- The Antarctica-shot documentary from Slovak director Viera Čákanyová aims to step out of the frame of anthropocentric thinking to create a dehumanised view of the world
In 2019, the climate crisis is looming on the horizon, while a new “species” of beings seems likelier and likelier to play a significant role in life on planet Earth: artificial intelligence. We humans, who have been in the centre of our own world for over five centuries, are being pushed aside as more pertinent questions arise, such as that of how to prevent a catastrophe that would permanently change the Earth’s climate and wipe out other living beings. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly aware of just how insignificant and transient we actually are in comparison to the changes that have been happening on the planet we live on for four and a half billion years. For as far as we can remember, we have been thinking of ourselves as both the protagonists and the masters of life on Earth; but the history of the planet reaches far beyond the beginning of our existence. Are we, at least in Western society, even still in charge of our own lives, let alone the world? Or is the way we live entangled with technology allowing for something new to come to the fore, something that is regulating our day-to-day existence more than we realise?
These are some of the starting points in FREM, Viera Čákanyová’s film presented in the First Lights and Czech Joy sections of the 23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival. The documentary doesn’t linger on depictions of everyday human life for longer than the first few minutes, before those human-related images dissolve in a series of visual and audio glitches to which even the subtitles aren’t immune. The film then brings us to Antarctica, a place where human life could seem the least likely to be found. The intention is clear: to envision a dehumanised gaze — perhaps the gaze of an AI — where traditional rules of filmmaking, such as close-ups and eye-level view, don’t apply any more because they were devised within an anthropocentric worldview. The dissolution of the subtitles seems to indicate that this de-humanisation is not occurring merely on the level of the narrative, but on the meta-textual level as well, the level of the film-as-product itself.
Antarctica would seem to be a lonely place for a human, but not for an AI. There are endless heaps of snow and ice to look at, patterns of sea movement to observe, grey rocks, seals lying about motionless until they decide to slide underneath the ocean’s surface, penguins convening and, in the absence of humans adopting a body language that makes them appear very human-like to the human viewer. There are holes in the ice and there seems to be something on the other side; but with no human beings in sight, the proportions of the landscape aren’t clear. Finally, a man appears, naked and freezing, crawling out of the ocean. The camera doesn’t pay much attention – the human figure is small like in traditional Chinese paintings, insignificant in comparison to the landscape.
Of course, a film made by a human being can never take a completely dehumanised point of view. After all, cinema itself is a human concept, a human invention. Still, Viera Čákanyová’s film makes for an intriguing experiment, opening some questions and bringing up some interesting points, and most of all, reflecting on what it could mean to step out of the framework that defines us.
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