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Messages

Guy Sherwin
1981-3
35mins black & white silent 16mm

Messages

A response to my young daughter's discovery of language and to her questions about the world.

Messages was made over a 3 year period, when my daughter Maya was first learning to talk and write.

It was my first film that involved gathering material around a central theme. That theme was not constant, but shifted its ground between ideas to do with childhood, with language, or with visual perception.

A major source of inspiration for the film was Maya's questions about the world, starting with questions to do with her perceptions of the physical world, and as she got older, questions more to do with social behaviour. These 'innocent' questions (apart from being almost impossible to answer) seemed to me to be of a philosophical order that challenged long-established 'truths' about the world. They made it clear to me that 'knowledge' which is hidden and acquired, supplants raw perception in many areas of our understanding (we learn to 'see' the table as square, not trapezoid).

I also included material from Jean Piaget's book of 1929 'The Child's Conception of the World', in which he asks a number of children questions about the origin of the stars, sun, moon. I wanted to include an external source of ideas to give myself a measure of distance from the project, and to place the emphasis on childhood in general rather than my daughter's childhood in particular.

The pace of the film is slow, and the structure of the film is open-ended. The images progress through oblique association rather than linear sequence, allowing the viewer to make his or her own connections with different points in the film, as well as drawing on personal childhood associations (two aspects of memory are involved here). The implication is that each person will 'see' the film differently and uniquely. I first used an open structure like this in 'Short Film Series', a group of 30 3-minute films which can be programmed in any number and permutation. The idea of the viewer 'doing work' (not necessarily unpleasant work) on the film is an important tenet of a progressive film practice.
G.S.

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