The Science of Cinema — June 2019 Issue

37 films from the science new wave

In an increasingly digital era, it’s easy to lose sight of film’s long history as a deeply material art form. Film is projected light, the chemistry of emulsions and developers, silver nitrate colloids and dichromate bleach, the mechanics of film reels in motion. The filmed image is a true imprint of reality, a kind of ghost with an expressive power held by few media. Once it was considered a machine for generating emotion, nowadays it helps us to understand how the brain processes visual information. This issue pays homage to the medium of film itself, not only its origins and classical techniques for fixing images of the world, but to present developments, changing technologies, and future applications. As one of our youngest art forms, it remains be one our most dynamic: this multifaceted portrait of film up to 2019 is a but a snapshot of a system ever in transition.

AgX: H2O2

AgX is an art-science project about material memory and forgetting; it features time-lapse photography of photographic negatives being chemically destroyed.

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AgX: H2O2

Blood Film

A short film painted with Lara Salmon’s and Mari Walker’s blood.

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Blood Film

Capucine

A journey to Japan to meet Capucine, a Capuchin monkey particularly gifted, who is learning cinematographic language with the primatologist Hirokazu Shibuya.

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Capucine

Celestial Object

Here are the playful recordings of a naturalist — the observations of a difficult object. As the study accelerates and numerous cinematographic strategies are employed, the information gathered becomes noise; all these measurements become scribbles.

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Celestial Object

Les Outils (Tools)

Seeing his faithful friend quietly losing the battle against the disease, Jean- Pierre doesn’t let things go. Knowing that his friend is a true believer of the Catholic religion, he decides to invent an appearance of the Virgin Mary.

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Les Outils (Tools)

Look Inside the Ghost Machine

The early avant-garde filmmakers believed that the cinema had the function of a machine, made to generate pure feelings. The main part of this “machine” was the celluloid, which has disappeared along with the flickering ghosts inside of it.

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Look Inside the Ghost Machine

The Chronoscope

A documentary about the Irish scientist Charlotte Keppel who in the 1930s invented a machine that could see into the past.

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The Chronoscope

The Decelerator Helmet

The Decelerator Helmet offers the user a perception of the world in slow motion. It is a experimental approach for thinking about our increasingly fast moving, globalized society.

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The Decelerator Helmet

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family

A drama made expressly for chimpanzees — and the chimps’ reaction to its screening at the Edinburgh Zoo. Chimpanzees watch television as a form of enrichment in captivity. But no filmmaker had made a film for a specifically ape audience.

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Primate Cinema: Apes as Family

MicroScope

Filmed through a microscope, this piece superimposes footage from Anna May Wong’s performance in the silent film “Piccadilly” (1929) unto a magnified strand of my hair.

The film sampled is a scene from “Piccadilly” (1929). Anna May Wong plays a dishwasher in the London theater. The theater director, played by Charles Laughton, discovers her dancing in the scullery, fires her, and then later brings her to the stage.

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MicroScope

A Film Is A Film Is A Film

Digital projection takes over the movie screens world wide. As celluloid slowly disappears from her workplace, the director, a movie projectionist herself embarks on an investigation into what makes the material special. Digital projection is taking over the movie screens world wide. As the material of celluloid film slowly disappears from her workplace, the director, who has worked as a movie projectionist for more than 10 years, embarks on an investigation into what makes film special. Is it just nostalgia? Is there a connection between how we watch movies and how we see the world? She starts bleaching, painting and scratching film in order to find answers and accompanies Roger Getzoff who has likely fixed every film projector in New York’s movie theaters over the course of the last 40 years on his trips. These days, he is being called by the very same houses to take out those still-functioning machines and replace them with digital equipment. A Film Is A Film Is A Film is about time, about fleeting moments, aging, and the turning wheels of history. A personal look into a changing profession and a visceral portrait of a vanishing material.

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A Film Is A Film Is A Film

Mr. Sand

A dreamy animated documentary about the dangers of early cinema. The atmosphere of old film theaters is recalled through a mixture of handmade techniques. In the back of the story moves Mr Sand, a mysterious character. Real or imagined.

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Mr. Sand

Real Artists

Against all odds, Sophia Baker just scored her dream interview at the world-famous Semaphore Animation Studios — who’d have thought a fan edit of one of their hit films could land her a shot at a job? But when she meets arch, mysterious executive Anne Palladon, she soon learns all is not as she expects behind the curtain. Every instinct Sophia has ever had about art in filmmaking is about to be challenged.

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Real Artists

In, Over & Out

IN, OVER AND OUT is a film experiment in the tradition of structural cinema. It is made up of a limited number of carefully planned motifs, each of them shot simultaneously with twelve cameras from different technical periods. An homage to the Lumière Brothers’ WORKERS LEAVING THE FACTORY, this film constitutes a journey in time through the history of the moving image. Using multiple cameras, the film shows students leaving Le Fresnoy art school in a tribute to the Lumière brothers that links labour and art practice across the centuries.

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In, Over & Out

Somniculus

Filmed inside a series of empty museum galleries across Paris, Ali Cherri’s Somniculus (the Latin word for “light sleep”) articulates the tension between the lives of objects and the living world that surrounds them.

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Somniculus

Film to Break Projectors

Films to Break Projectors’ glues, scrapes and splices 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film to create unprojectable celluloid collages. Reanimating the material reveals traces of ambiguous narratives that emerge from the complex loops.

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Film to Break Projectors

Trans/Figure/Ground

Painted 16mm film undergoes a monstrous transformation becoming neither analog nor digital. A film about uncanny valleys and the space between.

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Trans/Figure/Ground

Extra-Terrestrial Ecologies (Retroflectors: the astronaut, the robot, the alien)

Ralo Mayer´s film deals with the oikos — with the house that is wanted, and therefore home, and haunted, and therefore not a home. In the absence of a foundational nature and in the presence of various post-human bodies — both more insistent than existent in their traces and remains –, we see oikos´ ecology turn into hauntecology. It´s all a matter of being together; which begs the question: with whom?

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Extra-Terrestrial Ecologies (Retroflectors: the astronaut, the robot, the alien)

The Science of Cinema

Some people say that analog film is a dying technology. A relic of Hollywood past that is all but relegated to museums, and aging archives, awaiting digitization. But Steve Cossman, founder and director of Mono No Aware, a non-profit cinema arts institute in Brooklyn, New York, believes that analog filmmaking has a certain magic and that through the processes of hand developing, cutting, and projecting film, analog invokes a unique experience that should be valued in this increasingly digital and virtual age. Steve takes us through the sciences and arts of capturing, developing, editing, and screening film and gives us a sneak peek of one of Mono No Aware’s 16mm filmmaking workshops. Thanks very much to Mono No Aware, Steve Cossman, and all the workshop students who allowed us to film them hard at work.

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The Science of Cinema

Prima Materia

Delicate threads of energy spiral and transform into mysterious microscopic cells of golden dust: these are the luminous particles of the alchemist’s dream. Prima Materia is inspired by the haunting wonderment of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. It is an homage to the first, tentative photographic records that revealed the extraordinary nature of phenomena lurking just beyond the edge of human vision.

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Prima Materia

Chronogram of Inexistent Time

Chronogram is a photomontage that explores stillness, motion, and memory. Using a 35mm still camera, multiple exposures were composed and edited in-camera, creating frameless sequences of images printed on 35mm filmstrips. When projected, these images become a non-linear, non-synchronized collage. The ephemeral quality of the images — their transparency, layering, and repetition — invites us to reflect on the role memory plays in perception, the ways we mentally reconfigure fragments to construct stability and meaning in an environment of perpetual flux.

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Chronogram of Inexistent Time

Lunar Almanac

Lunar Almanac initiates a journey through magnetic spheres with its staccato layering of single-frame, long exposures of a multiplied moon. Shot in 16mm Ektachrome and hand processed, the film’s artisanal touches are imbued with nocturnal mystery.

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Lunar Almanac

Espectador Espantado (The Amazing Spectator)

Playful and very wayward — it is after all a film by Edgar Pêra — documentary essay about the viewer. Interviews with a variety of writers and thinkers about the nature of watching films is juxtaposed with staged 3-D action in cinemas and other spots where we now watch the moving image.

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Espectador Espantado (The Amazing Spectator)

Color Neutral

A color explosion sparkles, bubbles and fractures in this hand-crafted 16mm film. Reeves utilized an array of mediums and direct-on-film techniques to create this boisterous, psychedelic morsel of cinema as material. Reeves’ soundtrack mixes samples from rusty, dusty old machines, records and electric waves to suggest an aural passage through technological progress.

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Color Neutral

Panoramis Paramount Paranormal

This filmic essay focuses on a former movie studio of which no trace is left. On the site where the studio was built, in Saint-Maurice, on the outskirts of Paris, we now find a modern residence, Le Panoramis, built in the 1970s. The images and sounds of films shot at the studio resurface, while two actors (and five birds) in search of a role audition for a film that will never be made. Forgotten characters and narratives suddenly haunt reality, affecting the time of a story that cannot be expressed, is impossible to recount. And what of the future? The future belongs to ghosts.

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Panoramis Paramount Paranormal

Village Tales

A group of young women in rural India are being trained to make videos. When they turn their cameras on their everyday lives, we get an unprecedented view of life as it is lived today in many Indian villages. But this is also an uplifting film which tells the extraordinary story of how these women are using video cameras to help themselves challenge traditional ways of life and transform their lives.

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Village Tales

Cinema Futures

The debate over the future of the world’s film archives in an era where analog celluloid movie strips are quickly disappearing.

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Cinema Futures

When Time Moves Faster

Among other things Anna Vasof´s working method was influenced by precinematic devices stemming from her fascination with the movement of photographic images. These only appear animated given our persistence of vision. Vasof cites the Zoetrope as an example of this phenomenon, a device that filled people of all ages with wonder at fairs of old.

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When Time Moves Faster

Manufactured Science

The Manufactured Science series explores the boundary between realistic and imaginative portrayals of science in film. While many films hinge on science for their success, they often stretch the possibilities far beyond reality. And yet the imaginative nature of science in the movies can often serve as inspiration to future scientific endeavors. In Manufactured Science, dozens of fragments from turn-of-the century films are re-arranged to create a new narrative on weather and biological disasters that reflects how science is conveyed in the mainstream. The short film is both an ode to this era of Hollywood movies and to popular scientific ideologies of the time.

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Manufactured Science

Athyrium filix-femina

The second in a series of “quilt films” that pay homage to the work of pioneering female artists, “Athyrium filix-femina” reimagines Anna Atkins’ founding work in photography as a moving image. In 1843, Anna Atkins published the first book of photography, “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions”, an exploration of regional botany that classified different kinds of algae using direct prints of the plants. The cyanotype process was a relatively short-lived as a dominant form of photography, however, it found refuge in the domestic sphere where it was used to decorate fabric for pillows, drapes and clothing. By combining filmmaking and quilting, this film extends from the “domestication” of this photographic art by exploring experimental narrative and structural forms through the use of traditional “women’s work.” The “narrative” in this film is told through the symbolic patterning in quilt-making practices. (The first quilt, c: won eyed jail (2005) screened at Views from the Avant Garde. It was my thesis project for the Bard MFA…https://vimeo.com/53054730).

Even more than my first quilt film, “c: won eyed jail” (2005), “Athyrium felix-femina” combines structural filmmaking and process-based techniques in order to bring materiality of filmmaking to the forefront — but also with emphasis on the handmade aspects of the art form. I made the cyanotype emulsion from scratch using Atkin’s original cyanotype recipe from 1842. I coated the clear leader, exposed the film to sun (sometimes for an excess of 2 hours) and processed the film by hand in order to make this one print/quilt. The images are a combination of photograms of plants (an homage to Atkins botanical images) and direct prints of found footage (that tells the story of a young girl tormented by a gang of bullies and an imprisoned spider).

By adapting and reframing historical photographic processes to highlight the unique temporality and liveness of film, this project explores not only its materiality of film, but also the interface between the histories and discourses of film and photography.

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Athyrium filix-femina

Movie reconstruction from human brain activity

The left clip is a segment of a Hollywood movie trailer that the subject viewed while in the magnet. The right clip shows the reconstruction of this segment from brain activity measured using fMRI. The procedure is as follows: [1] Record brain activity while the subject watches several hours of movie trailers. [2] Build dictionaries (i.e., regression models) that translate between the shapes, edges and motion in the movies and measured brain activity. A separate dictionary is constructed for each of several thousand points at which brain activity was measured. (For experts: The real advance of this study was the construction of a movie-to-brain activity encoding model that accurately predicts brain activity evoked by arbitrary novel movies.) [3] Record brain activity to a new set of movie trailers that will be used to test the quality of the dictionaries and reconstructions. [4] Build a random library of ~18,000,000 seconds (5000 hours) of video downloaded at random from YouTube. (Note these videos have no overlap with the movies that subjects saw in the magnet). Put each of these clips through the dictionaries to generate predictions of brain activity. Select the 100 clips whose predicted activity is most similar to the observed brain activity. Average these clips together. This is the reconstruction.

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Movie reconstruction from human brain activity

Semantic Decoding From Movies

Sample of semantic decoding from fMRI brain activity elicited by natural movies. The open access paper is: Huth, A.G., Lee, T., Nishimoto, S., Bilenko, N.Y., Vu, A.T., & Gallant, J.L. (2016). Decoding the semantic content of natural movies from human brain activity. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 10:81. frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnsys.2016.00081/full.

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Semantic Decoding From Movies

Armeggeddon 2

The internet in Cuba is very slow. Movies, television, and information are exchanged through a black market system of media distribution via external hard drives known as “el paquete semanal. Shot over the course of a day in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, the film combines narrative, documentary, and experimental elements to create, like the paquete itself, new images and new connections between distant and unseen forces. A meditation on the flow of data and the search for human connection in a groundless world.

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Wolkenschatten (Cloud Shadow)

Hypnotising slideshow of weathered images presents itself as a relic of an imposing event. A village’s inhabitants flee into the darkness of a cave to refresh themselves with projected images. Ultimately, they will pay a high price for their wonderment.

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Wolkenschatten (Cloud Shadow)

Framelines

Framelines is a scratch film for the 21stcentury made by laser etching abstract patterns on the film emulsion of negative and positive 35mm colour film. The result of the laser burning layers of emulsion produces a pixelated language of colours and textures only possible through this process. The strips of film were then re-photographed on top of each other as photograms. The soundtrack filters and layers the noise made by the laser etched optical track. Working in the tradition of artists who have hacked or detoured technologies for creative purposes, Gruffat has discovered an entirely novel process for making moving images. The inventors of the laser cutter did not have filmmaking in mind as an application for their technology. In these waning days of analogue filmmaking, Gruffat’s film thus suggests an innovative approach to filmmaking and one possible future for materialist image-making in the digital era.

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Framelines

BFI, Film is Fragile

Mill+ and the BFI have collaborated to create a thought-provoking new film, ‘Film is Fragile’, encouraging people to support and donate to the cause of preserving and restoring the national film collection which has been looked after by the BFI National Archive since 1933.

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BFI, Film is Fragile

Turing, The Apple, My Father, Eve & I

In this animation film, Fabienne Audéoud has several characters talking about gender issues in relation to artificial intelligence. Starting from her own experience as a child and quoting historical scientific figures such as Turing, as well as cultural and film references, she asks questions about bias and implicit inferior or superior status in hierarchical structures. She then develops her own take on the notions of majorities and audiences.

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Turing, The Apple, My Father, Eve & I

Labocine is an Imagine Science Films initiative to extend our film programming to a broader and more diverse audience. We have over 2,000 film titles from 200 countries for all ages brought to you by artists, scientists, filmmakers and educators.

By experimenting with cinematic form and style, we are committed to provoking scientific intrigue and understanding, always ensuring compelling and well-founded narratives. Periodically, we release Spotlights online. On the first Tuesday of every month, enjoy our issue selections which complement newsworthy science by proposing a surgically curated online festival. From documentary to fiction to lab footage, we hope to always challenge the way you understand, interpret and appreciate scientific ideas and perspectives.

Submissions: If you would like to submit a film or propose a program for Spotlights, write to us at film@labocine.com

Stay tuned and email us for more information at info@labocine.com.

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