EMPIRE & MÜÜRILEHT
This article by the independent Estonian culture publication MÜÜRILEHT starts with a review of IDFA and is then followed by an interview with the EMPIRE team. The translation goes something like this:
Q: How this kind of experimental multi-screen work has been received so far?
A: We started producing and exhibiting EMPIRE in 2010 and we’re now almost 3 years later, so the project has been very successful so far. Young people across the world are extremely receptive. They have grown up in globalized world, so they understand the subject matter intuitively. They also accept the multi-screen format easily. Older generations seem to gravitate mostly to the historical element of EMPIRE, which is great as well because EMPIRE uncovers ‘hidden’ histories and unknown subcultures.
Q: Why did you choose your way of storytelling and what has been your experience with the outcome?
A: We chose to structure EMPIRE as a series of video installations that are exhibited simultaneously in one room. We refer to it as an ‘exploded’ feature film: viewers wander from installation to installation, from story to story. As a viewer, you create your own narrative and come to your own conclusions about what it all means. We want viewers to pick up on the thematic threads that exist in several installations. Themes like the sense of dislocation that comes from having a mixed Asian/European or African/European background run through many of the pieces, and there are also strong threads about labor, power and the exploitation of natural resources—it’s not a coincidence that we have one story about gold mining in Suriname and another about granite quarrying in India. So there are a lot of recurring elements, but there are also situations that are unique to one country/piece, which contributes to this feeling that EMPIRE is more than the sum of its parts. A frayed history asks for a frayed way of telling the story.
Q: And more general to inspire and encourage (or the opposite) Estonian young people interested in film -what are the possible channels to market this kind of documentary?
A: The EMPIRE video installations themselves can travel physically via the regular channels. However, in order to show the full scope of the project: platforms for this kind of work are currently being invented. EMPIRE cross-references several disciplines: documentary film, video art, journalism, transmedia. There is no fixed model out there, so it’s really going to depend on technological inventions to get the work out there in its intended form. We’ve just been invited to participate in the POV Hackathon, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of that.
Q: Does the experimenting with the form so much actually makes sense?
A: Ha ha ha! What DOES make sense? We believe that this way of working and combining media is still in its infancy. People are trying to figure out how to communicate information, stories, visuals, data, etc, while using new technologies wisely. It’s exciting. We’re in a Wild West period, which is good, because our heroes have always been cowboys. And Indians.
Q: You worked in so many different cultural contexts, which all had something that connected them, but still totally different cultures. What was the most enlightening and most devastating experience of all these travels and series of mini-projects in each country?
A: Well, we worked in every country in the context of EMPIRE, so that already limits your scope. For the first four installations, we collaborated with local arts organizations in the countries that we visited. That way we could have a small safety net and meet incredible people. That was definitely one of the highlights. You can file witnessing the environmental destruction in the gold camps of Suriname under devastating.
Q: How did you cope with adjusting with so many totally different cultures within relatively short period of time?
A: We didn’t. You can’t. You just try to roll with it and focus on the work that you’re doing.
Q: What did you learn?
A: That the world is so incredibly small and the people in it are connected in more ways than they know. But you can find that out on Facebook as well.
(by Terje Toomistu, published in February 2013)