SXSW FILM 2016
By Don Simpson | March 14, 2016
Directors: Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein
Writers: Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein
When some of the most invigorating and intriguing American independent filmmakers join together to interpret each other’s dreams on screen, cinematic magic is inevitable. The thought of Lily Baldwin (Sleepover LA), Frances Bodomo (Afronauts), Daniel Patrick Carbone (Hide Your Smiling Faces), Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely), and Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly) collaborating on a film project together should be mind-blowing to anyone who has paid close attention to any of these filmmakers. Presented at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival as an anthology, collective:unconscious (produced and curated by Dan Schoenbrun) is like the VHS anthology for the indie art house crowd.
Lauren Wolkstein’s dream as directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone comes first. Starring Frank Mosley, this dream takes place in an Orwellian world in which people are controlled (lulled to sleep?) by the perpetual recitation of sheep-counting transmitted and amplified via strategically placed audio towers. A clever metaphor for broadcast entertainment being the opiate of the masses, the segment plays like a Twilight Zone (or Black Mirror) episode. Shot in stark black and white enhanced by utterly entrancing sound design, it is a mesmerizing story that showcases Mosley’s acting talents.
Next, director Josephine Decker turns Lily Baldwin’s dream into a surreal interpretive dance experience that addresses incarceration and reentrance into society. As most dreams are, the short film is strangely disconcerting, yet the movements are so damn transfixing. The plantation setting and analogies to slavery establish a political subtext that other directors probably would not have brought to the table.
Then, director Lauren Wolkstein tackles gender and identity within the context of Frances Bodomo’s dream. Set in a PE class, the story contemplates the strict definitions of males and females, specifically when it comes to locker rooms. The gym teacher rules his class with a tyrannical fist, presumably preparing his students for survival of even the worst disasters. A genderqueer student becomes the focal point of the narrative, existing in a constant state of conflict with the gym teacher. In the end, one of them must save the other students from a fiery death.
Everybody Dies! is by far the strangest, darkest, and funniest of the segments. Dreamt by Josephine Decker and directed by Frances Bodomo, this short film takes on systemic racism, specifically the ever-increasing police brutality and murder rates of Black Americans. Presented in the video quality of a local public access station, Everybody Dies! is a chillingly absurd game show in which the grim reaper ushers Black people to their death.
collective:unconscious concludes with Lily Baldwin’s directorial interpretation of Daniel Patrick Carbone’s dream. It is an unsettling look at the inherently parasitic nature of motherhood — the mother’s responsibility for nourishing her baby, allowing it to suck nutrients directly from her body. (Milk plays a prominent role throughout the segment.) Baldwin examines the profound guilt experienced by the mother as she resents and regrets her new domestic role.
Though each segment is tonally unique, the strange dreamlike qualities of the five short films tie them together. There are also wrap-around segments (co-directed by Carbone and Wolkstein) that explain the core concept of collective:unconscious, instructing the audience of the open mindset with which we should approach the short films. As with hypnosis or meditation, we are to allow ourselves to succumb to the trancelike qualities of cinema; enjoying the immersive experience of images and sounds. These are important tips with which filmgoers should approach most (all?) films.