Jordan Findlay’s Limbic is an experimental short which engages with the theory of quantum entanglement, a phenomena of physics which occurs when particles become linked together, causing shared changes despite the space that factors between between them. Findlay’s short conveys how this occurs between people, delving into our shared experiences and highlighting how our emotional states can be shared in ways we haven’t fully comprehended yet. It’s a fascinating and poetic film that was shot in 16mm on both an old-school Bolex and an Arri across a variety of gorgeous locations including Vancouver, Barbados and Patagonia. Findlay spoke with DN about how he first came to learn about quantum entanglement, the complex construction of the 50-light lighting rig required for the film’s ethereal visuals, and the impressive breadth of native speakers he worked with for Limbic’s poetic voice over.
Limbic is quite a unique film both in its structure and its narrative, how did it develop for you?
The development behind Limbic is interesting; I think that there is some correlation between the way that Limbic was produced with the themes behind the piece itself. The project was shot over the course of several years. It really began in winter of 2018 when I came to my friend and DP Bryn McCashin with an idea for a piece that would involve creating the form of a person progressively through the use of many different pieces of light. We both come from a background doing lighting and at that time we were interested in exploring the use of light in ways that we hadn’t seen before. So I guess you could say that this first bit of shooting for Limbic was a bit of an experiment.
It ended up becoming pretty involved… we set up and programmed 50 lekos in an intricate 360 degree setup inside of a studio. It took us until about four in the morning or so (with an 8AM call time the next day) but we finally managed to get them all working through a big DMX dimmer box so that they would progressively illuminate to reveal our subject. I remember an especially deflating moment around 2AM or so when Bryn and I realized that the glass on most of the leko barrels were dirty and we had to take each fixture down, one by one, and then clean the barrels off before sending them back up.
When did the concept of quantum entanglement come into the picture?
Right around shooting this first segment of the piece, I came across the concept of quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement is a quantum physics phenomenon in which two particles can become “linked” together in such a way that a change in the state of one particle is experienced simultaneously in the other, regardless of the distance between them. This phenomenon really interested me… I liked that it was something that we could observe and measure empirically but still couldn’t explain. Quantum entanglement is being used in quantum physics applications, such as computing, while we still seek to discover why exactly it is happening in the first place.
The fact that quantum entanglement happens at such a fundamental level, involving the building blocks of everything around us, opened up the door to examine how the act of particles being linked together might scale up and affect us as humans. I think that most people have experiences over the course of their lives which reinforce the feeling that there are connections that we share with one another that defy our explanations. I had personally experienced a few moments that fit into this box; one time quite intensely when I woke up in the middle of the night overcome by a sort of deep sadness. In the morning, I learned that someone close to me had passed away around the same time that I woke up.
What started to interest me more and more was how commonplace events like these are. Many people seem to have similar stories of unexplainable feelings that turn out to be linked to changes in the people close to them. I started wondering if one day we would have a scientific explanation for these events. Could they be more than just coincidences? It certainly seems possible… our understanding of topics like consciousness is still so fundamentally lacking that it seems likely that we will make discoveries that shed some light on these experiences as the science around our world expands.
What do you think it is about the intersection of spirituality and science that interested you when it comes to your filmmaking practice?
The intersection between spirituality and science is a space that I was really interested in exploring through my work. Before starting to do film work, I was studying biology. I do believe that our world operates along a natural order and that life is a kind of emergent property of the universe. However, I think that you can have these beliefs and still find solace in some of the magic of being alive. For me, striving towards having a deeper understanding of what we are doesn’t have to remove the beauty and mystery of our world. The fact that there are likely answers to some of these deeply impactful life events reinforces that they are real.
How did you approach visually representing these concepts?
I wanted to try to portray this relationship between quantum entanglement and human experience in a way that was more emotional as opposed to literal. I started envisioning a moment shared between many people, around the world, that would grow into a space that was really big and expressive as an attempt to get our audience into the same emotional space as the film’s characters.
I wanted to try to portray this relationship between quantum entanglement and human experience in a way that was more emotional as opposed to literal.
Around the same time that the concept was starting to come together, Bryn and I had started talking to our other friend and DP Cole Graham about coming on board to co-DP the project. Cole was really interested in the concept and he and I were travelling down to the Caribbean for work. We saw it as a good opportunity to shoot some material that would be unmistakably not Vancouver. We shot with a local actor at the end of our job in Barbados. Then over the course of the next few months we managed to get a few more days of shooting here in Vancouver.
Was the rest of your footage captured in Vancouver then? And what did you shoot on?
We shot the film on 16mm film, mostly 500T. It was shot on an Arri SR3 and a Bolex H16. In March of 2019 I travelled with my Dad down through Patagonia on a month long backpacking trip. I brought down my Bolex and lugged it around in my backpack with me to some remote yet incredibly beautiful places. Using my Dad as a subject, we captured some footage in places that I don’t think have been shot on film in a very long time and maybe not ever in the context of a piece like Limbic. Having my Dad included in the project, alongside the memories from this trip, is one of the most meaningful aspects of the entire project for me.
When it came to explaining to your actors what you were looking for from them, how did you convey your direction?
At the beginning of our production, I was giving our talent pretty broad notes on their emotions and blocking. Some of the beats and actions that our actors gave us felt really impactful. A look in a certain direction. A hand coming up to a face. We took these actions and had actors in subsequent scenes replicate them. This aspect of the production was quite organic and perhaps especially fitting for our theme. It was as if our actors were influencing one another. Being able to work this way was in a sense a by-product of being restricted in terms of having to shoot sporadically. It gave us time to review our footage and find what was working and what wasn’t; to be able to expand the piece and find what we were missing.
Did you manage to capture everything you needed before the pandemic hit?
We had managed to get a few more days of shooting in before COVID-19 entered the fray. This kind of put the entire project on hiatus for a good year or so but it allowed us to get a good overview of what had been shot and make a plan as to what else we were going to need to finish the film off as soon as we were able to. We pushed through and shot two more large blocks of shooting. One in June of 2020 and one in February of 2021. In these blocks, we shot additional footage of people being hit by beams to weave them into the piece and support the imagery of our woman being encompassed by lasers from our very first shooting day (a few years ago at that point!).
We were interested in exploring the use of light in ways that we hadn’t seen before.
We were also fortunate in that midway through our production scientists had actually managed to capture the very first image of quantum entanglement. This was really exciting for us. We worked together to replicate this image and try to show two particles becoming entangled to open the piece up… giving us the ability to open the piece at the smallest level of detail possible and gradually level our way up to people from a more familiar perspective. Cole had also been experimenting with different laser imagery and had his hands on this cool unit that could split a laser beam into dozens of smaller pieces. We ended up using this laser towards the end of our piece, to show the connection of our characters at a quantum level.
I wanted to ask about the voice over, what was your approach with using it as another facet of the film?
The voice over component of the piece was present right from the jump. I had been playing around with the script for the VO ever since we received our first batch of footage back. The idea of doing the voice over as a voicemail from the perspective of someone reaching out to a loved one that they missed actually pre-dated COVID. I recorded the first round back in 2019 with my good friend, and incredible actress/director [and DN alum] Meredith Hama-Brown who gave the words a really profound feeling of longing that really brought a lot of life to the piece. Sound designer Oscar Vargas was able to finesse our recording sessions into a great place. As time went on, I thought that this voice over would be a good opportunity to reinforce the idea that this event was happening to people around the world. That there might be people leaving the exact same message to their loved ones somewhere else in the world.
I was really lucky and had a great network of friends in Vancouver who helped me reach out to acquaintances and family around the world and record our voice over in over a dozen different languages. These languages were all recorded by native speakers around the world, from Italy to Uganda, from setups ranging from an actual studio down to a cell phone mic in the middle of a busy city. In the end, we had to cut down the number of languages featured significantly as the piece became a bit confusing with too many different voices entering and exiting. I feel really grateful to have had so many amazing people contribute to the project. We also finished the piece with some great sound work from Matt Drake and a colour by Sam Gilling.
What does the title Limbic mean to you?
The title of Limbic refers to an inter-related theme that is present through a lot of the piece. Limbic refers to limbic resonance, the pathway by which the brain experiences empathetic harmony shared between people. This was a sort of very tangible quantum entanglement. The limbic part of your brain is also developed quite heavily through interactions with your parents while still in the womb as well as when you are an infant, so this was also a bit of a nod to including my father in the film.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m in post-production on a short documentary project that is working in tandem with a few local organisations around the topic of migrant workers rights. I’m also in pre-production on a spot that I’m really looking forward to with Boldly, my Vancouver reps. I’m still trying to find time to finish writing some more personal work that will look to shoot more towards the end of the year. A busy time, all in all, but I’ve been really fortunate to be working on projects that I connect with in tandem with great collaborators.