RE/CYCLE – AN INTERVIEW WITH RENE SMAAL

In the words of the filmmaker “In the film as well as in life in general, to me, it is not what you see and hear that matters, but how it is perceived. Sensory perception is essential to our existence and extension in space and time. Yet our perception is subjective and with this subjective consciousness, each individual creates his or her unique reality.”

RE/CYCLE is an experimental short film that peers deep into the concept of subjective idealism.

While much of the film pares Rene Smaal down to his three “found” elements — Forest. “A bicycle. A man. — Smaal expertly allows the viewer to connect the dots between his film and the subsequent body of work.

Rene Smaal is an independent Dutch film director, producer, editor and author of (abstract) minimalist, expressionist, absurdist, and surrealist films.

I was fascinated with your statement “each individual creates his or her unique reality”. In a conversation with Rene Smaal, about his 54 seconds film RE/CYCLE.

CULT CRITIC – Can you please explain subjective idealism for a better understanding?

RENE-  The 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley argued that things can only exist through our perception: esse est percipi(aut percipere) — to be is to be perceived (or to perceive). In other words: we all ‘construct’ our own individual realities, by using our senses. The way you ‘see’ the world, this so called ‘reality’, differs from the way I see it, as well as how everyone else sees it. Nothing ‘exists’ without it being ‘seen’ (perceived).

CULT CRITIC – How did you approach the idea of making the film RE/CYCLE?

RENE-  In the making of ‘Re/cycle’, only ‘found’ elements were used. It was totally improvised by the actor (Jan Hlobil) after being given only a basic set of instructions by me (as the director / cinematographer). By completely abandoning any preconceived notion or idea, absolute space was created for the viewer to interpret freely.

CULT CRITIC – What would be the interpretation of your movie from your perspective?

RENE-  I prefer not to analyze my own work. I see myself as no more than a humble intermediary between the work and the viewer — I am also just a simple observer like everybody else.

CULT CRITIC – Would you use subjective idealism again? Was that a positive experience?

RENE- I think subjective idealism will turn out to be a recurring element in my work, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the type of film.

CULT CRITIC – RE/CYCLE was screened almost 21 times and was the winner of Best Experimental Short. What was were reaction then and now?

RENE- Before the first screening, last June at the annual spring film festival in Vlaardingen Netherlands, we had no idea how the film would be received. We were quite overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiastic response we have had since, at numerous international festivals. We only feel sorry that we can’t physically attend all screenings, even though we would have loved to. Our packed schedule as well as the distance to the festivals, which are spread all over the world, make that impossible. It is a wonderful experience though, that our film is traveling the world on our behalf. Where it travels to, which audiences it finds there, and which ‘subjective realities’ it evokes in every viewer, is an adventure in itself.

CULT CRITIC – Our viewers would like to hear about your perspective on your film Re/cycle

RENE- For me, the essence of the movie is not primarily its content, but the way in which it came about. The film was shot in the afternoon of 15 September 2018 on the set of another film we were shooting at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven Netherlands. We shot it during 45 minutes of ‘idle time’ which often occurs on movie sets: cast and crew take a break, and are left to their devices. More than a year later, it turns out that this little film we shot as a side project in less than an hour, has gained greater significance and attention than the ‘main’ movie we were actually working on for almost a year. This experience has taught us, that the most important things in life can occur when you open yourself to ‘happy accidents’: always allow yourself to deviate from the normal path, and be open to the crazy, the unexpected, and the spontaneous.

CULT CRITIC -As an Independent filmmaker can you talk a little bit about some of the specific production and screening challenges

RENE- We used a 4K mirrorless camera with a 15mm f/4.5 aspherical prime lens (Voigtländer Super Wide-Heliar), mounted on a tripod. The film was shot in DCI4K at 24 frames per second, and a shutter angle of 360° for maximum motion blur at the selected framerate. Sound was recorded by a Zoom H4N Pro recorder which was positioned out of view and close to the action.

Ambient light was used as the only source of illumination. The film was edited using Blender’s Video Sequence Editor, version 2.79. The post processing workflow consisted of adding the video source file and the recorded audio track to the timeline, syncing the externally recorded audio track to that which was recorded in-camera, and muting the latter. In the film, a split-screen effect was used by cutting and re-using a short sequence, making it seamlessly blend in by applying some minute keyframed exposure corrections (up to 0.3 stop). The exposure corrections were needed because during the timespan between the two sequences, the light had changed subtly. Finally, in Blender the white balancing and color grading were done — only minor adjustments were needed. Closing credits were created using The Gimp, in the form of three high-res PNG stills which were then imported in the Blender timeline and animated using keyframes. In Blender, the following plugins were used: Kinoraw Tools, VSE Quick Functions, EasyFX, and Cycles Render Engine. The render time of the film was 25 minutes and 41 seconds on a Mac Pro 8-Core with 22GB RAM running Linux. The length of the film was 1,296 frames.

CULT CRITIC – Will it be right if a viewer co-relates RE/CYCLE with the cycle of birth and death?

RENE-  Any interpretation by any viewer is a valid one.

CULT CRITIC – Why did you plan to make the film in black and white?

RENE- This was a no-brainer. We followed a minimalist approach inspired by a less-is-more philosophy, and the use of black & white conveys this concept perfectly. In addition, the trees in the forest were birches (which have a black-and-white bark), the actor accidentally wore a black-and-white suit, and the bicycle we found, was also black. Colors would only have distracted from the core here.

CULT CRITIC – Are you looking forward to the next release? On what subjects are you working with?

RENE- Yes, we are looking forward very much to our next release. We are currently in the pre-production phase of a Swedish production, to be shot in the Swedish countryside in the spring of 2020.

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