Film history is littered experiments in endurance. In the 1960s, we got a handful of marathon-length Andy Warhol projects like Empire (1964), an eight-hour slow-motion shot of the Empire State Building. In the 2000s, we saw filmmakers utilize the transition into digital filmmaking to push the formal borders of a feature's running time, best exemplified in 2011's Modern Times, the Danish project currently holding the title for the longest film of all time at an epochal 240 hours.
Swedish artist Anders Weberg wants to break that record. He's worked in visual media art for over 20 years and has also experimented with artwork defined by its dimensions. In the mid 2000s, he coined the term peer-to-peer art, meaning work that was only available to be viewed or shared through digital peer-to-peer networks. He's also toyed with temporality, with his longest video project running at 12 hours. Now Weberg is bidding adieu to visual media (though not art entirely), and his last hurrah is aiming for a place in film history. Ambiancé is a 720-hour film over six years in the making.
It's described on IMDB as a film in which "space and time are intertwined into a surreal, dream-like journey," and for Weberg, it comes to stand as something between a memoir and a career retrospective, fused with the energy of a fever dream. When pressed for a synopsis, Weberg is at something of a loss. "This is the most asked question," he says. "How do you one explain a 30-day-long film?" Instead, he uses a variety of big abstract themes to describe the project: life, quest, power, death, escape, rest, love.
Ambiancé may be hard to put into words, but its visuals are lush: From what little I've seen of it, the film takes textured shots of the natural world (bees pollinating, water flowing, fog overtaking the silhouette of a lighthouse) and fuses these with surreal snippets like the dreamlike movements of ballet dancers or the unnerving details of a human eye.
It sounds like an attempt to make a modern, personalized Koyaanisqatsi, or perhaps a great PR stunt to get the internet to pay attention to his other art: After simultaneously screening the movie on every continent in 2020, Weberg plans on destroying the film, making its one screening its only screening. Ambiancé's experimental marketing has followed a similar pattern. The first teaser, released in July 2014 and clocking in at around 72 minutes, has since disappeared from the web. Last month, Weber shared a one-minute excerpt from a trailer, which will be released sometime next year and will run for about seven hours and 20 minutes.
Here's the rest of my conversation with Weberg about time, art, and what goes into the making of a 720-hour movie.
VICE: Can you discuss why you wanted your final film project to be such a formally rigorous experience?
Anders Weberg: This will be my last film, so how does one end it in style? It's so personal and since I have done longer films before, this has to be very special. It's also a way for me to find my focus again and really dig into the filmmaking process that I love so much one last time.
How do you personally prepare for such an undertaking? Can you explain the pre-production process, as well as what the construction of the film has been like so far?
I spent many hours in my head just thinking about this and continue to do so. The film is divided into a number of parts and scenes, all of which are roughly written down, but since it's an ongoing process it changes all the time. I have a chaotic note system in my computer where ideas and sketches are kept.
There are different approaches to the pre-production depending on if there are actors involved or not. If it's just me, it's no problem. When I filmed the seven-hour and 20-minute trailer, I had to struggle a lot to make it happen the way I wanted. It had to be in one continuous take for the whole duration, and the equipment is not really constructed to do that today.
How large is your crew have you worked with them on any of your other projects?
For this film, the crew contains mainly of me. I produce, direct, shoot, edit, and am behind most of the post-production. When needed, I'll bring in a MacGyver. The most important person on a shoot is someone that can make magic with duct tape, baby oil, and tin foil.
How would you describe the process for a film of this nature?
My process is that I collect glimpses of light with a camera and take that with me into the computer, and that's kind of where the real work begins. It's about taking all these glimpses and arranging and rearranging them into a flow that I feel represents the emotion I'm trying to express. There is a lot of post-production behind Ambiancé, where I run all the captured material through numerous processes.
Is it meticulous in its planning, or is it free-flowing and improvisational as well?
My whole approach to filmmaking is to try and express emotions with pictures, and those are pretty hard to plan out exactly since they change all the time. I have never done a storyboard in the past and have no intention of starting now. I like to enjoy what I do, and for me that means being in the moment and just following the flow. I always have a rough plan of what material I need in order to get the scene done, so I start with what I need to capture that moment. After that, it's just free styling and enjoying the creative process.
Are there actors in the film?
In the finished film there will be around 100 actors, dancers, and performers involved in different ways. Some of them are from my past productions in the past, but most of them are here just for this film.
As of now, there isn't a single line of dialogue in the film. Perhaps that will change, but there has not been the need to use dialogue yet to explain anything. It's a visual medium I'm working with. I think dialogue in film is a bit overused. It's like beats in music—these things aren't always needed. There will be a score for the full film composed by German composer Martin Juhls, who also goes by Marsen Jules.
The people in the film are using their bodies and expressions, and that is a bit of a challenge to get right. But rule number one is always to film in a joyful, relaxed environment. Somewhere we could all have a good time. The experience should remain a good memory for everyone forever.
You said this will be your last film. What inspired you to step away from the visual medium?
For the last couple of years I kind of lost the lust for moving media. I'm just not so sure about the future of screen-based media and decided to think about a way to phase it out.
Can you tell me about your plan to simultaneously screen the film on every continent? How do you imagine this taking place?
The locations have yet to be set, but the film will start on December 31, 2020, in the different time zones. After it's screened, I'll travel to all the locations and physically destroy the medium used to show it. I consider it part of the performance to make sure all the originals are deleted. Then I'm going to have a glass of wine.
The idea of ephemerality is a key difference between the analog era and digital era, especially in filmmaking. By destroying the film, are you attempting to link the two distinctly different principles together?
Spot on. For me, the film is just one part of the project. The creation and destruction has the same value in it. I think it was around 2002, when my oldest son was ten and he started to use the computer more frequently, I saw a change in how the young ones treated all different kind of media. Music, films, and games were sped up, downloaded, deleted without any emotions attached to it. With this film, I'm inverting and transforming that.
Who's paying for the film?
It's 100 percent self-funded. I have learned through the years that the minute you start using other people's money, you lose control and have to compromise. For Ambiancé, I will be the only one who will have final cut on every frame. I don't know how much money this will cost, but it will be a full-time job for at least five years, plus production costs. But I do come from a DIY background; it's in my veins. And since I've never been in the film "business," I don't know anything else.
As an artist so interested in time, is the film's ultimate "destruction" a way to capture the idea of finality, of your being finished with this medium as whole?
It's a huge goodbye. After that I will spend my time on something else and need to have a clean slate. I'm already looking forward to it.
For more on 'Ambiancé,' visit thelongestfilm.com
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