Director Godfrey Reggio's newest film, Visitors, may be the cinematic interpretation of gazing into the abyss.
Like his earlier releases (such as the cult-classic Qatsi trilogy), Visitors, is a meditative examination into humanity, accompanied by a introspective score by Phillip Glass. Using 4K Ultra High Definition, the non-narrative film, presented by Steven Soderbergh, features just 74 shots, described as "moving stills."
We see close-up examinations of human faces, a cyborg, and a gorilla that stare neutrally at the audience without dialogue for long stretches of time. The profiles are juxtaposed with stills of empty buildings, an abandoned amusement park, and even the surface of the moon. The faces projected on the screen look deep into the audience's soul, observing us as much as we are observing them.
To dig into the experimental work, The Creators Project made a documentary with the brains behind the film (above), including interviews with Reggio and his associate director/editor, Jon Kane.
The team spoke to us about the high-tech tools and methods they employed to realize the director's vision, such as the next-level 4K screens that helped bring this artwork to life.
"4K as a projection dimension, allows much more material on the screen," said Reggio. "Who we are is revealed through the language of our face. Through eye behavior, through gesture, through facial display. 4K brings that to incredible resolution." Jon Kane echoed these thoughts, and noted that "At some point, [Reggio] realized that the resolution was going to become, in a sense, a character in the film."
The high resolution, colorless, 60-second-plus shots allow viewers to really observe the humans towering over them. The more you watch, the more you realize that the term "expressionless" is moot, and that humans are emotive even when they're staring neutrally into a lens.
Furthermore, the constant gazing makes you feel as if you're being watched, providing a confrontational experience. As an audience, we stare at a technology (an Ultra High Definition movie screen), but the subjects projected on it are all-consuming and extremely human. It's easy to forget that you're even looking at a screen. The scattered shots of fingers touching an invisible keyboard, as well as a cyborg character, suggest that humanity and technology are intrinsically linked.
"Technology for me is probably the most misunderstood subject on the planet," said Reggio. "We keep thinking of it as another category, like the economy, like religion, like war, but it is ubiquitous as the air we breath and we're strapped in and on the ride."
The film may not be your typical cinema experience, nor is it continuation of Reggio's timelapse-heavy Qatsi trilogy. It's a slow-burning affair that Reggio hopes viewers will continue to reflect on after leaving the theater. "Each person that sees this film, for those that are willing to leave the familiar, to journey beyond what they expect, if they can stop making sense, if they can just let this wash over them, then perhaps it can offer them something."