’s reducible to, let’s call them letters. When we talk about its relationship to being closer to a science, it means it is mathematizable, like with physics we’re talking about mathematics in a particular physical world. This discovery and invention of patterns, this understanding of patterning, how to track a pattern, and also continue it, infer how else it can continue, I wouldn’t say it’s reducible to a narrative idea. And even in terms of an ‘intention’ of the scientist, no matter who uses the Kuleshov effect and these types of ideas, it is not reducible to “so-and-so shot it.” No matter who or what the auteur is, no matter their race or gender, once you do a Kuleshov effect, there are a couple of things that are invariant.
It’s an old editing experiment but in the sense of an experiment, we were able to repeat it, and many other filmmakers have been able to use it to this day. I think it’s not reducible to the fact that it was invented in a local place, let’s say the USSR. Even though a particular historical being did the experiment, the fact it’s repeatable, and we can confirm its hypotheses, it’s universally transmissible.
Zoom in and maybe talk about your process, how you imagine a film, how you then go into editing it. I was wondering what your decision making is like, what you’re driven by.
It differs from film to film. 88:88 was about poverty and having or feeling like you have nothing or having nothing or being given nothing. I wanted to equate the fact that your lights would be cut to the fact that that is what a cut does: it cuts the lights out of the shot. We are presented with the nothing of the cut itself, a nothing that holds together the whole film. And at the same time, those who have nothing, those who are poor, those who are working, they hold up the entirety of the world. So I wanted to equate this idea of having nothing and thinking nothing with the nothingness of the cut. In a lot of grand rational philosophical traditions, the first concept is nothing. From Plato to Descartes to Hegel, you see they all begin with nothing and you can build a system from there. And I wanted to show that even when you’re poor and you have nothing, you have enough to begin thinking. But that’s obviously specific to 88:88. For example, with idizwadidiz, it’s a film about shape and sexuation, and the transitions between different positions in being sexed. I thought, let’s think about transition, and so I was thinking of the Star Wars prequels by George Lucas. They have these transitional wipes, but I thought, let’s take out all the narrative and the story and just focus on the wipes themselves, the transitional device to move from shot to shot. And then if I export that, then the transition itself becomes a shot, and then I could start linking different transitions to each other, so instead of having a shot transition to another shot, I can have a transition transition into another transition, and I could recut that and recombine that and have this sort of process, working this inner antagonism as sexuality is in contradiction with itself, a gap has in relation to oneself, a transit to, not a shot, but the truth that each shot is made up of transformations, so I wanted to think this inner antagonism in relation to the transitions themselves. So it’s specific to the project at hand, it’s not like a cookie cutter situation where I would just do the same type of cutting in each picture. With Inventing the Future, there’s a critique of immediacy, so on a basic level didn’t want to use any iPhone footage. Or in the most simple thinking of automation I want to be hands-free, so I’m going to use a tripod this time, and I’m not gonna run around with my iPhone. It’s not just the shooting and cutting but also even in terms of distribution. Since Inventing the Future wants to think universal basic income, I was thinking how are we gonna put this picture out? Obviously the festivals seem to either shut down or be canceled or moved online. And I thought well, if they’re gonna be moved online anyway, I don’t see why I have to go online through someone else to put out a picture since the best thing about festivals is seeing movies on the big screen. It’s kind of like that joke, “Do you have coffee without cream? “Oh no, we only have coffee without milk.” For me, it was: “Do you wanna make no money by putting your film in the virtual festival? Or do you wanna make no money by putting your film on Youtube?” It seems like the same thing but it’s not. Coffee without milk and coffee without cream are two different kinds of negation.
So a cinema online for free, and not being paid, is different from putting it in a festival and not being paid. I think it was a crucial distinction. Even if a streaming service has a free trial, often you have to give up your credit card information. And maybe that’s the minimal means testing. But the whole idea with UBI is that there’s no means testing, everyone should get it. And at the same time, if we limit it to streaming, there’s still a naturalization of private property: No studio’s going to give you the file. But I wanted to give the .mov file, so even if you stream and your internet speed is bad at least you’ll have the file, a 2K H264. I know that some festivals that don’t do DCPs even play H264s theatrically, so I wanted to give that if you have the means. But also in the history of film criticism, you’d have Manny Farber getting details wrong when he talks about a movie he saw and yet it can still make for some great criticism. There’s also Jonathan Rosenbaum or Laura Mulvey who talk about DVDs and special features, and being able to pause and rewind and go frame by frame, and how DVDs change criticism. It becomes an offer to critique: Okay, if you wanna show me how to really do intellectual montage with this material then fine, show me, I gave you the .mov file. You could critique cinema via the means of cinema and that’s an equality I want to present. Cinema is continuously changing, and criticism also has the capacity to change. So again, the way I make the picture from production to post-production to distribution really depends on the picture. I also just thought with borders being shut down and borders being closed, not everyone working or having money, and since not everyone may have something similar to the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit, it didn’t make sense to make you rent the film. You’re already having to pay rent in your home and you’re gonna have to pay another rent to enjoy your own free time in your own home. There’s a way to think with everyone. I think it’s very important that I’ve often been critiqued for my films being elitist but it’s free online, no artificial scarcity. So it seemed right for this picture.
Like a holistic sort of way of thinking about everything.
Yeah. It should be governed by ideas and not mere external happenstance.
It sounds like you’re thinking in a very sort of systematic way across the board, even down to the rhythm and the mathematics, to then going all the way out to the distribution. This sort of also feeds a bit into a question: Who is the ideal audience? You seem to have a very strong following, and I’m wondering if you know what your base or demographic is, and why you think the films that you create are resonating with them.
I wouldn’t call the work inaccessible. I didn’t always have television or internet so I went to the library, and you could watch silent pictures, avant-garde pictures, you could borrow books, CDs and rip it to your computer. In fact it costs money to be vulgarized by cable TV, it costs money to be vulgarized by advertisements. High art is actually much easier to access, it’s like this classic idea by Fredric Jameson: if the ruling class wants be very vulgar and produce low art, it’s a chance for those who classically would be called the proletariat to reclaim high art. And there’s nothing wrong with this, there’s no false consciousness in those who have nothing to desire but the highest forms of beauty and pleasure.
I wanted to ask you how did you manage to get sort of, let’s say, discovered, or how come you have such an enthusiastic following with regards to your films?
I put my movies online on Youtube or on my Tumblr. I also met other people who were interested in cinema on Tumblr who I would later collaborate with to varying degrees. Over time I received messages from people who saw the films online and either wanted to interview me or program my films in their respective city.
In university I became friends with Alexandre Galmard after the student strikes in Québec, and at that point it was hard to go back to school. It felt like kitsch to go back to school, when we have just been on strike first because of the rise in tuition cost and then it became about free education, and I realized I was borrowing books out of the library, watching the lectures we were actually interested in online and discovering film history and developing theories of montage. In that year alone we’d make like 30 shorts or whatever, and it’s back to that silent era / internet era question. When you see these filmmakers that made like 300 shorts, it seems ridiculous but actually it’s not at all — I think you have to want to make 300 shorts that only 8 friends see. And that’s cinema too, it’s not only the packed auditorium, though of course that’s wonderful as well. And it’s not a question of work ethic either. But how to become more fluent.
It sounds more like passion.
I always liked how LeBron James, when asked if there is any pressure he said no, he studies the game and is true to the game, and he knows what he puts into the game, and he enjoys playing the game because it’s fun. And with Inventing the Future and the critique of the work ethic, even on set I wouldn’t ask the actors to do multiple takes. I would just ask the actor at the end of the take, “Did you like it?” and if they liked it, then I’m sure it’s good. I trust someone who’s working to know what their work is, I’ll trust them. I trust someone who’s working knows when they’re done. When I had work shifts folding clothes in a retail store, I know when I’m done and I’m not going to just continue to put on a performance of working.
So to go back to the idea of fixing things in post, you can really say that montage is another name for post-work. Which is to say montage is free time: it’s time freed from the temporality of past, present, future, and it’s free from the schedule of narrative. So not just breaking out of the repetitive structure of 9-5 or any hours of repetitive work with its beginning, middle, and end, but free time is also montage in the sense that when you have real free time you’re crosscutting a geometry of interaction between all sorts of activities and ideas that don’t naturally connect. You have time to explore all sorts of ideas and let your mind wander. There’s no necessary accumulation or any theatre of wage labour. Free time is montage and montage is free time. There’s nothing that cannot be fixed in post, and even in the political sense, it’s free time’s edit that’s going to fix things and free us. Free time is not a durational shot where nothing happens, free time is the very edit that reorients what comes before and after. Time is a commodity and we rent our free time from our employer.
So with some of the lesser Antonioni and his weaker derivatives (and if we can talk about an eye that can discern the lesser and better Rembrandt, we should be able to tell the better and worse Antonionis from each other), they might think of free time within the logic of the shot itself. It’s tough to have a notion of free time when you think time is in the shot itself and then suddenly you get this boring bourgeois anxiety and superego about "Oh, I don’t know what to do with my life blah blah blah.” You need the courage and justice of cutting to break apart the shot and recompose it. Even in classical Marxist terms you could even say the proletariat as a subject is a cut, whereas you know the bourgeois is not a subject and is merely a place or a frame — it’s not a subject versus another subject, it’s a subject reorienting or recomposing the space of where it’s forced to appear.
So in the same way a proletariat is a class that cannot recognize itself as a class, a cut is a shot that doesn’t appear itself as a shot; but it reorganizes all these types of things. It’s a question of montage itself as architecture and something to inhabit rather than architecture itself appearing in the shot, the difference between subject and place, “also as subject and not only as substance.”
Montage is post-work is free time, because you’re really freeing time from even these physical constraints, we’re already at the level of making marks — when we use letters in mathematics or we use letters in poetry there’s different ways to use the very same letters and it can stand for something other than just a particular sound you might make with your mouth when reading a poem so we can free time the way we free letters from mere poetic inscription.
I disagree. The logic of the images and the sounds are different from the logic of the text. And I think politics does minimally require some sort of text. We can’t just dance our politics, and that can also mean not shying away from words. Early in the process you find ways to get away from the book in order to get closer towards it. What’s difficult is being explicit. In politics we need to know exactly what the demands are, what the ideas are, and in love, you have to say “I love you”, you can’t dance around these types of things. Like Susan Sontag talking about Godard’s phobia of language, there were times in my work where I’d try to find a different path away from language, whether to be through the cut or mathematics. But now I think there’s powers of language we shouldn’t be without, and it won’t diminish the montage. You need words to say what type of power you want, what type of equality you want. First we wanted to shoot free time away from the book itself, and then later return to the writing, to see what gaps have appeared, or where gaps did not appear. An example would be the synthetic child, which is only briefly mentioned in the book but is an image that struck me and became a big part in the structure of the montage. There’s many movies that pride themselves on being unclear in their thinking of politics, “the complexity of the world” and the regular skepticism, and some will say the work is aesthetically richer if the politics are unclear but I think the attempt of clarity is important. Politics isn’t the place of mystery. But there’s other ways to be faithful to ideas. Here, it might have meant thinking with Plato as well and not just the book as given. Subtracting the book from some of its philosophical lineages was crucial, but also it was important to simply say, you have the right to philosophical reflection in your free time. It’s a future you can experience now. You don’t have to wait to ‘earn’ that luxury, the proper time ‘after’ struggle. It appears there’s never a proper time for philosophy, and yet we must remember how crucial it was for Lenin to attend to Hegel’s Science of Logic after the catastrophe of World War 1. But there’s other fidelities, like the passage on folk politics which I kept even though there’s already been critiques of it. I still think it is one of the strongest parts and I didn’t want to dilute it. In the same way that Hegel didn’t revise his Phenomenology for republication, in order to preserve the shape of thought’s advances, which includes error, and sometimes you need to remember its initial appearance, changing nothing so everything is different. And a second appearance may have a stronger force than its first appearance.
There’s also the cuts between the little orange robots and the people protesting, and we can start thinking what are the relationships between automation and folk politics, the automation of folk politics, a folk, immediate relation to automation, and even the robots look about 2 meters apart, etc.
I don’t really listen to music while I edit since I do have to listen to what I am editing. But I always enjoy listening to Kanye West. He’s an artist that reminds me what an artist is supposed to be. Even just in terms of his interviews, I get more out of them than a lot of artist’s work. I also like when he said his ye album took 6 days to make. I like this sort of anti-work ethic attitude to making art, when so many love to complain how difficult it is to make art. His struggles with his publishing and ownership of his music is very inspiring to me too. It made me rethink the dissemination of my art, and not wanting to finish school because I don’t like the idea of writing pages and pages of theory or making a film that I don’t have ultimate control over how its shown or stored, especially since I often revise what is and isn’t public. I like that his team wants to take away his phone when he tweets. There’s too much friendship in art. I like when he said artists these days are too scared to lose their house. And a lot of pictures you see you can tell who is scared to lose it all when they make their work and who’s not. There are a lot of different paths for different artists. I like artists who can point a finger and say what people usually wouldn’t. I like Spielberg, but I liked that Godard is against Schindler’s List, and said sometimes the duty of the auteur is to point the finger. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the critique. I think there’s a power in criticism where the entire world or box office can say one thing, and you can say another. Neither democracy nor the box office is enough to make something true. An artist has to point out what is false.
PUP Bukluran sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino (PUP-BSP) (Alliance for Filipino Psychology) - Polytechnic University of the Philippines (Manila), Zoom, February 2021
Most of what we programmed for the whole period are oriented towards the historic past. Your film is future-oriented, and also came from a diasporic perspective, and not a local one. It’s a film that strikes me formally. I’m also writing a film review mostly covering Asian cinema, and films by Asians from other countries. I’m a fan of 88:88 and this is different considering the context and form of 88:88. I’d want to go formally first: what are the challenges of translating a textual work, not to mention a theoretical manifesto as I understand that it’s an elaboration of the Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics, to an audiovisual work?
First the idea was how to not make it challenging at all. The movie is about the luxury of free time and not working, so the movie shouldn’t feel like work. For example it was about not paying attention to film festival deadlines, not being overworked, allowing the CGI artists to decide their own time schedules with what was comfortable for them, the dialogue scenes, I ask the actors, did you like the take, and if they like the take, then I’m good, because asking for more would go against the ideas of the project. The biggest challenge was being patient to get funding for the film. Since 88:88 is about not having money, I didn’t need money to make it, I can just use cameras of friends or my iPhone, and this would be adequate for the idea of the film.
But since this film is about how to think with the state, how to get towards something like a universal basic income, and different universal basic services, it was important to me to get funding from the state, so the movie would be minimally realistic in the smallest sense of convincing arts organizations that these are worthy ideas to represent and to put state money towards, and not just a fantasy that I shoot with friends. And then also to be able to pay people in ways that I wasn’t able to on my last picture and have as much free time for myself to do the research, and the post-production. I didn’t do a straight adaptation of the book, I refer to ideas and events around it as well so we can try to place some of the ideas in the book historically. The movie begins with seeing the January 2011 events in Egypt online, and then later some protests in Montréal and Occupy Wall Street that I shot at the time, and we begin not with the book Inventing the Future but some excerpts from parts of the Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics and some corollary writings. And later there was, as you see, reference to Plato and other philosophers within a certain philosophical lineage, and against it, and working with writing and books that critique left-accelerationism, in order to critically contextualize the adaptation.
In terms of translating it to an audiovisual form, it’s not about translating a text into image and sound, but just the knowledge that these are three different things, three different ways of thinking, their own logics, and the question is how to have a form of montage that can have these things interact without one necessarily dominating the other but instead weaved together. So for example, at the beginning I wanted to start naively and shoot things that looked like free time to me so that the images have their own internal reason for being there, and this is the same for how I organize the sound, and the writing. They have to develop separately at first with their own autonomy in the same way that the book obviously exists autonomously from the film. From there I’d edit little bits, and then export that, and it would be a new bit. Exporting footage becomes a way of shooting. What was once shot A, and shot B, when exported together is shot AB, which can now interact in montage with shot C, and shot D, or if exported together CD, and now AB and CD can interact and intercut with each other in a way that wouldn’t be previously available, because you need to be able to play in the timeline as if it was only two shots.
Montage is not between shots, but montage is a montage of the material of montage. That’s how I try to construct it. You know when you watch old silent films, let’s say something by D.W. Griffith, the intertitles are on screen a little too long, but maybe today we read a little faster. The speed of reading can change, it’s not static, we can become accustomed to different speeds of thinking. But you know if you have an old film camera and you accelerate the frame rate, what happens is you produce slow motion. So there’s a sense for me, that even if it’s not the same motion that’s being chopped up by an accelerated frame rate to slow it down, the principle is the same, the more frames of reference allow for a sort of mental slowing down. Acceleration slows things down, so you can get a fuller picture of the world. And this way if you have the file and if it’s too fast or too slow, you can do whatever you want with it. There’s no natural frame rate of thought or how images and sounds should appear to us. We have to get out of a natural way of receiving ideas.
And with the Lego blocks, the issue is that the blocks won’t always fit, there’s an idealism of the blocks always fitting at all, of the blocks being constructible, and that’s why there’s also a scene in the film of the child cutting their water bottle and turning it into a toy camera. So it’s not just about having blocks that already exist and already fit, but making your own blocks, your own way of making things form together. The form of fittingness is not itself given, it’s only in particular cases.
You also try to link the ideas of Inventing the Future into your production, which makes it a praxiological project, and does this have anything to do with the film being released during the beginning of the pandemic last year?
It just seemed clear that with movie theatres and borders closing, and with not getting paid by festivals, and virtual festivals, it would be the same as Youtube, and Youtube might have a better bandwidth. But when you sign up for a lot of streaming services you might have to give a credit card number, I thought it went against the idea of having no means testing, and having to sign up would go against that. It’s important to give you the file; I don’t think Netflix or anyone else will ever give you the file. But it just makes explicit what’s implicit, that many of us already share files of films. And the file is a type that you can play in a movie theatre, an H264. I know some theatres and festivals I’ve played at, if they don’t have the capacity to play a DCP they may just ask for an H264. Or if you want to put it in an editing program, and take a deeper look. Critics watch 5 films at a film festival in one day, write about it and what they thought, and I think that people should just have the movie and be able to reflect. Film criticism changed with DVD, I imagine less people making things up, and hopefully at this point you can’t just make things up. It makes sense with this particular project. The future of movies should be free. And since the movie was crowdfunded and state funded, and it’s public money, then the movie should be in the public.
What’s it like being of Asian descent and making movies where you are?
I grew up in Winnipeg, which is very multicultural. We had Heritage Fair in elementary, so we would all have the knowledge that we are all immigrants to some extent, but we’d also learn about various First Nations people and the history of colonialism and slavery in Canada. And I’d have friends within my class. Then I studied film in Montréal, where French is not my first language. When I say, for example, that I’m “Filipino-Canadian,” there’s a dash, a hyphen. How to articulate what this dash means...can we see it as a subtraction symbol, as a minus? Each form of subtraction is different for each person, but I want to stress the negativity of the symbol, that to say “Filipino-Canadian” means to think it as subject and not only as a substance, that racism can be real but it does not follow that race is real, and the “-“ is a shortcut to thinking this, and the fact that the terms separated by the minus are themselves their own dash that’s riven with antagonism and contradiction. So it becomes a question of how to posit the difference as such, if it’s possible to embody this subtraction sign, this negativity, that’s not a form of being in between either. It’s somewhat like how some of the Slovene school of psychoanalysis talk about the “+” in 2SLGBTQ+. Can we think the “+” itself as a term, and how do each of us relate to it? So how to think the “+” and “-” and together to think abolition in this sense, the proliferation of forms of sexuality, and a form of subtraction from the histories of racialization and colonialism. To go on with this idea of the “-”, I like to think of Rumble in the Bronx, which Jackie Chan himself dubs his own voice, and this making literal the idea of dash and the gap someone has in regards to himself.
We’re always dubbing ourselves, even when I speak I’m in a struggle with language, and that’s part of the nature of thinking. Same with Italian neorealism, and it’s another good example because by having this gap with your own language, you have to rethink the nation that’s being represented. Being a Canadian filmmaker, there’s state funding, but it’s not like I always receive it — this film is the first time I received state funding.
A curator once told me I’m not focusing on identity enough, and I find this interesting. By virtue of making 88:88 I will show you what I am here, but I find I’m often confronted with a claim that I’m not doing it right, or enough, or I’m doing it wrong, within Canada, or even for Americans who watch my pictures, there’s this idea of how I should or shouldn’t represent this or that or it’s seen within the lens of American racial dynamics. And of course I share the English language with Americans, so there’s this double or triple aesthetic struggle. Rather than in-betweenness, it’s subtraction. If I can make an American-looking picture with this idea and this story, and everyone can have their own Griffith, I really don’t think this is an advance. He says he has it in his head, but you don’t really know what’s in your head until it’s externalized, and with him, as soon as it’s externalized, it’s too late, it’s all wrong, whether it’s with aesthetics or his finances. Compare him with the planning and theorization of Eisenstein. Even if it doesn’t work temporally you can say Griffith is Aristotle, and Eisenstein is Plato. Griffith is the manifest image of our cinema, whereas I think Eisenstein goes towards a scientific image that is in battle with the manifest and we get to see this tension. Like philosophy, most conceptual battles are between a Platonic and Aristotelian route. And I think the same is true for cinema, that so much is still a question of Griffith vs. Eisenstein in terms of what we truly value. It really doesn’t make me feel good to see someone who looks like me in an American-type picture if there’s no play with forms. It’s the play with forms that is the place of identification. It’s why I don’t like when people complain how hard it is to make pictures. Maybe if you’re making that type of picture but I wouldn’t know, that’s not what I’m making. I don’t need too much. The fact is, I think making art is fun, it’s joyous, I don’t think it’s this sort of struggle, work ethic, no one is forcing you to make art.
It’s funny you say this about 88:88, we have a very little group of 88:88 fans here in the Philippines, and it resonated since it talks about homelessness, it talks about being an intellectual while being moneyless at the same time. It resonated with us, we are part-timers, precarious conditions, and we struggle to do intellectual work, and there’s hip hop, so it resonated with some of us, a marginal portion, but it still resonated, it felt more Filipino to us, and not foreign.
Thank you, that really means a lot.
Reflecting on when you’ve visited the Philippines and from what you know, do you think we can get lessons from the Western Left Accelerationists?
I don’t think that from visiting only twice in my life, once when I was a child, and the other, last year for my father’s birthday celebration, would I be able to make a concrete analysis while I was on vacation. I think the worst thing you can do is legislate for another country what they should be doing in their politics. But if you want to interact with the ideas around it, you can and draw your own conclusions, and anyone concretely involved in political action should be drawing their own conclusions and it shouldn’t be done for someone from the outside. So looking at Inventing the Future for instance, I thought about how Canada’s infrastructure, with things like a Child Tax Benefit and Old Age Security, there’s already precedent for something like a UBI that perhaps could cover ages 18-65, without having to remove any other social programs, and thus wouldn’t become a vector for more marketization, and there’s been some pilot programs in the past. But in the USA it could be a different story. So the analysis has to be specific. And I know that in the film it’s said that a lot of the analyses are dealing with Western countries, and I think this also extends to what one calls folk politics.
I do however see a solidarity in thinking of the horizon of free time. An example is when I first saw Lav Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family, the 11 hour runtime meant that you need free time to think history. You can’t think history without this continuous free time, you might need 11 hours straight to begin thinking it. But to me this is also linked to the scene in the film of the People’s Power Revolution, and there’s a mass protest. There’s a single frame of colour and I thought this is a great representation of thinking change, and changing our forms of change, that in this mass protest, it’s a dialectic of the single frame of colour in an 11-hour black and white movie. I do think free time is this sort of horizon, and in it we can train ourselves to see that single frame of colour and what it might mean to transform the rest of the black and white of the world. But I think everyone involved in politics has to think their relation to this idea of free time. In the concrete situation in Canada, it seemed clear that these are ideas that can work with its specific infrastructure, but in the end universality is built from the ground up, so everyone must think for themselves, their situation, their infrastructure, how it can be modified, how to interact with it. There can be lessons that people gather for themselves in relation to their own situation. And I think universality always works like this, you see it in the history of Marxism, like the move from Marx to Lenin, from revolution in the ‘most advanced country’ to ‘weakest link in the chain’. For the communist militants in the Philippines that you’re talking about, these lateral movements in thinking with acceleration are for them to make with their knowledge of their situation and struggle, and not something I can do from the outside.
And it goes back to the Lego blocks: you can’t use all of them perhaps, others you might even have to destroy like cutting the water bottle. You might not use the whole set of Lego blocks, you might use two or three. And this goes back to adapting the book Inventing the Future, there were some blocks I didn’t use, instead I wanted to use other blocks, like some of the philosophical blocks, so I substituted them for blocks or water bottle toy cameras that seemed more important for what I was building. These are the tools I thought were useful, but they can be decomposed and reimagined and build other things.
I want you to elaborate on the line: “Without suffering, life is frivolous, so then suffering is glorified.”
I remember when I was in 6th grade, we were told this awful thing by our teacher, that we should all look towards the Filipino immigrant population in Winnipeg, because they work so hard. As if it’s tied into our identity, to be such a hard worker. We shouldn’t find meaning or virtue in this hard work and suffering. It’s like when people love to say “love is compromise, and hard work,” I don’t think so. It should be fun, it’s not a job, it’s free time. But once we think love is hard work, then we start to think struggle in itself is meaningful. Also, as if when you make art, the only way to make good art is if you’re struggling in your personal life. I’m more inspired when I’m not struggling. In fact everything is more meaningless when I don’t have that free time. But this idea that the hard work in itself will be its own reward is a dangerous idea.
I really don’t like reading interviews with filmmakers telling you how hard it was to make their picture, they love to tell you that. They love to tell you how hard it is to make movies with their scant resources. I’ve made many movies with no resources and it’s fun. Let’s not put suffering first and give primacy to it, to have bad situations and we have to again and again learn from bad situations. We also learn from good situations. If suffering itself is its own meaning then — for example if you’re in an abusive relationship, there’s not necessarily anything you can learn from it other than its story. I liked when Žižek said why there should be no surprise if people are still racist after experiencing a horrible situation like the Holocaust. There’s no arc of redemption in any of these situations. Sometimes there’s struggle, and that’s it. We need a different way to make and change the meaning of things, and then we can have a different relationship to our own lives. A lot of people like to phrase things like “because we’re oppressed, we rebel,” so the oppression comes first. I think it’s because we’re in a rebellious subjectivity that you will be oppressed. If you put oppression first, you put suffering first, and you construct everything around the fact of suffering. It’s better to turn it around, to say “because we rebel, we’re oppressed.” You might even suffer in the rebellious activity, but that becomes a secondary product of the joy of rebellion, its creativity, what the rebellion itself invents. The rebellion constructs something, and then is oppressed for what it constructs. I don’t think suffering is the only way to produce things. So much of our history is ideological mystification, and maybe one day we can look back and say there was a time where suffering was seen as some sort of motor for our discoveries and then we realized suffering isn’t the motor, it stopped us from making greater discoveries.