Taking another look by touching the film: female filmmakers and the optical printer

A playlist by Julia C. de la Fuente for the Xcentric Archive

The film is a way of seeing, to violence, to pleasures, and to a particular way of feeling Historically, optical printers, a device consisting of a projector mechanically linked to a camera in order to copy film or create special effects, were associated with Hollywood cinema but many experimental filmmakers also used them, in a creative exercise of subversion, to superimpose, repeat, accelerate, slow down, stop, reframe, cut and rescale. This playlist presents a selection of films from the catalogue, made by women filmmakers of different generations, in which an optical printer has been used with different techniques and effects.

My Name is Oona, Gunvor Nelson, United States, 1969, 9'.

The special effects chosen by Gunvor Nelson to portray her daughter in My Name is Oona - repetition, superimposition and speed changes - were created by Loren Sears on an optical printer he'd made himself from a disassembled Kodascope projector, an extension bellows and a C-mount, a standard type of mount used on 16mm cameras for quick lens changes. Influenced by the San Francisco cultural milieu of the mid-1960s, in addition to making his own experimental films Sears also worked as a technician for the Nelson couple, on Gunvor's My Name is Oona and Robert Nelson's Grateful Dead (1967).

Angel Blue Sweet Wings, Chick Strand, United States, 1966, 3'.

It's widely known that Chick Strand used optical printers in her work and the machine is used innovatively in a large number of her films, creating complex, vibrant visual compositions from images captured in different contexts. Such innovations enabled her to establish a unique personal style, exploring themes of identity, the body and nature, and were thanks to her contact with filmmaker Pat O'Neill during her studies at UCLA (University of California). O'Neill taught her various techniques for processing film material, such as solarisation and the use of optical printers. Angel Blue Sweet Wings was one of her first films and also formed part of her initial experiments with these techniques, marking the beginning of an extensive filmography in which optical printers play a fundamental role.

Her Glacial Speed, Eve Heller, United States, 2001, 4'.

With found footage shot in the sixties and seventies, Heller uses an optical printer to emphasise the material characteristics of the film, such as the flickering of the light and the grain in the emulsion, which is magnified, as well as to create different effects such as multi-exposure and changes in speed, using an optical printer to produce different poetic associations that evidence the (short) distance between the subconscious and the real. In her own words: "I set out to make a film about how unwitting constellations of meaning rise to a surface of understanding at a pace outside of worldly time. This premise became a self-fulfilling prophecy. An unexpected interior began to unfold, made palpable by a trauma that remains abstract". This is the manual treatment of film as an exercise in awareness, as a therapeutic tool.

 Lilly, Jodie Mack, United States, 2007, 6'.

Combining an optical printer with the techniques of 2D stop-motion animation, direct-to-film animation and manual film development, Jodie Mack brings to life a series of negatives that illustrate a family's "good times" in the context of the Second World War. By animating these photographs and setting them against Lilly's own account, the film offers a statement about the truth of images. What people want to remember becomes fragmented on screen and, as the images are deconstructed, the full story comes to light.

The Time We Killed, Jennifer Reeves, 2004, United States, 94'.

A great advocate of 16mm, Jennifer Reeves uses optical printers in her films to increase their expressive potential. The Time We Killed tells the story of a poet (Lisa Jarnot) with agoraphobia, shut away in her Brooklyn flat during the war in Iraq. Her dreams, the news on TV, the memories she imagines and recreates are shown using a variety of textures. By increasing the grain size through rephotography, Reeves adds a special texture to the film that recreates the memory's images.

You can view the works of this playlist in the Xcèntric Archive.