Friday 6 December 2013

Into the Black (2012)

Director: Dae Hyun Song
Stars: Keith Wagner, Jack Suman and Donald 'Don' Pettit
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
One of the toughest film formats to do right is the documentary short film, because documentaries need time to build and that's just not viable with short films. The worst of them are mere snippets, while the best still only hint at subjects that deserve more depth. If you can keep me interested throughout a full ninety minute feature, I'm going to be more than happy to follow up and explore on my own, especially if you've taught me something I don't already know. However, even if you hook me in the ten minutes of a short film, I'll likely be pissed that you don't have another eighty minutes ready to go. Dae Hyun Song does well with a subject so vast that no length of time could do it justice and grabs our attention with a gorgeous array of visual eye candy, but at a mere eight minutes, it's only the briefest of glimpses and so ends up feeling like a good YouTube video to watch, marvel and move on from. Given what he shows in this brief time, I hope he can expand it into something much more substantial.

What he provides here is a short visual poem to the worlds beyond. He succeeds in setting up a subject, the fascination that some amateur photographers have with the vastness of space, and he casts his net wide enough to trawl in a trio of very different people who fit that bill. Song is currently a student of film at the University of Arizona and all three of the people he interviews have Arizona connections too. The youngster with an infectious enthusiasm who heads out beyond the city lights to snap digital pictures of the stars is Keith Wagner; he's another University of Arizona film student. Jack Suman is the gentleman who takes photos on film for the sheer joy of it, but some of them have seen publication in magazines like Arizona Highways. The third is Don Pettit, a chemical engineer who earned his doctorate at the U of A. More importantly, he's also a NASA astronaut who spent two long missions on the International Space Station, so was able to take pictures of Earth from space rather than the other way around.

Song manages to capture some of their enthusiasm, whether that's through Wagner's mouth struggling to get out everything he wants to say before he thinks of something new and awesome or whether it's through a silent Pettit looking at some of his images during a presentation with an air of peace to him. I liked the glimpse, but I wanted a lot more than eight minutes would allow. What will stay with me isn't the interview footage but the visuals, especially the time lapse photography. Some of this was shot by Pettit from space but most was Song's own footage, taken from ground level in Arizona. I've seen similar shots to many of these, where the starry sky revolves above the static mountains. New to me were the amazing shots of trees, moving slowly through time lapse from regular daytime snapshots to what look like infrared shots at night. The colour play is fascinating and somehow otherworldly. Maybe it's just the context. Here's hoping to see a lot more of that in a much longer version of this.

No comments: