Montreal International Documentary Festival

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Exploring Nature - Nov 12 to Nov 18

Interview - Joshua Bonnetta

Interview with Joshua Bonnetta, fillmmaker of The Two Sights, presented in the section Exploring Nature (November 12-18)

How was this project in the Outer Hebrides born?

It was started during an artist residency on North Uist at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre/UistFILM, and then I just kept returning. I had a broad framework in that I wanted to make a film about the changing environment in the Western Isles and explore that through a connection between oral history and acoustic ecology. It wasn’t initially about second sight or second sound, that became more of a byway to explore a greater aggregate of connections between place, memory, and narrative. Formally I was inspired to approach the work as a radio documentary in the same spirit as Glenn Gould's radio documentaries but finding contrapuntal elements between the environmental sound and dialogue and putting them on equal footing. Those are the two frameworks I entered into the work with, and then the film really took shape in the field and in post.

Sound is fundamental in your cinematic works: does your creative process start with recording sounds?

This film started with walking/listening and then making maps from these site-visits and returning to set-up mics. By a second or the third visit, I would start getting familiar with the visual patterns of a place (like where a small vessel would cross or a deer might appear) and I would start to draw out scenes or work them out with photography.
I think the disconnect from doing sound and image all in one go comes from learning filmmaking through analogue double-system where they are captured separately. I could do this together synchronously, but I found over time with synch, it's too narrow of a window to get the sounds I am interested in.
In the end, I go looking for images to fit the sounds and structure the composition; it's cinematography as notation.

What is it that fascinates you in the interconnection between landscape and legends?

I am interested in how place narratives shape perception and relation to the environment, not in any kind of social science way but more in the poetic sense of it. In the context of the Outer Hebrides, Gaelic place-names and oral history contain so much invaluable information about the environment; volumes of information are inscribed in the landscape through memory. Because of this, there can be a reverence, enchantment, or importance in how a place is perceived, and when that's lost, those relations to the land change. I think much of the film is dedicated to documenting a twilight of those relations at the same time making space to consider and reconnect.

Can you talk about your methodology collecting oral history? As you are crafting the film, what’s your approach to preserve its mystery, especially in terms of image and sound editing?

The museum and UistFILM did a great deal of work in terms of connecting me with nice folks on the islands who would be open to speaking with me and in Lewis, my friend Maggie (who is in the film several times) helped me so much in connecting me with good people and also with a lot of the Gaelic translation. Things were purely conversational, and there was not much methodology involved other than drinking lots of tea.
I designed the film so that there are occasionally direct connections between narrative and sound or image, but they are disconnected for the most part, so you retrospect across the film to make those connections; a sort of cinema as second sight. I am interested in creating spaces that allow folks to project into the work through the sound and image, so it was about creating enough openings for that but not completing it.

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