FREM

Viera Čákanyová
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic 2019

21.02.2020 19:30 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1
22.02.2020 11:30 Eng. subtitles Delphi Filmpalast
25.02.2020 22:00 Eng. subtitles Zoo Palast 2
29.02.2020 11:00 Eng. subtitles Zoo Palast 2

73 min. English.

At the start: a few analogue pictures, as a sentimental reminder of us, of biological material, of things that once were and the ways we filmed them, before everything disappears. They are followed by a composition of crystal-clear digital images – overhead shots of the endless white expanse of the Antarctic, choreographed tracking shots, flights – revealing interference and digital effects here and there and accompanied by breathing, distorted sound and white noise. Maximum visibility: an eye that nothing escapes because of its potentially limitless focusing power and its ability to look in all directions, meets a landscape in the process of disappearing that is just as razor-sharp and simultaneously precarious as the overpowering, unstable images via which we survey it. Miniature people occasionally appear in the frame, survivors of a catastrophe that took hold of us at some point between the retreat of the dinosaurs and a possible future. FREM is a document, a poetic examination of imaging processes, and a science fiction film in one; with insistent radicality, it weaves together the imaginative realms of art and research, reality and fiction, depiction and the depicted. (ab)

Viera Čákanyová was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (current Slovakia) in 1980. She studied screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava (VŠMU) and received a bachelor’s degree in Documentary Film from the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Besides making her own films, she also works as script editor and editor for independent film productions. Čákanyová also makes documentary films for non-profit organisations and television. FREM is her first fiction film.

Through the eyes and ears of an artificial intelligence

Humans, as a biological species, are reaching the outermost boundaries of their “natural options”, and are forced to confront their own biophysical limitations. We are in a situation where we can no longer keep up with absorbing our own outputs, fully comprehend the relationships between various types of data, or navigate the increasingly complex world that we are creating for ourselves. As a result, we are placing more and more confidence in machines, and developing increasingly sophisticated artificial neuron networks that are able to systemise and analyse data for us. These “artificial brains” have a certain autonomy, using their own thought patterns and their own heuristics, and are capable of improving themselves with the help of specific evolutionary paths that we are ceasing to understand.
The terminology of cybernetics uses the expression “technological singularity”, which identifies the hypothetical moment when artificial intelligence is able to improve itself at a tempo that is so fast that we will no longer be able to understand it. This is the moment in which human intelligence will cease to dominate the world, the moment in which the thought processes imprisoned in the machinery we have created will become unpredictable for us.
The impetus for shooting the film FREM was the idea of this particular state – this hypothetical moment. I wanted to make a film in which the main character is not human – a non-anthropocentric film. I wanted to “visualise” the mental processes of an artificial brain using the limited resources that the film medium offers: image and sound. The way in which artificial intelligence thinks is something foreign to us. The greatest challenge of this film was to communicate this special, in a certain way disquieting experience, and to create a non-human character or entity in such a way that viewers could identify with it, to establish a link with its perspective.
Artificial intelligence is becoming the observer of and eyewitness to Antarctica’s disappearing natural ecosystem, a fragile region where very soon changes of the most extreme form will occur. At the same time, Antarctica is a reminder of the world the way it was millions of years ago when Homo sapiens did not yet exist. The choice of this film location simulates the conditions of something of a dystopian post-human world, where humankind is not the dominant player in nature. From the perspective of a different, unbiased observer, humans are at the same level as any other kind of physical matter, whether organic or inorganic – an equal part of the ecosystem.
Personally, I think this change in perspective is of key importance, particularly in relation to the subject of climate change.

In the middle of the Antarctic landscape
Shooting took place over a period of six weeks on King George Island off the coast of Antarctica. The film team comprised the director and two crew members who, during the project, lived in the Ecuadorian shelter for field workers, which was basically a shipping container set in the middle of the Antarctician landscape and intended to serve for emergency overnight stays. The only furnishings consisted of two bunk beds, and the walls were damp and mouldy. The petrol generator the film crew brought with them was sufficient for charging the batteries for the film equipment, running a small electric heater for two hours, and cooking one hot meal a day.
All food supplies and water were obtained through the Polish base station, but many times deliveries were delayed due to the impassable sea being covered with ice floes or because of strong winds. The only communication with the outside world – and also the only opportunity to hear a human voice other than one’s own or those of the other three people sharing the container – was by means of a transmitter, through which regular weather reports were received from the Polish base station on the other side of the bay.
Because as viewers we have a natural need to identify with something, we also made a narrative track during the shooting of the film in Antarctica in which the main character was a human. We shot the individual scenes according to a script, but we always also recorded several accompanying shots using a drone, which were not altogether related to the story. It was only later, when we knew that we would be able to use music and sound to create an artificial entity with whom the viewer could associate, that we dropped the storyline entirely. This way we created a space in which the drone’s subjective view of the world was dominant, and the viewer could establish a link with how artificial intelligence sees things. (Viera Čákanyová)

The entity’s way of processing internal and external sounds

When we were creating the music and working with sound, we were faced with the task of bringing to life how an entity – specifically, artificial intelligence – perceives things. First, we defined something of an inner ‘bios’ (situations of noise/silence) for the entity, then we established interactions in relation to changes in movement, and then we created various narrative sound situations. Finally, we created the entity’s unique way of processing internal and external sounds. The entity perceives acoustic space in a way that is very different from the way humans do, and therefore the Foley effects and other sounds that Viera provided (the sound of ice floes, dripping water, birds, whales, and the ocean, or even recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, and various other things) underwent a granular or other algorithmic synthesis with the help of Standa Abrahám. As a result, what we hear in the film is the specific way in which the world is perceived by artificial intelligence. (Miro Tóth, sound design)

Antarctica itself helped

Trying to envision how artificial intelligence perceives things was an extremely difficult if not impossible task. The more we tried to involve our own minds, the further the solution seemed. However, in many ways, it was Antarctica itself that helped, as it transformed all of our concepts from minute to minute. It was normal that sometimes we had to wait several days before we could even venture outside; there were even more days where we had to wait for the wind to scatter the ice floes so that we could get into our boat. After ten days in a damp container, an entire day of sliding or swimming in the ocean actually seemed like a good idea. Because of the subsequent chills, and by winning the victorious battle for our life in a sleeping bag, our creative egos were partially dissolved by all of our experiences and the surrounding beauty. Maybe this is why we were even able to successfully identify how a different entity perceives things. (Tomáš Klein, DoP)

Production Nina Numankadić. Production company Hypermarket Film (Prag, Czech Republic). Written and directed by Viera Čákanyová. Cinematography Tomáš Klein, Viera Čákanyová. Editing Marek Šulík, Viera Čákanyová. Sound design Miroslav Tóth, Dominik Dolejší, Stanislav Abrahám. Sound Dominik Dolejší. Co-producer Ivan Ostrochovský. Co-production Punkchart films, Česká televize. With Martin Kovačík.

Films

2006: Under Underground (18 min.). 2007: Piraňa / Piranha (26 min.), Červi / Worms (13 min.). 2009: 100 dní / 100 Days (22 min.), Alda (52 min.). 2011: Olda (80 min.), Update (45 min.). 2014: Letiací kôň / Flying Horse (part of the film project Gottland, 30 min.), Rupicapra (part of the film project Slovakia 2.0, 10 min.).

Photo: © Hypermarket Film