Russian and American filmmakers explore a vast footage archive in this four-part experiment. Info
In the contemporary conversation around U.S.-Russian relations, much attention is paid to governments as an extension of the people, with little regard given to how regular folks from each country understand their counterparts in the other. A starting point for bridging that chasm could be found in Ghosts In The Machine, a collaboration of Russian and American filmmakers commissioned by the Chicago film group Media Burn Archive and screened here through Madison's own Mills Folly Microcinema Series. Ghosts In The Machine is one film made up of four shorts from four different filmmakers—“Deceive With Belief” by Lori Felker, “Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt” by Dimitri Devyatkin, “This Is A Test” by Dmitrii Kalashnikov, and “Who Will Remember You Forever?” by Mikhail Zheleznikov—all commissioned to create experimental found-footage pieces from Media Burn’s archived material. Each chapter draws from a similar collection of footage, much of it covering protests and public gatherings in both the United States and Russia. That the footage is collected from several different places and events is not terribly important; they all share in a common, timeless narrative of the battle between a country’s marginalized people and their oppressors.
All four films touch on the process of editing and creating narratives, which is somewhat inevitable given that they’re in conversation with each other over the same material. The films together show us that, as beguiling as it can be to see footage engaging with some of America’s ugliest history, a glimpse into the process of framing said history can be just as engrossing. The final chapter of the film, “Who Will Remember You Forever?” engages with this idea most directly and playfully, placing the viewer in a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure in which you view a recently deceased stranger’s collected footage for an unfinished project while deciding whether to be the executor of his estate. It’s the most high-concept and absurd approach to the material, and by extension finds the freshest exploration of the age-old question in both history and film of how we construct meaning. Media Burn Executive Director Sara Chapman is scheduled to do a Q&A via Skype after the screening. —Maxwell Courtright