“We live not in reality, but a consensual reality” – Jack Gariss
“The artist is aware of societal and cultural conditioning and thus questions the accepted definition of reality. Therefore, the artist must be rebellious in his work, challenge prescribed norms; and present alternate ways of perceiving the world. Knowledge and information is conveyed when we can step out of our cultural rigidity, discover an original idea; and then bring that idea into the present moment. The result will raise awareness, entice introspection and lay the framework for new ways of perceiving and thinking.”
.Questions & Answers with Experimental Digital Filmmaker Bart Santello
What perspective do your films come from?
My films present a perception of reality that mirrors my particular view of the world. But it’s not a point-of-view. Rather my films are a framework-for-speculation on the possibilities of alternate realities - using textured visuals and appropriate soundscapes to create emotions. Emotion, along with instinct and intelligence are three ways to assess reality.
I feel the experience of ‘reality’ is the only original idea one can have. But through cultural conditioning, we all grow up to subconsciously filter and alter what our senses acquire in order to fit norms in order to be accepted in society. Each of us in effect create a simulated model of our world.
Tell us about the creation process behind your digital films?
The objective of my film concepts is to move beyond language to communicate ideas and pure feelings. And present the film in a style and manner that provides the viewer contemplative space, in which to reinterpret my work into their own perspective. Keeping that perspective as a reference point, the viewer can then allow introspection into their psychological frame-of-reference and observe their feelings.
My short projects are in a way are exercises in experimentation. From each film I learn to self-observe the ‘process’ of how I want to present media. These films are both stand-alone works and building-blocks to something else not yet imagined.
In order to make an original film, I have to think and be motivated by the internal, not the external. I am interested in making a deep connection with people by putting them in the present moment through my media art. And whatever experience the viewer takes away with them in that present moment, is one they can say is truly their own.
To ensure the integrity of an original work, I have to be mindful not to corrupt a film’s vision in any phase of the production process, by filtering the subconscious motivation of the original idea to suit culturally conditioned concepts of what a film should be.
At the same time, I am aware how fragile each idea is; and how it could be lost to distraction, or corrupted by doubt. I try to maintain an awareness that an idea can be found in each moment, thus build a confidence-loop that the project will come to fruition. At the same time, present-moment awareness opens-up an unlimited possibility to create.
How does information and knowledge play a role in the creation of film?
To me, information and knowledge is conveyed as a result of the film. If it were an ingredient required to make the film, then you would have a documentary. Rather, my simulation of the world over the years has been impressed into me through primarily emotional intelligence. And for me, these emotions are best formed and retained when both imagery and sound are woven into a sort of multi-media poem. When creating a film, I focus on presenting the emotions derived from the images and soundscape; without regard or intention on the process. Later through some internal process, a film results.
What is your creation process?
I rarely write a screenplay or story board. Rather, I film ordinary life experiences which supports the idea or concept I have for a film. I use the word ‘elements’ to describe the visuals or sounds employed to support the concept behind the film. And just like elements found in nature, they can be combined together to create a new material (like in Chemistry). The result is the new ‘form’ for film made up of the combined elements.
How does your production differ from either industry norms or other independent filmmakers?
It differs in the sense that there is no defined ‘production’ that bracket my films. In most instances for real-time events that I feel need to be captured on film, there’s just me; whatever camera I’m carrying and the event(s). It also depends on my motivation; access to events; time to react to what needs to be filmed; environmental conditions under which I can acquire footage, etc. Whatever I capture – that is what I have to work with in post production. Essentially what I try to do in a film is reconstruct a memory using only fragments of what took place and then try to bring it back into the present moment. The resulting film conveys the experience, altered by my culturally conditioned perspective of reality.
Some viewers refer to your films ‘abstract’ - Do you employ the use of symbols?
From my own viewpoint, I don’t see my films as abstract. To me, abstraction is the conscious use of symbols by the filmmaker, in the structure of the film, where the viewer has to be conscious to observe these symbols, then interpret them in order to ‘figure-out’ their meaning. There is nothing to figure-out nor is there any intentional embedded symbolism in my films. However, the film making process, for me is amorphous, and thus delivers an unexpected story, strikingly similar to a night time dream. Dreams are formed for the most part by taking fragments of memory from our waking day. Then during sleep, our dreams tell relevant stories to us using those unrelated, yet meaningful, fragments. And at a deeper level, the dream presents important symbolism that we can ponder to assign meaning and perspective to our existence in a complex world. So to properly answer the question; because my films mirror the process of dream formation, symbolism can be found at various levels. However, the creation of these symbols is not conscious to me. It’s a process that works without my control. Now to confuse the matter further, if someone was to ask me if my films were MY ‘symbols’, I would have to say yes; each film being a symbol for a particular perception of how I see the world.
How would you discern between consciousness, subconscious and reality?
I look at ‘consciousness’ as an internal biological mechanism, which I’m sure nobody fully understands. But I believe consciousness is our internal mental framework for how the external world is both sensed and organized to ensure understanding, thus improve the chances of survival. Our perception of ‘reality’ is a mental process of how we simulate what’s going on in our world. It’s narrowed by the limitation of our human’s senses, and how we are culturally conditioned to view the world around us.
The ‘subconscious’ to me is the mind’s attempt to reconcile actual reality, with our perception of reality that results from distortions induced by cultural conditioning and the biological perturbations that makes each human mind work differently in trying to figure out the world in which we live.
A Neanderthal probably had an excellent grip on the ‘reality’ of their physical world. Humans today only factor a small percentage of their reality to the physical world. Our reality for the most part is affected by distortions, distractions, fear and doubt, promulgated by modern society’s need to create dependency, manage natural resources and embrace technology: All at the expense of human instincts. Instincts honed over time by a deep connection with the natural world. We live in that schism between the natural world from which we came and the technological world where we’re heading.
So how does this discussion of the mind relate to your films?
My films are an attempt to present to the viewer how my mind perceives the world. It’s not reality; rather it’s my perception of reality. Hopefully, by seeing how I view the world, it will invite the viewer to reexamine how they see things. I would like the observer to use my films as an alternate filter when perceiving, in order to allow the unlocking of new ideas on parallel realities. That new perspective becomes an insight. And since the reality we live in tends to be a construct of the culture, my media art becomes a key to unlock thinking and create a bridge to understanding the way we perceive the world.
Do you employ any recurring themes?
Each film project is unique and may use different filming equipment and post-production methods affecting style and texture of the work. However, I’ve observed two resulting principles of my work to date. The first is: ‘Man verses technology’; and the other is ‘analog verses digital’. For example, my films that feature an ‘A Produce’ soundtrack tend to explore technology’s impact on humans. And my films that feature Richard Bone soundtracks, convey a juxtaposition of analog with digital. This is not intentional, but now that I am aware of it, I see how these themes align with my thinking on how humans are using the tools of the universe to shape-shift into a journey, and nobody knows where it’s leading.
Can you expand on this discussion?
No doubt that technology has shaped the course of human civilization. But the rate of technological development in the last hundred years; including the recent exponential growth of the computer, electronics, genetics, telecommunications and nanotechnology in the last 25 years is unprecedented. In many ways these are exciting times, yet technology has a dark side.
A trait of human beings is that we want to be immortal. And technology is providing life extension through genetic medicine, biomechanics and embedded electronics. At the same time, computers and machines are acquiring intelligence, communications, mobility and adaptability. Simply stated, humans are becoming more machine like and machines are becoming more human like. We’re becoming ‘cyborgs’ to use science fiction terminology.
This desire to be immortal is moving humans away from nature into ‘digital’, where it is easy to duplicate elements of human existence. For example, my films in digital DVD format are a way to provide immortality to my art, being easy duplicated and distributed to people physically and also electronically over the Internet. However, digital is just an approximation of our ‘analog’ world and can easily be altered and manipulated.
Computer and machines are taking humans away from the natural world. An example would be the Apollo moon landings, where humans left the womb of the earth by creating a mechanical womb to take them to the moon. We get excited about the technology, but have not looked at it holistically in order to comprehend the consequences. I’m not suggesting a return to the Stone Age; but I’m aware that technology seduces us, takes our time, energy and results in humans becoming isolated, lonely and violent.
In making your earlier films, you were not aware of the subconscious processes at work; now you are. How will this insight into yourself affect the films you will be working on now and in the future?
I was at first worried that by beginning to understand my mental process of making films, I would somehow be allow our culturally induced distortions (as discussed earlier) to enter and corrupt the creative process. However, now I feel like I have cracked a code in my own head (my process of making films). By ‘cracking the code’ so-to-speak, I believe it will allow me to build on earlier experiences, mature to a new levels and reinforce that anything is possible. But this is only possible if I can stay true to initial ideas and concepts.
How well do you know the true meaning of your own films?
I don’t; but I keep trying. Actually, when watching my films, I am at a disadvantage compared to everyone else. The reason is that when I view my film, I am distracted by my constant self-critical examination of the technical aspects of how the film was made. This takes me out of the present moment during viewing and as soon as that happens, something is lost. There is a depth to these films that I keep uncovering. Years later I’m still discovering the subconscious decisions made during the film-making process. I surprise myself often with the realization: “That’s what I meant when I did that!”
Discuss your use of digital technology and the Internet
Simply put, computers, software and the Internet have made it possible for me to create my art to way I have always envisioned it should be.
My first experience with digital multimedia was on a Commodore Amiga 1000 Computer (circa 1985). Ahead of its time, the Amiga (in the mid-1980’s) was to desktop video, what the Macintosh was at that time to desktop publishing. The Amiga Computer and the artists that used it laid the groundwork for the digital multimedia revolution that is in full-force today. At times, I still use Amiga hardware and software in the post-production on some of my films. This is because some of the digital tools developed were original, unique and provide a texture not found in today’s digital tools. The trend today is towards ‘life like’ images; but retro-graphics and video – through the use of ‘primitive computer technology’, is still available for the artist’s digital palette. And thanks in part to ebay for that
Through the use of computers, the Internet and a plethora of end-user media devices and software, the production and distribution of digital film is allowing the individual to have control of their art. It was just a few years ago, films and music production/distribution was controlled by large corporations. It truly is an exciting time for the individual artist.
I think what matters most to me is the importance of the Internet in order to make my films available to anyone at any time. My films are not meant to appeal to a general audience. But those who are dialed-in to that certain frequency are going to feel like we’re sharing the same dream.
Tell us about the music you choose for your work?
I look at the use of music in my films as equal weight to the images. The music is not ‘scored’ to imagery as in traditional film production. I locate existing music that works in perfect synergy with the imagery, than apply it as a critical element in creating the art.
Ambient, electronic, space, trance music and the human voice as an instrument are probably some of the least commercially accessible music in western culture; but it’s there and now with the Internet, this very local source of music is available if you do your research. I prefer music that triggers what I refer to as a “psychoactive” response from the viewer. I use the term ‘psychoactive’ to connote a conscious engagement of the mind within the environment of the film.
I have been fortunate to have established friendships and collaborations with some really creative and gifted musical artists, whose work is as critical to the production of my films as the film imagery itself. These artistic collaborations create a symbiotic relationship, in which the musician gets a new forum to showcase and their work. And as the filmmaker, I get to interpret their sound design visually in ways the composer may have never imagined.
How do you recommend someone watch your film?
I am very particular about how people watch my films for good reason. The focus of my films is the imagery and sound. There are two aspects of viewing that make a difference in the experience. The first is the technology. By that I mean a good-quality television or video monitor, along with a stereo or headphones to get the full sound quality. The second is that the individual sets the appropriate viewing environment for them self. Specifically, a quiet darkened room without any surrounding distractions. One needs to set an intention for viewing and be open to the feelings the films invoke. Finally, my mantra for viewing is: “Feel; don’t think.”
How did you choose the name “Psychotropic Films” for your production company?
I chose the name Psychotropic Films from the definition for ‘Psychotropic’ found in a dictionary of scientific terms. As follows: “A drug or agent that effects or alters the mind.” The drug or agent in this case is the film. And the degree by which the psyche is altered by the film is dependent upon the individual’s openness and ability to break out of their conscious trance and see the possibilities of alternate realities.
With that said; a ‘Psychotropic Films’ production breaks the structure and the cadence of traditional forms of media presentation and instead delivers images and sound as ‘psycho-active’ textures to stimulate thinking and direct the psyche into new avenues of awareness.