A Journey in Light and Time: An Interview with SAW Video Spotlight Award Winner Matthieu Hallé
By Andrew Braid
In the fall of 2013, SAW Video partnered with the Digi60 Ottawa Digital Filmmaker’s Festival to present the very first SAW Video Spotlight Award to a filmmaker from the Ottawa-Gatineau region that shows particular talent and unique cinematic form. Receiving the inaugural award is Matthieu Hallé, a true independent artist in the making. From Sound to Sun, his entry for the 2013 edition of Digi60, is a black-and-white silent experimental short film starring Terry O’Brien as a guitarist struggling to cope with going deaf.
Each year, the Digi60 festival imposes a “catch” on the participating filmmakers – a theme, an object, a phrase or a character name that they need to incorporate in order to be eligible for competition. The catch for this year’s festival was to make a film about discovery, and From Sound to Sun neatly fits this theme. Its protagonist discovers much of himself as he deals with hearing loss, and the film’s clever use of limited sound allows the audience to experience it along with him. The only sound heard throughout the film is of a crashing waterfall that opens the film and returns at the midway point. It is so powerful in force that it seems to drown out everything else, mirroring how the protagonist’s hearing loss ‘drowns out’ the world around him and produces a feeling of alienation. Yet as the sun rises, we get the impression that the protagonist has found his will to continue. According to Hallé, the film is about someone who discovers the sun, and how “for granted we could take the sun, [how] it is easy to forget it sometimes.” The sun in Hallé’s film also stands for other things we normally take for granted, namely our ability to hear, as well as the richness of lived experience. Hallé was inspired by artists who defy the odds, creating great works of art despite dealing with sensory impairments such as vision or hearing loss. “When you're a musician but cannot hear the sound you are producing, there is a conflict,” he said, “[and] in From Sound to Sun I wanted to explore this artist's dilemma.”
When asked about what got him started in filmmaking, Hallé cryptically responds: “An infinite number of interactions over billions of years that led to the invention and easy access to digital video cameras, and an infinite number more that encouraged my own positive encounters with cameras.” And while he himself admits that it’s not particularly unique, he says that his defining traits as an artist are “being true to the moment, and honest to the characters.” Hallé believes collaboration with his actors is essential to his work. “They were constantly bringing new ideas and life into the film,” he says. “I could equally have credited them as writers and directors in some aspects… we really trusted each other.” Hallé says his experience with the Digi60 festival was also a positive one. “I create films with a big screen and distraction-free space in mind, and Digi60 offers a great venue for that.” He remarked on how quickly Digi60 has been growing, and considers it a true filmmaker’s festival, one where “the filmmakers ultimately decide what it’s going to be like,” which means the end results are “always surprising.”
Hallé’s previous work includes a series of five short films, titled the Light and Time series. These experimental shorts offered the filmmaker a chance to practice and explore on a regular basis. Making the first of these shorts in March 2013, he recalls having a pinhole lens lying around that he had not used much. Once he tried using it to film some footage of the sun, he became inspired to continue experimenting with different visual techniques. Sometimes he did not even use a lens at all, only a sensor recording different light patterns. This is in keeping with the principal artistic aim of the series, “to strip filmmaking down to its bare essentials: light and time.” He also considers the Light and Time series to be a form of collaboration, in its own way: collaboration with the settings, lighting and objects, looking beyond the strict definition of ‘collaboration’ as working together with people. “Successful ‘collaboration’ is also trusting and working together with absolutely every element that makes up the film. And so I am always collaborating with the weather, and the light and the camera.”
In 2013, Hallé also completed his first feature film, titled Margraue, which premiered in Victoria last February. The film tells the story of a man who assumes the role of schoolteacher in a post-apocalyptic world deprived of digital information. Hallé wrote, produced and directed. Despite accomplishing this enormous feat, when asked about the difference between making shorts and feature films, Hallé modestly replied that “scale is the only real difference.”
Hallé has already begun collecting notes for another feature film. He also has a new short film in development tied to his Light and Time series, which is currently titled Projector and Time, and is a tribute to legendary experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage.
For more information on Margraue, visit: matthieuhalle.com
To see Matthieu Hallé’s Light and Time series of short films, visit: vimeo.com/user5278376
For more information about Digi60, visit: digi60.org