When we are faced with our dreams, not the ones we toil for in life, career, or romance, but the ones we are bathed in during sleep (and they very well may be the same ones as in waking), a fear arises in us, just as the joy swells uncontrollably, too. Knowing that uncanny self is quite the everyday feat. Being given someone else's dream to consider, another self to align and realign with, may feel like a Herculean task, merely because such an offering taps into both sides of the same coin, my side and your side, our sides... everyone's sides.
collective:unconscious takes these notions as impetus for what becomes a rather rousing and insightful omnibus film. Producer Dan Schoenbrun brings together five filmmakers from varying parts of the indie world: Daniel Patrick Carbone (Hide Your Smiling Faces), Josephine Decker (Butter on the Latch), Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly), Frances Bodomo (Afronauts), and Lilly Baldwin (Sleepover LA). Each then share a dream of theirs for another to interpret within the cinematic language. Each dream works with its own distinct world logic. Some are loose and hysterical, flavored with interpretive dance, others are more controlled and nuanced. Each one is strong in their aesthetic choices, and while interpretations can run the gauntlet, each has pretty clear political and social commentaries to derive. Not all of the dreams may come from the person you'd first think of either. For instance the dream that deals with post-partum depression and the paranoia of motherhood was inspired by Carbone, the only male filmmaker in the group.
The tone of each work is set up within the framework of hypnosis sessions where each filmmaker prepares to share their vision with the audience by "accepting that all hypnosis is a form of self-hypnosis". We come to be lulled by the screen, by the idea and then the feeling that cinema itself is hypnosis.
The first dream is directed by Carbone in striking black and white. It takes place in an oppressed world where a nullifying voice speaks over tower-mounted loudspeakers: 'One Sheep, Two Sheep..." and so on, forever. Taking off your sound proof headphones means certain death. A young man shelters an old woman, offering her respite by recording her singing an old folk song. The film is filled with brilliantly grim pastoral imagrey, brimming with ideas around cultural preservation in a day and age of mass-media dominance.
The second dream is directed by Decker. Black men speak of their first free days after incarceration as dancers move through rural and urban environments, offering a visual whimsy that allows us to cut straight to not only America's major prision-industrial complex but the stigma and stereotypes that the earnest reformed citizens are burdened with from a society that is all to quick to dismiss them.
While most of the dreams' settings, ideas and tone are the real stars of the show, the third dream, directed by Wolkstein, features an outrageously on-point performance by Will Blomker as Beemus, a walrus-mustachioed gym teacher who faces off with a young student. Taking place at the base of Mount St. Helens, it's a spectacular work that looks at the nature of authority, self-identity and agency with measured aplomb. It also features a volcanic eruption.
Bodomo directs the fourth dream, presented as a chintzy public access show starring Ripa the Reaper as she ushers in the newly deceased to the afterlife. The most overly political work in the bunch because there's just no way around it, Bodomo focuses in on the rampant violence towards black people in America, namely the murders of children. The work's lo-fi analog aesthetic only helps to send home the harrowing message at its core.
Baldwin directs the final dream, the aforementioned look at post-partum depression. The most nonsensical and 'dream-like' of perhaps all five visions, Baldwin gets wildly expressionistic with the breakdown of her young mother. While offering some striking imagry it is also the most long-winded piece among the bunch, an odd note to wrap things up on.
Of course, this being an omnibus, mileage on each short will vary from viewer to viewer. While my personal favorites are Carbone and Wolkstein's shorts, it is hard to deny the wealth of imagination and craft in each piece. Indeed, the over-arching idea of the project is fire enough to get me enthused, because it is this kind of ambiiton and willingness to play and experiment that gives me hope for the future of indie film in America. So with that I say to Schoenbrun and his producing partner Vanessa McDonnel: "how 'bout another round?"
collective:unconscious opens theatrically in NYC on Friday, August 5th. Click here for more info and tickets. In a very cool move the film will also be released online and absolutely for free on August 9th. Keep an eye on the film's Facebook on how you can catch it from anywhere in the world!