Review: An Impossible Project
- German director-producer Jens Meurer returns to his documentary roots with this inspiring and engaging film about a visionary enthusiast and his love for all things analogue
German filmmaker Jens Meurer started off in documentaries but went on to produce titles such as Black Book [+see also:
film profile], Carlos [+see also:
film profile], Filth [+see also:
film profile] and Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark [+see also:
film profile], arguably the first fully digital film "that did any business" back in 2002, as Meurer says in an interview published on the IFFR website (read it here). He has now returned to the documentary field with An Impossible Project [+see also:
film profile], world-premiering in International Film Festival Rotterdam's Deep Focus section, a picture about the love of analogue technology, which is enjoying a big comeback, not least thanks to the film's protagonist, Dr Florian "Doc" Kaps.
Doc is a Viennese biologist and analogue enthusiast who was the key person behind the revival of Polaroid. The company had invited him to a party organised to mark the closing of their last factory in Enschede, in the Netherlands, in 2008, the year after the iPhone was first launched and the year in which Eastman Kodak was starting to demolishing its buildings. Doc didn't want to see it go and managed to gather a group of friends and raise the €180,000 needed to buy the factory off from Polaroid, which was about to sell it for scrap.
Initially, Doc wasn't allowed to use the name Polaroid, and instead called his company Impossible and based it in Berlin, where he employed a bunch of creative digital natives. His dream was inspiring but difficult to fulfil. The formula for Polaroid film had practically been lost, as the chemicals needed to make it no longer existed. Thus began the process of rediscovering it, with the first photos that came out needing 40 minutes to develop – usually to cool-looking, but technically very faulty, results.
This is where New York-based photographer Oskar Smolokowski and his father, world-class clarinet player and investor Slava Smolokowski, came in and started to make the enterprise and, most importantly, the product technically much more accomplished and financially viable. But this also meant that Doc experienced a destiny similar to that of Steve Jobs (quoted a couple of times in the film) – he had to leave the company he had created.
Why exactly this happened is not detailed in the film, and Doc doesn't seem to be holding any grudges. Of course, such a restless spirit cannot stay put for long, and he embarked on new adventures that involved Milan-based Moleskine, a Viennese grand hotel built in 1900, the largest vinyl factory in Europe and, in what might seem like a paradoxical turn of events, a certain Silicon Valley giant. This latter development might make some viewers doubt Doc's and Meurer's ethics, but these questions certainly come with the territory of this film – which was shot entirely on 35 mm, with ARRI credited as one of the production companies.
Meurer did indeed go all the way with the concept, using a beautiful soundtrack by the Sascha Peres Orchestra and Haley Reinhart that was recorded live in a studio, direct to vinyl. In the end, it is an engaging and often humorous film about a well-explored topic with a fascinating protagonist, and it clearly differentiates between nostalgia and the actual value and meaning of a physical object that bears an image or a sound – or even an atmosphere, like the aforementioned hotel.
One photographer interviewed in the film talks about physical photographs in terms of "experiencing the real, and not an image of something real". This represents a shift in perception that has taken place over the past decade, and paradoxes like this make the documentary essential food for thought for anyone interested in culture and media and their development in the modern age.
An Impossible Project was co-produced by Germany's Instant Film and Austria's Mischief, with the participation of German companies ARRI and Weltkino, and the UK's Head Gear. Vienna-based Autlook has the international rights.
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