What triggers this kind of filming?


The talk between Gunvor Nelson and Elke Marhöfer took place in December 2013.



Elke: I'd like to focus on the film RED SHIFT and I am interested to hear more about your mode of montage for this film, could you expand a bit on this?

Gunvor: My proposal was to make a film about three generations, about mother/daughter relations using a nontraditional method. I wanted a collage film where the logic was poetic and kaleidoscopic rather than using a customary approach. When I now read about my original ideas for RED SHIFT the finished film fits that description.
As with most all of my films, the ideas about editing come from the filmed material itself, after I have carefully studied the footage and tested a lot by trial and error, and not from preconceived editing concepts or plans. For me editing is an organic process of searching for the form and structure of a specific film, and it usually takes up about 80% of making of the film. For me it does take a long time to fit it all together, and since I don't know from the beginning what the result will be, it can be an interesting and sometimes frustrating journey toward the finished film as well as a series of fun surprises along the way.
I do pay a lot of attention to the visuals and how the images fit from one scene to another, to the choreography of motion through the film and also how the atmosphere develops from one scene to another. RED SHIFT is in black and white and that helps in making a cohesive atmosphere, but I also want surprises and jarring events to disturb a film and Calamity Jane's letters are meant to be such an interruption in RED SHIFT. I want each film to have its own editing solutions and create its own unique world, but that certainly is not easy.

Elke: Do you mean that the film develops through the editing process?

Gunvor: Yes, that is very true. I can't foretell how the film will turn out, as I described earlier, and so I don't worry about the editing before I have all the filmed material at hand. However, in the preparation for a film I usually have a careful list of things that I want to cover and thoughts about the attitude I want to have while filming and how to film. Immediately when I see the total footage, I edit out that which is not usable, which I save and call "Outs". The next stage is cutting out the "Maybe section", which is also saved so that I can go back and see what I have missed in my first "run-through". During the following stage, in building the film, it is very helpful to only have the most useful scenes left, it makes the searching process easier and less cumbersome. The film is slowly built, step by step, and taking form.

Elke: I have the feeling that in the montage you make use of a certain pool or stock of possible editing methods, like for example: shot - reverse-shot patterns, or combining images so that they produce a strong symbolic meaning, but at the same time also you make use of fugitive glimpses, shots that deny clear views or straight readings and interpretations - you do not settle for one method, but employ various, many layers and motions.

Gunvor: It is most difficult for me to describe the specific editing methods I have used in a particular film, because once I have finished a film I don't go back and study it; I have left it behind and am on to my next project.

Elke: I see your point, to be analytical and dissect an intuitive process seams like a contradiction, to look at the outcome from a clinical perspective. Still I think RED SHIFT reached a form, do you remember the form you had intended when you started the editing?

Gunvor: I see no contradiction in organic process and analyses, they are both needed and depend on each other.  I try to have each film and art project be a kind of research, a journey into unknown territory where it is necessary to analyze each step of the way to see where it is best to continue. As a goal the new project should repeat and rely on past solutions as little as possible.  I have not used the word intuitive, but I find that intuition does not only come from some inner talent as is usually thought, it is stored knowledge, knowledge that has been worked on and saved throughout a lifetime and I am grateful when it is available effortlessly. 
Before filming RED SHIFT I had decided, among other things, what kind of attitude I should have while shooting. For this film I wanted many close ups and in contrast have long shots out the window to the river and shots through several rooms. Some things were decided beforehand and many things had to be decided on location and in the editing. Studying the filmed material in detail gave the clue to the form of the film and of course I had ideas about the form early, but as always I wanted to be open and see what the filming brought before making any fixed decisions beforehand.  In making a work of  art there are enormous amount of decisions to be made along the way and for RED SHIFT I do not want to remember them now that closely, a film made about 30 years ago. 

Elke: You called it an "organic process", I imagine now that you don't have a fully written film script beforehand, but work processually. Were you producing RED SHIFT as an additive process? Meaning, did you film, look at the material, edit, and then produce additional film material?

Gunvor: This kind of process, where you can look at the material before you film more, is very easy with video and more cumbersome with 16mm film. With video you can immediately see and evaluate what has been filmed, but with RED SHIFT, shot in 16mm, I was in a small town in Sweden, far from a film lab, and was not able to see the result of the filming for a while. In a way it was like filming blind.  With other films I had more access to a lab and it is of course helpful to see what you have filmed before filming more. With RED SHIFT I was very careful with lighting, to get the right exposure and being exact in composing the shots. Within this kind of filming it is impossible to know the result of the filmed material before you see it. It is full of uncertainties. Did I get it the way I wanted? Are the scenes possible to cut and combine later on?

Elke: I wonder how the actual filming/shooting is structured? Did you envision different takes beforehand, like close-ups, medium or long shots? 

Gunvor: At the end of each day's filming I thought back on what had been accomplished and visualized the next day's possible shoots in detail and also the work needed to prepare them, lighting etc.

Elke: What triggers this kind of filming?

Gunvor: You mean the organic process of learning along the way? I find it boring to have the film finished beforehand - I want to discover while filming. It's an open process, open to discover things during the filming and later in the editing. That's the way most artists work. It's more exciting.

Elke: Currently I am thinking about affirmative versus analytical filmmaking and where the difference lies. RED SHIFT portraits the life of a certain class of Western women, but without the clear critique towards a dominant patriarchal society, like for example in SCHMEERGUNTZ. In RED SHIFT it is a complicated kind of feminist critique, and as well it could be read as a critique on a social class, since it exposes a bourgeois life style.

Gunvor: I find SCHMEERGUNTZ not only to be critical, but it has other layers that are more prominent -- the film is very absurd and funny.

Elke: What I want to say is, compared for example with Chantal Akermans JEANNE DIELMAN, where the place of the women in the social hierarchy is clear and criticized, the criticality of RED SHIFT is not so much in the foreground, even though one could read it as a critique on the bourgeoisie and how they care for their things. But it's more complicated, especially the scene of the production of the dishbrush, as a low-end female assembly-line job, which is often exploitive and dulling. It is interesting to me how you combined this with the scene of a middle class family, handling and handing down jewelry from the mother to the daughter. It also implies a history, where middle class women were often deprived of real property in terms of premises, and therefore could only bequeath jewelry to their daughters.

Gunvor: Yes, it's a brush factory. It depicts a brush being born. Many brushes, and they are all of the same kind, one after the other, to be of use later. And yes, it was an assembly line factory in the neighborhood. These scenes are surprises and interruptions in the usual flow in RED SHIFT. But in the film I am not showing the meaning of this strange deviation; not all ideas are sorted out. People can interpret what they want. I think a film should be open in that way. But in my opinion what is expressed in the film does not represent a certain class only.
And yes, about the property, about the jewelry. In that scene, in the soundtrack, I am saying something like: "How could you ever wear something like that.... it is ugly... what a horrible thing to hand down through the generations" ... and this really expresses what I feel for that particular jewelry. My mother, a feminist forerunner, enjoyed very much playing a role in the film. I admire her a lot for the part where she, at old age, dares to be undressed - not that it was easy for her, but she thought it was necessary for the film and that it was useful.

Elke: You are including flowers and plants in the film, why?

Gunvor: I have forgotten the flowers in RED SHIFT, but why should there not be flowers in the film? I relatively recently made a video, called TRUE TO LIFE, that is all about plants. In that video the confrontation lies in the soundtrack.

Elke: I recently discovered Chick Strand and saw her SEñORA CON FLORES (Woman with Flowers) and screened FAKE FRUIT FACTORY this summer in Berlin. Did you know each other?

Gunvor: Yes, I met her, but she lived in Los Angeles, so we could only meet on occasional visits, when she came to San Francisco or I went to Los Angeles. I like her films, they are visually very beautiful and graphical, but I have not seen the ones you mentioned. Together with Bruce Baillie she founded Canyon Cinema, which exists still today as a film distribution company. It is still going strong and continues to be very important.