Sighted at 25 FPS Zagreb: Hrvoslava Brkusic’s MOUNTAINS.

From the Sherpas of Annapurna to the Rinpoche of Qinghai.
Shepherds from Mount Kailash to Himachal Pradesh found footprints in the snow.
—Kate Bush, ‘Wild Man’

Deye mon, gen mon.
—Haitian proverb (“Beyond the mountains, more mountains.”)

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The highest point in Croatia is Mount Dinara, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The rocky limestone peak from which the whole Dinaric Alps range takes its name, Dinara’s summit summit stands some 1,831 m (6,007 ft) above sea-level. It may or may not be glimpsed among the blizzard of images which constitutes Mountains (Planine), a 12-minute experimental landscape film by Hrvoslava Brkušić which world-premiered at—and proved one of the highlights of–the 14th renewal of 25 FPS, an adventurous film-festival which takes place in the Croatian capital Zagreb—itself reared over by hills—at the end of each September. Brkušić rapidly scrutinises hundreds of images of mountains in this digital film based on analogue elements, wordlessly constructing an ethereal sensory blitz that stimulatingly evokes such related artistic predecessors as the “Bergfilm” subgenre of cinema and, reaching further back, the sublime romantic vistas of painters such as German master Caspar David Friedrich—whose 1818 Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog arguably represents the pinnacle of his engagement with such extreme manifestations of geological form.)
But whereas painting allows a leisurely, protracted engagement with a single image, films such as Mountains rely for their impact upon quickfire editing and a feeling of staccato bombardment. We intensely glimpse small areas of the monochrome originals as if through a photographer’s loupe, but never for more than a few seconds at a time. We witness a compendium of majestic vistas, illuminated as if lightning after dark. Brkušić’s editing is quicksilver and instinctive, the cumulative force of the visual onslaught offset by the changing moods of Hrvoje Nikšić’s score, which combines woodwinds and electronica to sometimes soothing, sometimes rousing effect.
As the juxtapositions increase in tempo, the film veers towards abstraction: the eye cannot keep up, persistence of vision creates weird overlays, the image switches from positive to negative and solarisation effects are deployed. The tectonic fixity of mountains is contrasted with the transience of the fleeting pictures, the decay of celluloid and even the delicate fluidity of creative achievement. Montibus longa, ars brevis.

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Neil Young: The images we see, they seem to be taken from old photographs and prints. How did you make the selection? There are of course thousands and thousands of photographs and prints of mountains out there. And were all of the originals black-and-white?

Hrvoslava Brkušić: The images we see are found-footage made up of 35mm slides (“diapositives) from Zora Film, a company that produced educational films in the ’50s and ’60s in Yugoslavia. The films were intended to be used as a visual tool during geography classes. Each film has a little book with explanation for every photo, and the images were taken in different parts of the world. I was looking for (non-)places which are familiar to everybody, also for places which could be anywhere, places which are precisely geographically determined but we don’t know exactly where they are (for example I removed Mount Fuji because it’s very well known). This geographical diversity was interesting to me, united by the common motif of mountains. All of the original images are are black-and-white.

NY: I thought I did glimpse Fuji very very briefly at one point, though… Or were my eyes deceiving me?

HB: No it’s not Fuji, but this mountain is very similar-looking.

NY: OK, my mistake. As I said, it was only a fleeting glimpse. Were you inspired to make the film by the Bergfilm tradition and/or the Romantic-sublime paintings such as the famous masterpieces by Caspar David Friedrich? Also, how did you strike the balance between “natural” images of the wilderness and those featuring humans and animals and human encroachment/buildings etc.

HB: This is a beautiful  association, but wasn’t inspired by Bergfilm or Friedrich paintings.  I was inspired by Henry David Thoreau and his famous book Walden. I had read Walden around the time when I found the Zora sides, and this book made a strong impression on me. It somehow influenced me to make this film. He writes:
“The world is but canvas to our imagination.
Our life is fritted away by details…
Simplify, simplify.
The price of anything is amount of life you exchange for it. “

And many other quotes were on my mind while I was working on these materials. When I saw the slides I realised what beautiful and important footage I had found. I didn’t want to ruin them; I started to think about different methods by which to make them alive and vivid. I started to experiment with different technologies, from digital to analogue. After six weeks in a film lab, I went to the editing room. All the magic of filmmaking for me starts in the editing room. I worked with pictures, more like a painter than as a filmmaker. I tried to feel every detail of the material that was in front of me. I realised that I need human beings in the image from time to time just to put people (the audience, myself) in context, so that they and I can remember our own experiences of being alone in mountainous places.

NY: What was your inspiration behind the music, which is ethereal and evocative, blending (if my ears are accurate) woodwinds with electronic sounds?

HB: For the soundtrack I worked with composer Hrvoje Nikšić and we wanted to underline the impression of journey, voyage … metaphorically and geographically. We wanted to connect all those different parts of the world, but also to make a space for the private journey of each spectator. Different approaches were used for producing the sounds, just like we also did for the images, so you can hear something like a romantic melody to texperimental drone music. Hrvoje has a studio with analogue equipment, and everything was played “by hand” in a real time while watching the movie. We thought this approach would give us more of an organic feel to accompany the picture. What you hear is made on Arp 2600 and Minimoog synthesisers through MXR delay. The woodwinds are flute samples, recorded on the tapes of an old Mellotron M400.

NY: Was there an editing structure in terms of the film having different sections, or did you treat the whole thing as one section, relying on instinct rather than specific structuring?

HB: Yes the editing structure divides the film into different sections, I wanted to make this kind of flow where from beginning to the end I pass through different states of mind. I thought that each medium should have a different vibe and atmosphere.  Before I went to the editing room I knew what what the ending would be. When I started to edit I divided each part of the film and worked on them separately. First I edited digital footage, than DV footage. They had a different rhythm, and I tried to respect that, to follow that and to respond to that. When I finished editing separate parts I started to connect them. I had different versions of the film, and in the end I decided for this structure, which seemed to me somehow very clear and precise

NY: Zagreb was the world premiere, yes? How did it feel to see the film on such a big screen in such a special venue?

HB: Yes Zagreb was the world premiere. I’m a great fan of 25 FPS festival and to be a part of this festival for me was a huge privilege.

NY: …and specifically to see the film on such a screen? Were there details visible you had never previously seen before?

HB: That’s right, to see the film on such a screen is a unique experience and also to hear a sound in a big cinema. I have to admit that I was quite insecure before the projection, but when everything started I found myself very calm and satisfied.

NY: And where will the film play next? Do you have international screenings lined up?

HB: Not yet. I sent the film to several festivals and now I’m waiting to hear back from them. Actually I do the applications and everything by myself, and I’m not very prompt about that. But I hope that somewhere it will be shown soon.

31st October, 2018

“Born in 1982, Hrvoslava Brkušić graduated film editing at the Academy of Dramatic arts in Zagreb and holds a MA at the Department for animation and new media at the Academy of fine arts, Zagreb. As a film editor, she contributed to the series of documentary, feature and experimental films such as documentary film The Blockade directed by Igor Bezinović about students’ protests and a struggle for free education, and video-work by same director entitled “Unmediated democracy demands unmediated Space” in collaboration with Pula group in the framework of Architecture Biennale in Venice.”

Hrvoslava Brkušić