5000 feet is the best

After the moan of my previous post, I want to tell you about another film that I saw yesterday that worked brilliantly in a gallery screening setting. 5,000 Feet is the Best‘ by Omer Fast is currently on show at the Imperial War Museum in London. The film is based upon interviews with an unmanned drone operator. Parts of it are extracts from an interview with the operator spoken in (or as if it’s in) his own voice. This is combined with images of the blurred out face of the operator (?) or aerial views of landscapes including Las Vegas (the glitzy hotel/casino part) and suburban residential areas. He speaks about his experiences including how clear one’s vision is of the area over which the drone is flying and about dealing with the fact of killing people, including the innocent. Interspersed with this ‘real’ interview there are staged scenes of a man in a hotel being interviewed. His interviewer sits there like a therapist, a journalist, or perhaps the artist filmmaker. The man being interviewed is acting as the ex-drone operator and also here is asked about his experiences but rather than answering the question directly he tells anecdotes.

One of the really clever things about Fast’s film is that this section loops but changes each time it does so. After the interviewee has told an anecdote something always interrupts the conversation (a phone ringing, or he needs to go for a cigarette). He leaves the room and when he returns the sequence begins again with the same questions. Each time the loop recurs (there are 4 loops if I remember rightly) the anecdote he tells is different. Sometimes it seems to relate more directly to the experience of war/being a drone operator and sometimes seems a bit more tangential. The anecdotes play with expectations of geography, race and the idea of being distanced from something or of playing a role.

I thought it was a great film in many ways and also really fantastic because the looping structure means you can walk into it from any point, start watching and it makes sense. Fast used the same strategy in the only other film by him that I have seen; ‘Continuity’ where a scenario involving a German family, whose son had been killed in Afganistan,  is also repeated and altered effectively conveying the trauma experienced by the family in a series of weird and disturbing scenarios.

I should say that I don’t expect all films to loop and I do enjoy sitting through screenings of artists’ films, but I think it is about finding the exhibition format that is right for each work. This morning I watched a series of films at Whitechapel Gallery; ‘Artists Film International’ which included work of varying lengths but shown in an auditorium so you could happily sit through the whole screening of 75mins. The work here was really interesting too although I would have preferred to see Nasan Tur’s video ‘Berlin Says’ as a gallery installation. The video shows a man spraying slogans over each other onto a wall until the wall becomes obliterated by the words. To make the work easily watchable from start to finish, it included cross dissolves so you don’t get to watch it all in real time. I would have preferred it to be in real time in a gallery context where you could watch as much as you wanted and return to it repeatedly whilst looking around an exhibition. I guess it is possible that it does exist and has been shown in such a format too and that the version I watched has simply been edited for show reel type screenings.