Digital spaces are a vast and ever-growing landscape one seems to be simply flowing through. Daunting bulks of colliding information, rapid jumps from one place to the other, and the feel of inhabiting past, present, and future simultaneously create a very particular sensory experience that informs Argentine filmmaker Eduardo Williams’ latest Locarno main competition title “The Human Surge 3.”
Ever since he broke into the festival scene with 2011’s “I Could See a Puma,” and later solidified his festival standing with Golden Leopard – Filmmakers of the Present winner “The Human Surge” (2016), Eduardo Williams’ oeuvre has stood out by embracing the formal possibilities of new media, and rethinking our relationship with images through its insightful inquiries on human connectivity and digital textures.
These thematic concerns are also integral to “The Human Surge 3,” in which he continues his ever-present forage for novel cinematic avenues.
“I tend to try not to stick to typical ways of thinking about the future or present. I might be more or less original in different ways, of course, but more than the future, my artistic desire has much more to do with addressing our current times. So many moments in my life, I’ve experienced relating to people through the computer. This has become physical life, and I like to try to do films that embrace this idea,” Williams puts it.
Just by virtue of its title, subverting linearity by skipping the still unknown “second” Human Surge, the film is an expansion of William’s image-making. In it, three friend groups from Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Peru leisurely aim through their environments until the spiralling structure makes them intersect sonically, physically, and even psychologically. When in conjunction with William’s eclectic audiovisual grammar, constructed via Virtual Reality frames, glitch aesthetics, and the spatial logic of video games, his characters’ contemporary musings on the global state of affairs become a tangible search for new perceptions.
One of “The Human Surge 3’s” most notable aesthetic gambles comes by its use of a 360º camera, which is then carried through different settings and landscapes by the actors. Characters journey through dense jungles, grassy mountains, and tropical cities while taking the camera to intimate and public places. The resulting material was then edited by Williams as an immersive experience that allowed him to see in every direction using a VR headset. The final images presented in the film are then a recording of Eduardo’s gaze roaming through the original 360º video.
With a normal camera, there are physical constraints that limit its movements. For this film that is not the case, as the images originate directly from Eduardo’s organic body movements. The result of this is an intertwining of technology and humans. “In the film, we feel that the camera is a machine, but we also feel the steps of the person holding it —I tried to create something in the middle,” Williams told Variety at Locarno.
As we discover each new scenery, the sound coalesces around a particular atmosphere. The unity of place is reaffirmed by a substantial aural layer that adds up to a definite and particular impression. While the dream-like quality of the images produces a relaxing sensation, the sound design, which according to Williams is naturally captured but artificially manipulated, provides an eerie counterpoint to the images.
The spectator is then carried into a desultory collection of places whose unity is not natural. The film does not try to hide the digital stitches that bind together discontinuous elements. Glitches, pixelated cracks, and visual streaks that show the artificial nature of images are consciously brought into the fore, so instead of concentrating our attention on individual elements inside the frame, the whole texture of the image stands out as the main protagonist of the film.
At some point, one of the film’s characters tells another “You appear to be in your own world, floating.” “Floating” is also an accurate description of an oneiric viewing experience, guided by erratic motions that feel simultaneously organic and robotic. The camera is always at a slightly but noticeably higher than the actors sometimes following them, sometimes leading them further into the unknown. At other moments, it seems to move independently of them, before coming back to circle around the figures as we pick up a conversation about anything from a crow vomiting on the beach to a computer that was supposed to be put in the fridge.
If “The Human Surge 3” is a dream, it’s one dreamt by a machine. If it’s a film made by a machine, it’s one haunted by a human ghost. As Williams mentioned, his process involved a back-and-forth, a conversation between what he intended to create and what the technological apparatus ended up offering him. Amid heated discussions about the possible effects of AI on creative practices, “The Human Surge 3” offers timely and perceptive insights into the reciprocal relationship between humans and the technologies we’ve created.