Isolation is a recurring theme in popular movies. But, no matter how many times we see this concept played out, it’s never the same movie. We’ve witnessed isolation in the form of being stranded on an island in Cast Away, and even in space in Gravity or The Martian. Life of Pi highlights being stuck on a boat while 127 hours is set in the desert. And Rear Window focuses on being confined to an apartment.
But what about when the filmmakers themselves are stranded?
Fortunately, the majority of us have a quality camera on our smartphones and can access online film libraries and creative collaborators. In this day in age, you don’t need anything more than that to create video magic.
Let’s take a look at five approaches to filmmaking that can challenge our perception of the world. These can all be done from the comfort of home, making luxury apartments in Philadelphia the perfect setting.
1. Video Diary
A video diary as a form of filmmaking refers to a visual rendition of expressive journal keeping, not to be confused with vlogging on YouTube, or the confessions you see on Big Brother.
Avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas was a pioneer in the film diary discipline in the 1960s. He experimented with the camera’s limits, including incorrect exposure, disorderly movement, re-arranging time, and injecting a poetic voice.
The challenge here is to fully convey your inner experience and feelings, and not let the camera simply “capture” it.
If you’re looking for inspiration, Gillian Leahy’s My Life Without Steve is a perfect example of what can be created within a single apartment. The reflective narration from protagonist Liz guides us through emotional turmoil, memory, and theories of lost love.
Cinematographer Erika Addis’ meticulous still-life compositions, entirely restricted to her apartment space, offer an intense intimacy and familiarity: streetlights dancing on the water, a steaming kettle, floral wallpaper …
Still image from My Life Without Steve (1986) directed by Gillian Leahy. Ronin Films
In some cases, the location can have more significance than the protagonist. This is certainly the case in films documenting imprisonment, such as Berhouz Boochani’s experience in Manus Island detention center in Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time or Jafar Panahi’s discrete autobiography This Is Not A Film recorded under house arrest in Iran. In 2015, The Wolfpack told the unusual tale of seven brothers confined to a New York apartment with Hollywood movies as their window into the world.
Isolation pieces offer an opportunity to explore the politics of home. The 1970s feminist movement gave rise to scathing critiques of gender-based domestic roles, including Martha Rosler’s 1975 video art performance Semiotics of the Kitchen. The crude infomercial-inspired performance can undermine both the authority of the camera, and the kitchen as a space of domination.
Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, also released in 1975, offers a less obvious subversion of domesticity. The protagonist in this work is a single mother who undertakes sex work as part of her daily routine to provide for her child. But rather than sensationalize prostitution, the camera gently captures the subtle gestures and emotions of a working mother.
Today, collaborative media comes in many forms: participatory video, citizen media, user-generated and crowd-sourced content.
The origination of collaborative approaches to filmmaking is credited to visual anthropologists who were attempting to accurately and ethically record foreign cultures. By handing over the camera to native peoples, they could access insider knowledge. Technically, YouTube and Instagram could be considered large-scale collaborative media projects. In filmmaking, more coherent and meaningful projects focus on a particular theme or creative parameter.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord is one of the most innovative UGC projects, boasting more than 750,000 contributors – and the opportunity to get paid if the production makes money. By investing personal contributions into the film, the audience gains a sense of proprietorship over the project. They can also directly impact the distribution of the film by promoting it on their social media.
The best examples of collaborative media are highly curated and elaborately produced. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Katerina Cizek have produced a series of ambitious multimedia compilations under the Highrise projects. Out My Window is one of the most relevant, featuring 13 participants from around the world, all sharing personal stories from their highrise homes.
The trick to maintaining cohesion and continuity among the varied voices in collaborative media is to formulate detailed instructions for how to contribute.
Found footage documentaries are composed entirely of existing media. Recently, we’ve seen a huge growth in this genre, including Apollo 11, Maradona, Amy, and The Final Quarter, all demonstrating that filmmakers never need to touch a camera to produce a cinematic masterpiece.
While we may face roadblocks such as being unable to acquire rights to copyrighted material, most of us have accumulated extensive media archives of our own lives. The popular 1 Second Everyday app demonstrates how existing phone footage can be transformed into a revealing and enthralling sequence through rhythm-based montage. These 28-31 second montages can inspire much more in-depth usage of existing smartphone footage.
Machinima (machine-cinema) is an innovative alternative to animation, in which detailed 3D graphics from computer games are used as cinematic backdrops. Most of the productions in this genre aim to mimic mainstream comedy and action movies, but there are a few examples emerging of how the artform can explore our relationships with virtual worlds.
Grand Theft Auto Pacifist features a narrator navigating the ultra-violent video game world, which is understood as an extension of our society, in a hilarious experiment to see if he can exist peacefully. The film was nominated for the “Weird” category of the Webby Awards for online excellence.
While creating movie magic within the walls of your luxury apartment in Philadelphia may sound like a dream come true, be careful not to fall victim to your own story of isolation!