Ahead of its screening as part of Irish Focus at the IFI, experimental filmmaker Alan Lambert introduces his film, Pushtar, to Film Ireland.
Although I have been using low-budget film techniques and working in non-commercial formats for many years, the origins of my film Pushtar are not to be found along a path of film development, or even in identifiable film formats, but along a path exploring theoretical strands of earth sciences that connect to my film work at a tangent. One such project emerging from these strands is ‘The Seventh Earth’, an ongoing concept driven website project. It touches on aspects of climate change and more specifically the predicted 6 degree global temperature increase, now a barometer for many climatologists.
In relation to The Seventh Earth, I often found myself in discussions with environmental scientists as frequently as with experimental filmmakers and artists. The conversations often followed a familiar path of exploring geo-engineering and practical scientific solutions – flooding the Sahara, draining the Yangtze, or dispersing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere to drop the Earth’s temperature by a degree. Necessary, fascinating and often charged though these conversations were I found myself increasingly aware of the absence of a certain idea within them, the idea that the people that were going to be dealing with these situations in the future were not going to be like us – no more like us than the 19th Century people dealing with the industrial revolution. Their mind-set would have fundamentally changed.
During the same period, I returned to Japan to complete some work after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The society I was greeted with was very different to the one I had left a month before. My friends and clients had not slept properly in weeks. They never knew when to brace themselves for an aftershock, of which they were experiencing four per day. The electricity was only being used at half par – street lights and shop displays were left off – everything was at half par. I felt like I had walked into Europe during World War II. The uncertainty was in itself exhausting. This intensified my feeling that the grand-children of people living with this uncertainty on a daily basis would have to adapt to it, practically and emotionally, in ways that we simply cannot foresee.
I felt that it would be worth using the low-budget film techniques that I had developed, and the non-commercial formats which I was free to work within, to make a film that placed the viewer within that future world – and close to people who regard their reality very differently. People for whom much that we take for granted has been un-learned – for whom the concept of stability itself has become alien.
But I wanted to avoid a certain trap of science-fiction – namely to set a futuristic premise and then simply proceed with a thinly veiled contemporary genre piece. I wanted to give the viewer time to really forget their own daily lives before beginning to feel close to any of my protagonists. I wanted to create a feeling that they were seeing these people and their daily lives at close quarters but also from an immense distance – like observing something in a microscope. And a feeling that it is being observed not entirely consciously, but perhaps through a half-waking, half-sleeping state – as if a film viewed from a higher consciousness, suggesting in many ways that achieving that higher consciousness is in itself the way to adapt – and perhaps the only way…
Pushtar is that ‘higher place’.
The story that emerges follows the path of children that have developed a unique sensibility to weather changes and are used by the elders as natural barometers, to warn of encroaching atmospheric changes – dangerous changes, as a drifting cloud of silent and deadly methane can replace the breathable air around them in moments. These children are paired with their ‘Pteradogs’, 8 foot tall hyper-bred wolfhounds that act as guides, mentors in a world they may intuitively know better.
As their community continues to move to higher ground, these children and animals develop forms of communication un-decipherable to the adults. The final threads of the world as we know it fade away.
As Max LeCain observed, “… ( the film is ) more like part of an eco-system in form than a narrative; something melting, a process… like a documentary inside a dream ” – or a child’s dream of a film.
In keeping with this premise of gradual, organic change, the film was made in a very improvisational and un-structured way. I let the children and the animals lead the way and shaped most of it in editing.
The film features newcomers Dean Cronin and Kashmira Larkin as the leading children, Keshet Zur and Ademola Oladeji as their guardians and Richard Marsh and Niamh O’Farrell as the head priests, with the voice of the master of ceremonies provided by French actor Dominique Monot. The soundtrack was improvised by European Sensoria Band and Guests.
The film was crowd-funded on Rockethub and Indiegogo and supported by the Arts Council of Ireland
Pushtar screens on Tuesday, 16th August 2016 @ 18.30 at the IFI as part of Irish Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.
Alan Lambert will participate in a post-screening Q&A
Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477