Nigrin: Your amazing and very complex experimental documentary film shows viewers precisely framed shots of Sunset Boulevard, while various voices of people living in Los Angeles can be heard talking about aspects and experiences of their lives. What made you want to make this film about this street in Hollywood and Los Angeles?
Wichmann: The initial moment that led me to make this film happened during the first time I visited Los Angeles in 2015. I was standing on the sidewalk and suddenly realised that I was on Sunset Boulevard. I don’t remember what I had expected but I was definitely surprised that it was a lot less glamorous then it had been in my imagination. This moment made me think a lot about certain images and the way they seem to inform us about the reality of a place while actually physically being in that place feels most of the time different.
I was interested in this dissonance and the interrelation of how images produce and define our realities. A big part of global image production takes place in Los Angeles, this industry of producing images reflects and creates contemporary dreams, hopes and illusions while at the same time, for example, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 12.7% in 2019 to a total of 66,436 people in Los Angeles County. I was thinking a lot about the way we perceive and define reality in a world full of digital images and how these images might just alienate us from our actual reality and social interactions. They show us a selected frame of the world and make us feel very familiar with places or people even when often we’ve never visited those places or met these people in person.
Nigrin: There is an emblematic quote by one of the voices in your film that says Hollywood is “a bunch of bong shops, t-shirts, tourists and no famous people.” Do you think this assessment is accurate?
Wichmann: I think it depends on who you are and your socio-economic position, I’m sure there are people who experience a very different version of Hollywood. When you go to Hollywood Boulevard on a regular day you will likely encounter the bong shops, t-shirts and tourists that the quote mentions but when the Oscars are happening all the streets are closed off and it is impossible to get there, unless you are invited or work there. I guess, it really depends on who you know and who knows you and what guest lists you are on. It’s a business and an industry of producing images and creating illusions. During the time I was researching and working on the film in Los Angeles, I realised also how much glamour and fame are created through absence. The more glamorous something appears the more it is happening in the distance behind velvet ropes, hedgerows, gateways, security guards, tinted car windows or in exclusive guest list events. This actual absence gives us more space to imagine and we often imagine things more ideal than they might are. I would say, what this quote really emphasizes is the fact, that Hollywood is an industry and as part of that industry of images and stories at some point T-Shirts are being sold to the people who are not on the guest list. It is another form of repeating the images and making them iconic.
Nigrin: Why did you decide not to show the story tellers and only reveal who they are at the end of the film?
Wichmann: I felt that not showing the story tellers makes a difference in the way we listen to what they are saying. I wanted to enable the viewers to listen more closely to the experience the voice is talking about and not be distracted by what the person looks like, and what we might think about or associate with the way they look. I was learning a lot about the interrelations of images, stereotypes and prejudices at the time and really wanted the viewer to not be distracted by what they might ascribe to a person before they even listened to their story. Instead of seeing the person we see the spaces of the city they live in and move through in their daily life. It is often difficult for people, who see the film for the first time, to distinguish how many story tellers there are and I like that a lot, that it could be a different person or the same person who tells us a different part of their story. Creating space for multiple perspectives was very important to me and I guess, this film was a way of trying to enable the viewer to change perspective and feel empathy. For me, the decision not to show the story tellers is a way of saying: maybe it is the story of the person you just saw crossing the street.
However, despite not showing the story tellers I didn’t want to make them anonymous. I am deeply grateful to Dahlia Ferlito, Vernée Watson, Max Oppenheimer, Theo Triantafyllidis, José Luis Vasquez and Polina Miliou who agreed to do an interview and trusted me with telling their experience. It was therefore very important to me to reveal who they are at the end of the film, so that viewers know who they are and could find out more about their work. I chose each person carefully, because I think their experiences represent different aspects of the city and speak to the relation of images and reality that I wanted to address in the film.
Nigrin: Most of the shots in your film are long shots? Was it a conscious decision to frame Sunset Boulevard this way?
Wichmann: I decided to frame Sunset Boulevard mostly in long shots because I was thinking about film as a medium that is rooted in photography and because I wanted to give the viewer time to explore the space and what was happening in the situation rather then directing their attention to certain details. I tried to compose every image in a way that I felt it could also work as a photograph. The long shots were mostly inspired by Stephen Shores photography, I tried to show what was there and is usually just passed by. I also included slow motion sequences that are based on Ed Ruscha's work “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” and represent the way the city is mostly perceived from inside a car. I am very grateful that writer and poet Lara Schoorl agreed to let me use her text about absence and presence and that artist Timo Fahler read it for this part of the film. Then, there are also short sequences with close ups of the sidewalk, those, I understand as a reference to the digital images we are seeing on our smartphones all the time. I’m so proud that artist and music producer Daniel Pineda who, for years, has been a vital part of the Los Angeles Arts and Music scene, made the music for this part of my film. To me these short sequences represent the many ways smartphones are producing digital images from recordings of our personal life, to protests and police brutality, to social media influencers and celebrity sightings.
Nigrin: Are the locations you selected on Sunset Boulevard selected randomly? If not, why were they selected?
Wichmann: I chose the locations for a variety of reasons, I wanted the different parts of the street reflected in the film and it was also about certain themes the locations represented. My observations of everyday life in Los Angeles, as well as my interest in American culture and history, led to an increased focus on how racist structures and ideas manifest themselves in society and perpetuate themselves. I noticed that Sunset Boulevard passes through different poorer and richer parts of the city, but overall seems to reflect mainly white American culture and history. Other starting points of my film, like the work of Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore also arose from the life reality of white, male American artists so I tried to educate myself about the non-white part of (art) history of Los Angeles and generally about the impact of whiteness and white supremacy that europeans brought with them when they colonised North America. The work of Cassandra Press and artist Kandis Williams, as well as places like Art + Practice and the Underground Museum were immensely helpful for me to learn and I tried to apply the things I learned in the way I selected the locations and in making the film in general.
Some of the Locations in the film are in relatively poor neighbourhoods, others in very rich areas. I filmed both ends of Sunset Boulevard, which runs over a length of approximately 22 miles (35 km) from what is now Downtown LA all the way to the ocean in Pacific Palisades. Some of the locations I chose because I felt they represent aspects of white supremacy either visually or because of events that happened in these locations. Other locations I chose because they refer to the industry of image production or because I knew that it is an area where illegal immigrants try to find work. There are some parts of Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills where I would have liked to film but it was impossible because there is no sidewalk and it was too dangerous to walk or stand at the side of the street.
Nigrin: Did you encounter any interference from passersby while you were filming?
Wichmann: A few times someone stopped and asked me about what I’m filming, one of those persons I ended up interviewing, the others, it seemed, usually just wanted to talk with someone and that emphasised further to me how isolating living in Los Angeles can be. Most of the time people didn’t care at all about the fact that I was filming, I guess we are so used of being filmed all the time by surveillance cameras and smartphones, that it really wasn’t that much of a deal to anyone. Only one time it became difficult and that was in a very rich neighborhood. I was standing on the sidewalk with my camera and after maybe 10 minutes a private security guard showed up and told me I should leave. I asked him why, since I was on no one‘s private property and he said that he couldn’t legally force me to leave, but that he knew who had called and he would definitely recommend that I leave.
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?
Wichmann: I would like to let people know, that Albert Ramon Dorsey, whose murder is mentioned in my film, has still not received justice. He was shot to death at the age of 30 by two LAPD Officers in 2018, while being naked and unarmed in the locker room of a 24 Hour Fitness Center in Hollywood. Despite the ruling of the Los Angeles Police Commission in 2019 that the officers violated LAPD Policy, the L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey determined in June 2020 that the officers actions were lawful (she was voted out of office shortly after). As far as I know there is currently at least one lawsuit filed by his mother against Officer Agdeppa, who fired the shots, pending in the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals. The Company 24Hour Fitness who refused to issue a letter that they value Black Lives and to train their employees after the murders of Albert Ramon Dorsey and Dennis Todd Rogers (who was murdered by LAPD in a different 24 Hour Fitness location in L.A. in 2017) is still running a just newly remodelled location on Sunset Boulevard. I can only try to imagine how much grief and hurt this continued injustice has caused for the family and friends of Albert Ramon Dorsey and how much energy, money and time it still costs them to continue to fight.
I therefore want to call on every white person reading this to support Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other People of Color led organizations as well as to get involved in actively working against White Supremacy in local chapters of organizations like showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and White People for Black Lives. We need to end White Supremacy now.
The Afterthought of Life screens at the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival -- along with Paul Sestakov's experimental tale Composition -- online for 24 hours on Sunday, June 12.
Go here to get more info and tickets.
Composition – Paul Sestakov (Austin, Texas)
An experimental tale of a young grieving mother whose intense connection to her art has taken a dark turn. 2021; 13 min.
The Afterthought of Life – Svenja Wichmann (Cologne, Germany)
This experimental documentary shows calm and precisely framed shots of Sunset Boulevard, while various voices of people living in Los Angeles can be heard talking about aspects and experiences of their lives. Their narratives are interrupted now and then by poetic reflections on absence and presence, accompanied by linear slow-motion shots along Sunset Boulevard. Other times they are contrasted by music and subjective close-ups of the sidewalk. The Film addresses various social realities, experiences and power structures and uses the example of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to explore the contrast between glamorous expectation, everyday experience and the various conditions and images that shape our reality. 2022; 54 min.
The 27th annual Festival will be taking place on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 12. The Festival will be a hybrid one as we will be presenting it online as well as doing select in person screenings at Rutgers University. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. Each ticket or Festival Pass purchased is good for both the virtual and the in person screenings. The in person screenings will be held in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ beginning at either 5PM or 7PM on their show date. Tickets: $15.
For more info go here: https://2022newjerseyinternationalfilmfestival.eventive.org/