Monday, 27 October 2008


Nathaniel Dorsky, Sarabande (2008), 16mm, 15 mins.

Nathaniel Dorsky presented three films at the BFI Southbank on Saturday 26 October 2008 as part of the London Film Festival's Experimenta weekend, curated by Mark Webber. Dorsky introduced the screening and took questions after the first two films. The following text is a reconstruction of those questions and comments from the handwritten transcription I made during the event. 

NATHANIEL DORSKY: I like to show films in the reverse order to which they were made. Inbetween the films I'll take questions. The films are a bit of a poem. It's best if they don't run into one another...

Most cinema is language-ideas. This film is the actual physicality of progression through presences.

[Screens WINTER]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So are you having an idea and shooting footage to fit that idea? Or are you selecting later from a lot of footage what seems related?

DORSKY: I don't follow a programme. It's shot over a period of time. I trust that the circumstances of my life have a through line

Most films are novels. The screen is a stage - the bottom of the screen is the stage. This film is a poem. It's about a state of mind. It's about the progression of states of mind to create hopefully deepening resonance in the psyche. 

Its about direct vision. These films are meaningful rather than having meaning.

In Winter everything was damp and on the ground. This lead me to make Sarabande which was more dance like.


AUDIENCE: When a film is finished does it seem fixed or are there are other possible variations of the same material?

DORSKY: There are always one or two things which I think I could change. But, no, there's a point where it seems inevitable. I trust that inevitableness.

AUDIENCE: I don't understand what you mean by saying your films don't have meaning but are meaningful.

Nathaniel Dorsky, Sarabande (2008), 16mm, 15mins.

DORSKY: Meaningful is something enriching to heart and mind... the nobility of human presence. Meaning is an idea.

AUDIENCE: But the nobility of human presence is an idea..

DORSKY: Human nobility is quite real. It's not an idea. (SEEMS IRRITATED) These films you have just seen. They are visually expressive. Don't you find them beautiful?

AUDIENCE: No.... a bit...

DORSKY: Watch them again.


DORSKY: These films are Kodachrome films like oil paintings are dependent on oil. Kodachrome has been discontinued and I have enough for one more film. 

AUDIENCE: Do you see your images before you look into the camera?

DORSKY: If I saw the images and then tried to capture them I would get a B. To get an A grade you have to translate onto the world of the screen. A genius film maker does this so that the screen manifests as image.

I see something that is translatable. Then begins the adventure of a new moment: to see if the rectangle can manifest. 

Nathaniel Dorsky, Triste (1978-96), 16mm, 19mins.

AUDIENCE: Do you have a script? Do you shoot more footage than appears in the final film?

DORSKY: A film manifests in the same way that you'd turn milk into butter. Friends love to look at all the raw footage, but it is self-referential - it's your development into a subject. So I take out a lot of material and a nature re-declares itself. I take out more, and it re-declares itself again. The thing self-mutates...

AUDIENCE: So what percentage of the original footage is in the end film?

DORSKY: Maybe 15%.


DORSKY: Eastman Kodak have produced a new film stock which I like very much. It will be like changing from oil to tempera. A new palette. It'll be like a new lover. 

Kodachrome is just in my body. I don't have to use a light meter. I'm just there with it. 

I've seen some digital films at the festival and I'd rather do this (GESTURES AT SCREEN). I'm fortunate. I think my life will coincide with the life of film. 

AUDIENCE: What do you think when you watch your films?

DORSKY: I enjoy them. But it changes. There's an unnameable thing...a night when a film will work... when it's the right time.

There's a satisfaction of reaching the point when a film no longer needs you. It's like a parent and a child. I used to turn against films after I had made them. I thought they were dead.

AUDIENCE: How do you decide the duration of shots?

DORSKY: A feeling. A rightness. You know when you're done. No more is necessary. Often people don't do this. We've all got a friend who says something, and they should be done. But they say it again. 

Film-makers normally treat the audience horribly. I try to be decent. 

AUDIENCE: But in Sarabande are you finding the images or making them?

DORSKY: It's all found... but also the frame is found. I was tired that the bottom of the image had to be coincident with the bottom of the screen.

AUDIENCE: But the title -

DORSKY: I'm not good at titles. It's not important. I apologise if it's distracting. It's the best I could do.


AUDIENCE: I'd like to see these films in a gallery, on a loop..

DORSKY: The problem with showing films like that is that it turns everything into wallpaper. It's very degrading. You don't synch up to a linear progression of material. It's horrible. 

Maybe in the future with the possibility of telecine conversion to HD. But for the moment I'd rather keep film as a rarified thing... like a live performer.

It's like using a Mozart string quartet in an elevator. If you're seriously interested in music it's absurd.


DORSKY: Are we out of time? We'll screen Triste and we'll be done. Triste was made from parts of many unsuccessful films going back to 1973. There must be seven, eight or nine different emulsions, some out of date and with various malfunctions.

It was the first time... since I was in my 20's I had had an intuition of a kind of cinema that wasn't a reference outside itself... where moving through the film was the magic... no limitation.. a film opening up moment to moment like our consciousness... could a film be humane?