Mia Lancaster Hernandez
Mar 31, 2023
Abstract short films and how the bare bones of filmmaking can make an audience feel
On February 15th of this year, I attended a film event hosted by a community arts organization and gallery going by the name of Liquidation World. I learned about this “bring your own film” event when some fellow MOPA first year students (a group known as “Film Money Sex Drugs”) invited me to see the screening of their infamous film The Perfect Purple.
The small room on main street where the screenings were being hosted appeared filled to the brim with eager individuals, ready to soak up as many new ideas as possible. Some of us were sitting on the floor, standing or piled on top of one another. Not knowing what to expect from the event, I was surprised with a wonderful collection of boundless abstract short films, few of them containing plots or even characters. Despite this, there were many stories to be unpacked. It felt like a night of looking at the skeleton of filmmaking: what are these bones telling us? Why do these bones make me feel like this? The last film that screened that night was certainly a disturbing seven minute crescendo. pawznet: the movie was present in my thoughts for the following week.
pawznet: the movie is currently available for public viewing on Vimeo, along with previous creations by filmmaker Linda Serrano. I encourage everyone to check it out with this link. “All of his work is generative” says Liquidation World, “He uses a system that overlays images in randomized order and often has dials on the system that generate based off different things within the theme he is working in.”
What follows is a conversation between me and a few audience members (Me, Marshall, Kate and Ben) who saw pawznet: the movie together at this very event.
Mia: So how do you remember the film, what really stuck out for you?
Marshall: It was the audio to be honest. That’s what was stuck in my head. What it felt like to me, was when you’re struggling to make some kind of technology cooperate and it’s extremely fucking frustrating ... Like the human pattern seeking brain is looking for any kind of semblance of something you know, but instead it’s just glitching.
Mia: Like ah! I got a virus!
Marshall: It’s like getting a pop up ad. So I guess I remember it as a pretty unenjoyable experience.
Mia: It was really unsettling. By the end of it I felt weird, like something had been changed.
Marshall: I wonder if they chose it as the last film on purpose.
Mia: Definitely. Especially because of the length.
Marshall: But it could’ve captured the same emotion in 45 seconds.
Mia: But don’t you feel like it wouldn’t have had the same effect on you if it had been short? Do you think it would have had the same energy?
Marshall: Well I guess it intensified over the span of time but I think at first it was “oh this sucks” and then, “ok guys funny joke” and then it keeps going and really gets in there. Gets right into your brain.
Kate: It’s almost like it emotionally manipulates you…
Marshall: It's funny that they use images that would make you think of home, like the teddy bear… it's interesting that in post production those images can be manipulated. Just because you’re being shown things that may look harmless or inconspicuous at first, it doesn’t mean that can’t be twisted into meaning something else.
Mia: What do you remember about the audio that affected you?
Marshall: I don’t even remember the words but—
Ben: What the fuck I was completely not present for this film...
Mia: Maybe that’s the effect it had on you: made you pass out.
Ben: I did kinda fall asleep, I think.
Mia: Could be! So relaxing … Do you think that was the message that the filmmaker was trying to send?
Marshall: Could be a reflection of someone’s childhood or trying to show how a neutral, not offensive image, can be twisted. A commentary on narratives that we see everyday. Corporations saying “hey come buy this milkshake.” … I think this film is saying: look at how friendly this may look at first, but if you take an extended look at [something] you may see more than what initially meets the eye.
Mia: So in that respect, the repetitiveness was impactful.
Kate: I think it was a crowd feeling. I guess it was manipulating, but not in the traditional sense. More by completely overwhelming your senses and being able to jar you completely.
Mia: So you sensed it was a collective feeling?
Kate: I feel that the filmmaker did a really good job getting everyone to feel unnerved … the duration worked so that the entire spectrum of attention spans could get sopped into it.
Mia: If I was watching the film on my computer by myself I [may] have just clicked off … but because it was at the film festival and I couldn’t just change it and I wasn't sure if there was a film coming afterwards I thought, “ everyone else is sitting here, I can’t just get up and leave!”. I just made myself sit and endure the strange movie.
Kate: And it would have been more uncomfortable to step over everyone while being like “scuse me, sorry” and there could have been some amazing disturbing reward at the end.
Mia: Also, I felt that the layering of words made me think deeper into what was being said, like it wasn’t just the original meaning.
Kate: Definitely, or it kind of had the feeling of looking back on a very scary dream. Like trying to remember it, dream deja vu.
Mia: What point in the film did you feel that setting in. Because for me, at the beginning, I thought it was an error on the computer.
Kate: It looked like it was made on iMovie, with the [stuffed animals] as characters, so I thought “oh yeah this is funny”, but once it hit the five minute mark, it did set in. It felt too reminiscent of being sick as a kid, or when you’re having a conversation with someone in bed and you fall asleep halfway through [it]. It was just one of those things where you couldn’t take your eyes off of it, because it was very hypnotic. I couldn’t not stare at it.
Mia: It felt like I was in a trance.
Kate: Yeah it did feel that way. It must’ve been like [seven] minutes. So around the three minute mark, I started to feel a little weird and question things and look around to other people to see if they were also feeling the same way.
Mia: I remember we looked at eachother and had this mutual moment. I was genuinely fearful for my mental state. Like — what was this doing to me?