As we experienced last year with Andrew De Zen’s You Were Always An Island trilogy of tonally connected videos, the layered ambient soundscapes of Alaskan Tapes naturally lend themselves to rich cinematic interpretation. Case in point is the Toronto-based composer’s achingly beautiful collaboration with Meredith Hama-Brown, And, We Disappear. Shot on a mix of textured black & white and colour 35mm stock, Hama-Brown’s short follows a woman through the beginning stages of her afterlife as she comes to realise the journey she must undertake to the hereafter. DN invited the Brooklyn-based writer/director to share how lighting played a pivotal role in conveying the shifting tones of this entrancing film.
When coming up with the initial concept for this film, I really just kept listening to Alaskan Tapes’ tracks on his new album Views From Sixteen Stories over and over again. His music is so atmospheric and great that it was easy to come up with a lot of different ideas.
The idea we ended up going with follows a woman through the initial stages of her death. To me, the story takes place in the very moments where she hasn’t passed on yet but is in a phase between life and the afterlife. It is the transition into whatever comes next. A surreal light guides the woman, beckoning her through her small town. She follows it instinctively, unable to fight against its influence on her, and is eventually drawn to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. Here she encounters an infant, who is herself as a baby.
Although I am not religious in any way, and this story doesn’t represent my beliefs, I was fascinated by the idea of a soul needing to complete some unknown task as it leaves the body. I was very compelled by the idea of a woman needing to take her eldest and youngest self, as a unit, into the afterlife. What I wanted to capture in this film was the feeling that she experiences during this journey; a feeling of being in a space that is both familiar yet unfamiliar, dream-like and yet still real to her.
My inspirations for this were quite varied. My main references that I kept coming back to (either for tone, story, framing, lighting, etc.) were Andrei Tarkovsky, Lynne Ramsay’s short film Swimmer, Andrea Arnold’s film Wuthering Heights, Gregory Crewdson, Ingmar Bergman and also just a lot of black and white 1940s films.
Something that my Director of Photography Norm Li, csc and I talked at length about in pre-production was the tone of the film. We really wanted to capture the feeling that the woman experiences. The first half of the film is her processing the feeling that she is somewhere she knows extremely well and yet something indefinable feels off. We also talked a lot about how to create the feeling of her being pulled somewhere.
His music is so atmospheric and great that it was easy to come up with a lot of different ideas.
Having some sort of lighting effect to show both of these goals was always part of the idea, but a lot of time was spent refining it. It was hard to envision the type of light that I wanted as I really wanted it to be something I hadn’t seen often. Norm spent lots of time testing and researching various ways to create this effect and we were thrilled to discover the technique we used. Given that this is quite a visual piece and because of the subject matter, we knew that we wanted to shoot on film. We ended up shooting on the Arri 235 camera (4-perf/35mm film) in black and white and also color stock.
Because the film was shot out of town, we brought the smallest crew that we could and were so fortunate that a lot of our best friends came out. My mom and step-dad did a lot of the hosting so it was really a special shoot to have so many people I care about come to help us. The whole process from my first discussion with my key producer Madeleine Davis to our final delivery took about three and a half months.
I have a narrative project that will be coming out to film festivals in the next few months hopefully called Cosmic. It follows two people in later adulthood as they try to force a connection that isn’t really there. It looks at themes of loneliness, ageing and the female experience. I also have been chatting with Alaskan Tapes about another music video. We had such a great working relationship that it would be amazing to collaborate again. But that might be in several months if it happens as we are just seeking funding now.
And, We Disappear is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.