Review: INSTANT DREAMS, Chemicals As a Starting Point

Willem Baptist's film explores the magic, science and wonder of Polaroid photos and an array of devoted followers.

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Review: INSTANT DREAMS, Chemicals As a Starting Point

It's all about the chemicals.

Willem Baptist's film Instant Dreams begins on a disorienting note, as chemicals swirl and coalesce into something that we can't quite see, which proves to be the signature of the film itself: seeing without quite believing.

Beforehand, I made the mistake of assuming that Instant Dreams would primarily be concerned about Polaroid, an American company that is best known for its instant film and cameras, allowing consumers to take photographs that developed before their very eyes. It was magical and it was profound and it was incredibly cool, as I can testify from personal experience, but it was overtaken by newer technology in the 1990s; the company declared bankruptcy in 2001. The company is now back in business under new management.

Yet the experimental, very personal Instant Dreams is far more interested in the people who have been drawn to Polaroid and its possibilities. In particular, it follows several individuals who represent just a few of the reasons why the idea of instant photography remains so alluring in the digital age.

Stephen Herchen, for example, is a scientist who is seen experimenting with chemicals as he endeavors to recreate the secret formula for instant film that was created by Edwin H. Land. Herchen began working at Polaroid in the late 1970s, as Land's legendary career was in its twilight. Herchen established a personal connection with the lauded inventor, investing in his visions. We see archival footage of Land; some of his predictions for the future of personal photography are right on the money.

On the creative side, artist Stefanie Schneider uses Polaroid stock as her medium of choice, with the Southern California desert as her background. She is devoted to her medium and has stockpiled original Polaroid stock in her refrigerator. Her young models are fascinated by her work.

Likewise fascinated is Christopher Bonanos, an editor for New York Magazine who literally wrote a book on the subject and now endeavors to pass on the legacy to his young son. He loves to photograph people at parties and then gift them with the photo; he identifies this as the most unique relationship between artist and model in the world.

We also see a young Japanese woman who is utterly fascinated by the technology in its most modern way possible: she likes to share her Polaroids with people through social media.

Really more of a distinct, impressionist work of art than a documentary, Instant Dreams leaves a strong, positive impression that is very pleasant to contemplate. In the digital age, analog technology holds a fascination that is more than mechanical; it's somewhat akin to dreams that make no sense and then are forgotten in the moment after waking, yet somehow remain memorable.

The film will open on Friday, April 19, 2019 at New York's Village East Cinema and on April 26 at the Laemmle Glendale in Los Angeles, with additional cities to follow, via Synergetic Distribution.

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documentaryInstant DreamsPolaroidWillem Baptist