Thursday, May 14, 2020

MORE THAN WORDS - Making the Film

MORE THAN WORDS - Raffaele Messina
“Every film is a foreign film”, write Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour, “foreign to some audience somewhere - and not simply in terms of language”.  Their book Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film addresses the paradoxical nature of this international art form in the age of digital communication and global distribution.  In spite of its apparently global reach, most film remains firmly rooted in, and so constrained by, language.  As B. Ruby Rich argues in the same volume, audiences tend to resist subtitles because reading them makes the experience of film-going into “work”, when they prefer to think of it as “relaxation” and “entertainment”.  “My guess”, argues Rich, “is that foreign films function as a rebuke for some viewers…  evidence that the world is not made in ‘our’ image, and that neither our society or our language is universal.”

The undermining of universalism, with all its postcolonial, neoliberal overtones, is a key element in the MORE THAN WORDS project.  Charged with creating a film that could function as one of the project’s Intellectual Outputs, we gradually realised that, in order to be true to the spirit of this European partnership, we had to find a way of communicating through film that was not solely, or even largely reliant on spoken or written language.  The original application form had stated that the film would be “subtitled in all project languages”.  Since there are at least seven of these (one of which, Arabic, is written in a non-Western script), conventional subtitling would have the effect of turning each shot into a calligraphic page.  Given that all the other Intellectual Outputs are written texts, this seemed to be a bit of a wasted opportunity.  As a result, there are titles in all the project languages, but they happen as an independent element in the film; highlighting the challenge posed by language, rather than using language as an artificial means towards a spurious accessibility.

Anyone who has experienced the immigration systems of European countries can tell you that language is often far from being a means of accessibility.  Language can just as readily be a tool of power.  It can be used to obscure, to obfuscate and to exclude.  Our film includes a number of sequences in which various languages are employed without subtitles, so that only a portion of the audience will have a literal understanding of what is being said.  The emotional power of these sequences should be in the way they reflect the experience of people who enter European spaces without European language skills.  The audience is made foreign by the film.

The great advantage of film to a project like MORE THAN WORDS is that it is primarily a visual medium.  Through the composition and juxtaposition of shots, the rhythmic energy of editing and the nuances of facial and bodily expression in performers, film allows for an emotional narrative that speaks across languages and moves beyond the purely intellectual.  If the film was to complement the other project outputs, and to offer something distinct from them, then it had to become more purely filmic, a visual and musical construct that could convey the project’s work in a mode that moved beyond language, that was “more than words”.  This was how music, rather than the spoken word, became the dominant element in the film’s soundtrack - to the extent that much of the language involved becomes itself a musical and emotional rather than a rational element.

The original brief was for a film that charted the linear narrative of the project’s development: I freely admit that this is not what we have done.  However, our film absolutely does what the more detailed description specifies:
“It will follow the work of the partners, the discussions and debates, it will show the problems, doubts and solutions found.… The film will also focus on how the different forms of expression - theatre, story telling, dance and humour - can be merged.… It will end up with a common performance prepared by the partners together.”
Our common performance is the film itself, which draws off the skills of the partners in Clowning, dance, theatre and the digital to tell a story inspired by our journey together.  It tries to be honest about the challenges we face, both as practitioners engaged in work that attempts to embrace linguistic minorities, and as educators whose methodologies are not always practically or ideologically compatible.  As a result, it seeks neither fusion nor resolution, but rather engages in an emerging and ongoing dialogue between different art forms, educational approaches, cultures and languages - a dialogue which is dynamic, vital and profoundly democratic.

European societies rest on a creation myth that emphasises the primacy of language: “In the Beginning was the Word.”  That is not how creation is understood elsewhere.  Hindu myth portrays the beginnings of the universe through the figure of Shiva, the cosmic dancer, while many African cultures speak of a primal music from which emerged the physical world and the spoken word.  These cultures, which today interact so potently with our changing continent, are closer to scientific truth than our own traditions.  It is now commonly accepted amongst evolutionary psychologists that music preceded language and is actually a more fundamental aspect of human communication.  If we are to generate a contemporary European polity that embraces its global reach, then we need to find ways of relating to one another that are musical just as much as linguistic.  We need to be brave enough to move beyond the merely rational.

I hope you enjoy the film.  Click here to watch it!

MORE THAN WORDS was made with the support of the Erasmus + programme of the European Union.  
The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

No comments: