Mobilarte

Sightlines Journal, issue 2, 2017

Name: Gerda Cammaer
Film: Mobilarte
Length: 12 minutes

Introduction: The streets of Maputo

Maputo, formerly known as Lourenço Marques, is the capital and largest city of Mozambique. Named after the river Maputo, the city is a large port on the Indian Ocean, also known as the City of Acacias, because most of its large avenues and streets are lined with acacia trees. Driving or walking through the city, its rich and mixed history is immediately revealed by some prominent street names: Avenida Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenine, Friedrich Engels, Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung remind us of Mozambique’s socialist past and the one-party state based on Marxist principles it became after independence in 1975. An important street in Maputo is Avenida 24 de Julio referring to Mozambique’s independence day and the beginning of Samora Machel’s reign as the country’s first president. Machel’s time in power (1977 until his assassination in 1986) marks the socialist period of Mozambique and the beginning of a long and violent civil war between the opposition forces of the anti-Communist RENAMO rebel militias and the Marxist FRELIMO regime of Samora Machel that lasted until 1992. Hence the city also has numerous street-names referring to the war, it’s heroes and victims. Many of these streets line the route I took through the city in a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi), freely zigzagging through central and south Maputo ending with a long drive along the Avenida da Marginal, a boulevard on the verge of the Indian Ocean. I filmed the ride on an iPad and made the video Mobilarte (12 minutes, 2014), a short travelogue that has the characteristics of both a mobilementary and a video poem.

Figure 1: Statue of Samora Machel in the centre of town

Figure_01: Statue of Samora Machel in the centre of town, at the end of Avenida Samora Machel (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture)

Tuk-tuking the city

The main idea behind Mobilarte was to translate the experience of riding a tuk-tuk in Maputo into an experiential video. As an avid traveller I have lots of experience exploring foreign cities by foot, as I did when I was visiting Maputo the first time in 1999. Returning to Maputo in 2012, I found the city completely changed. It had made a big leap forward straight into the 21st century looking much more like any big city in the western world. Among other changes, thanks to a huge influx of formerly leased cars from Europe, Maputo had turned into an expansive (and expensive) shiny car park.1 Another new feature was the presence of tuk-tuks or auto-rickshaws2: these three-wheeled cabin vehicles had become the most popular taxis in Maputo, most of them are coloured yellow or green or plain yellow (Figure_03).

Figure_02: Yellow tuk-tuk on Avenida 10 de Novembro

Figure_02: Yellow tuk-tuk on Avenida 10 de Novembro, with view on Catembe in the distance (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

The advantage of travelling by tuk-tuk, over traveling by foot, is that you can cover a much larger area in a shorter amount of time (they are fast and travel easy through traffic jams). Compared to traveling by car, you are actually much closer to pedestrians as the tuk-tuk is completely open (if you don’t pull its curtains closed) and you will experience all the sounds and smells of the city (be it mostly car fumes), including feeling every single pothole of Maputo (tuk-tuks are not known for having a superior suspension system). This all became part of the rather shaky hand-held aesthetic of Mobilarte, as the entire ride was filmed with an iPad. The trajectory taken by my tuk-tuk driver Chris resulted in a piece that has three parts, each dedicated to a different part of town: uptown or Maputo Alto, downtown or Maputo Baixa and a third part titled Maputo Praia that follows the Avenida da Marginal parallel to the bay of Maputo, with its beautiful north-east beach3.

iPadding or “eye-padding” the city

One of the most appealing features of shooting on iPad is the fact that it functions as extra large viewfinder. Contrary to other video cameras, DSLR cameras or cellphones, the iPad offers an instant preview of what you are filming as big as its entire screen (approximately 8×6 inches). Seeing the filmed image this big while filming, is mesmerizing, and I always find myself looking more at the iPad screen then at what I am filming. In fact, the iPad gives you an instant mediated experience of reality, an extended version of reality that sits as a layer on top, as a future image in the making – hence my alternative use for “padding” in the term “eye-padding”. The iPad offers a double window on the world, both as a camera and a screen, what makes the actual filming experience all the more captivating and inspiring.

Besides the pleasure of shooting with the iPad as a large size viewfinder, from my very first experiences with the tablet I fell in love with its particular aesthetic qualities that are created by its technical limitations: a slow shutter speed that cannot keep up with fast motion, automatic exposure that is slow reacting to sudden changes in light conditions (e.g. from shadow to light), a fixed wide angle lens and a wide frame (16:9 aspect ratio) and a low resolution image that easily pixelates when there is movement in the image. Although some of these technical characteristics of iPad video can be seen as “unprofessional” or “sub-standard”, for me they offer possibilities to create effects that would not be possible with “better” cameras, and these effects are particularly suited to translate the transient experience of traveling in a foreign city as is the case in Mobilarte. For instance, iPad images have interesting “motion blurs” when driving fast: its camera cannot capture the motion at the speed that the vehicle is going, especially not when filming lateral travelling shots of objects in close range. A good example is the rather messy look of the vegetation along the road in the third part of Mobilarte (Maputo Praia), that makes for rather impressionistic painterly images contrary to a more vérité shooting style. Another aspect of iPad video is that changing the frame rate in post-production from 30fps to 24fps (film speed) creates ghost frames that give the overall piece a bit of a haunted feel. This feature is an important aesthetic device in the second part of Mobilarte, Maputo Baixa, in which I tried to re-create my experience feeling ill at ease in this more crowded and older part of the city, visualizing a lingering sense of danger.

Lastly, the fact that the eye of the iPad camera reacts slowly to changes in light-conditions became an important tool to visualize the African winter-light in Maputo. Contrary to the well-known images of Africa in a blazing sun, the light in the southern hemisphere in winter is a gentle soft light (the days are short, the sun is low). In Maputo this light was even softer as it is filtered in two different ways. Because winter is the dry season, there is a lot of dust in the air that softens the light. A second filter were the screens provided by the city’s many acacia trees that line the streets of Maputo: their feathered foliage creates beautiful lace-like patterned shadows that are present throughout Mobilarte, most prominently in the first part filmed in uptown Maputo, Maputo Alto (Figure_03).

Figure_03: Acacias casting lace-like shadows on the sidewalks in up-town Maputo

Figure_03: Acacias casting lace-like shadows on the sidewalks in up-town Maputo (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Editing of the images and the creation of a narrative

Mobilarte has three different parts that each portray a different part of the city and tell a different story that reflect my personal experiences and observations when visiting Maputo in the summer of 2012.

Maputo Alto: cars, cell-phones and change blindness

The first part of the video, Maputo Alto, is more informative and in style closest to a typical travelogue. It is filmed in the neighbourhood around the central hospital of Maputo, a city block situated in between Avenida Julius Nyerere, Avenida Mao Tsé Tung, Avenida Vladimir Lenine and Avenida Eduardo Mondlane on which the main entrance to the hospital is located. The block described here is much larger than the part of the ride that serves as the basic tracking shot for this chapter of the video, which was basically only three streets long situated closer to the hospital itself, but scenes and various brief shots of streets alike filmed in the larger area were used to create a more varied visual narrative that tries to express two main features of the “Maputo experience”: the fact that people constantly seem to appear out of nowhere and the fact that Maputo had become a city of cellphone-users.

The first feature, people constantly emerging out of nowhere, was enhanced in the final video by intercutting bystanders and pedestrians of similar street scenes in the extended neighbourhood, into the selected part of the tuk-tuk ride that serves as the visual guide-track for this part of Mobilarte. Although this creates various jump-cuts4, the similarities in the movement of the tuk-tuk (its speed and particular manoeuvres such as turning a corner) as well as the careful matching of the inserted shots regarding light conditions (sun or shadow) and view (close-ups or wide shots) makes that the flow of the video is not affected (Figure_04, 05). I chose this particular style of figurative jump-cutting because it is the perfect illustration of how a combination of lived experience (what we see) and memory (what we expect to see) enhances change-blindness or the inability to detect changes to an object or a scene in moving images across cuts. Although this will definitely not be the case for all viewers and in all cases where I made cuts by combining shots of different streets as if they were taken at the same spot, the overall effect works: despite that some visual details and object or subject properties are not retained automatically from one view to the next, we perceive the ride as happening in a stable continuous world.


Figure_04: Two different street corners combined by a cut in Mobilarte, based on their similarities: the red buildings, similar shadows and framing (Mobilarte (2014), consecutive digital frame captures). [design note: the two images make up one figure, please place side-by-side]


Figure_05: Jump cut between two shots with similar cars, as to mimic how people seem to constantly appear out of nowhere when driving the streets of Maputo (Mobilarte (2014), consecutive digital frame captures). [design note: the two images make up one figure, please place side-by-side]

Change blindness is an interesting feature in moving images and as Simons and Levin describe, “perhaps the most intriguing precursor to contemporary studies of change blindness comes from the informal observations of film makers and editors.”5 Filmmakers are the natural experts in change-blindness as they work with a rich body of knowledge about perception and vision and use this knowledge to do explicitly in a film what our visual system automatically does in reality: to combine a series of partial views (individual shots) into a coherent whole (a continuous scene) without audiences noticing the transitions. A lot can be learned from the early editing experiments by soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970). He noted: “convincing montage makes the audience overlook minor defects (for example when the actor’s costume changes between shots), though I repeat that this is only possible if the scene is edited correctly (in case of bad montage the blunder will leap to the eye).”6 Mobilarte has examples of both “good” and “bad” montage, yet what is good or bad seems to be different for every viewer depending on their own experience with busy city streets and views similar to the ones in my video.

Simons and Levin give the example of a busy city street to explain how change blindness operates and even is a necessity in life as it helps us to perceive the world as stable and continuous. During the normal course of events constantly a variety of property changes happen:

People are occluded by walking behind barriers, cars move, revealing previously hidden objects on the sidewalk, and people may shift a bag to the other arm or take out a handkerchief. All of these changes are rapid and might occur during saccades or between successive glances. A system that is too precise in tracking visual details would, in the words of William James, present a ‘blooming, bussing confusion’. In contrast, a system that gives a rich perceptual experience at any instant, but only integrates the gist (and perhaps the layout and movement direction) from one view to the next would give the impression of stability rather than chaos. This system would be successful at ignoring unreliable object property information, focusing instead on the information that the perceiver needs to know. Thus, change blindness supports the phenomenal experience of continuity by not preserving too much information from one view to the next.7

The impression that I tried to convey with this style of editing based on the principles of change blindness was my experience of the busy city streets of Maputo where people constantly seem to appear out of nowhere. To achieve this, I had to eliminate another new feature in present-day Maputo, one that I consider to be a major image contaminator: the abundance of cars in the city. Trying to avoid that my video would look like a car commercial or a promotional video for car export deals in Africa, I tried to replace as many parked cars by people as I could. It is actually a disadvantage of traveling by tuk-tuk that all the traffic on the streets, as well as all the parked cars that line the streets, dominate the tracking shots, which is not the case if one would explore the city by foot. Yet, at times I also used the cars to my advantage, and applied the same technique as above to speed up the action by intercutting cars of similar colours. To compensate for the many cars that give the city a very western appearance, I also created a scene showing only the typical pushcarts and cut them based on the same principles of change-blindness, combining carts that were filmed on very different streets (Figure_06).

Figure_06: Typical fruit cart going against

Figure_06: Typical fruit cart going against traffic (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Last but not least, this first part of Mobilarte has as second major theme the omnipresence of cell-phones and of publicity for cell-phones and calling cards in Maputo. Many street vendors wear the yellow jackets or have the vibrant yellow-and green signs of the biggest (government owned) cell-phone company at their stands: mcel or Mozambique Cellular8. This company has advertisements all over the city, some covering entire walls of skyscrapers. I also slowed down the part of the ride passing behind the central hospital to focus on this new feature of people talking on their cellphones, and inserted one of mcel’s ads, shamelessly using their slogan to promote cell-phones to iPad filming and tuk-tuk traveling: “it connects you to the best in life” (see figure_07).


Figure_07: A cell-phone card selling point behind Maputo’s central hospital and the add for mcel phone services on a high-rise just behind (Mobilarte (2014), consecutive digital frame captures). [design note: the two images make up one figure, please place side-by-side]

Maputo Baixa: lingering people, images and memories.

The second part of Mobilarte takes place in the market area of downtown Maputo, a more crowded area where every inch of the sidewalks and streets is taken by colourful displays of merchandise and various groups of people. Where in uptown Maputo most people seem to have a purpose (e.g. go home, go to work), in downtown Maputo more people seem to be hanging around, and there is a lot more chatting and shouting. As there is a higher concentration of people both on the sidewalks and on the streets, that experience became the main focus of this part of Mobilarte: how all these people leave an impression, and how that impression lingers (or not). To create this effect, the editing of this chapter mimics associative memory by making it look as if the maker/viewer constantly takes a second glance. The part thus appears as a continuous series of double takes, be it with a twist as there are both flash-backs and flash-forwards. Most of the shots in this part have been slowed down and because of the difference between the shooting rate (30fps) and the editing rate (24fps), at times a ghostly effect occurs: it looks like if people are followed by their own shadow, a visual effect that perfectly visualizes the lingering of people, images and memories.9

A key moment in this part occurs when the iPad camera captured a sunbeam: as a flare it moves along the trajectory of the tuk-tuk, pointing out people on the sidewalk as if a higher power is at work. This beam of light allowed me to maintain continuity while cutting shots together that are not continuous, as the movement of the flare makes it so that change-blindness can do its wonders, enhancing the feeling of fleetingness that is already the main characteristic of this chapter (Figure_08).

Figure_08

Figure_08: A beam of light gliding along the tuk-tuk as captured by the iPad, touching pedestrians and vehicles along its path (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

After a last turn around the corner, the tuk-tuk ride for this chapter ends with a slowed down tracking shot along a crowded side-walk full of vendors that is no longer intercut with repetitions of its own images, letting the view make its own impression, ending with as shot of people crossing the street along a puddle of water. This time it is the puddle that reflects the pedestrians as if they are hanging in the air, mirrored in a similar natural way as the man in the famous Henri Cartier-Bresson picture titled Behind the Gare St. Lazare (1932) often cited as a key example of his “decisive moment” approach to photography (Figure_10). Although already a decisive moment of sorts, in Mobilarte, an even more decisive moment comes right after, when, as the pedestrians have walked around the puddle, first a women gestures and commands the tuk-tuk driver to drive along and pass her followed by two young men who pass in front of the camera. The shot ends with a close-up of a face printed on one man’s T-Shirt that reads “lives”. Although on the T-shirt the word “lives” is used as a verb to state that the person depicted on the fabric lives, I always read and interpreted “lives” as the noun referring to existences and beings, such as all the (at times ghostly) presences we just passed by on our way through downtown Maputo (Figure_9).

Figure_9

Figure_9: Capturing fleeting impressions of figures and faces, as stated on a by-passers’ T-shirt (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Maputo Praia: poetry, fabrics and fleetingness.

The third part of Mobilarte is the most poetic of the three and it functions as a sigh of relief after experiencing the hustle and bustle in the city of Maputo itself with a trip to the beach. It is the least edited part of the video and the long travelling shot along the Avenida da Marginal is almost kept as one continuous shot, be it playing at different speeds. Towards the end, when the shot is slowed down, it becomes a similar staggering image as we have seen earlier in the film due to the difference between the shooting and editing frame-rates (respectively 30fps and 24fps), be it more pronounced this time. The higher speed of the tuk-tuk itself here (it can go faster as this is a bigger road, not a small crowded city street) has as effect that the low-resolution iPad images become more pixelated, creating impressionistic views of the vegetation along the road and the wide-open views on the beach. Yet the main poetic feature of this last part of Mobilarte is how the iPad recorded the fabrics, table cloths, dresses and African wax prints that are hanging everywhere in trees or on cloth-lines along the road, on display for interested buyers. With the beach in the background, the display of clothes and colourful fabrics or batiks is simply a lust for the eye. Mobilarte ends with an extremely slow-downed shot of tablecloths floating in the ocean breeze, as if they are waving us goodbye and are already pointing us in the direction of that moment when our entire visit to Maputo will be only a memory, a reminder that all moments (past or present) are fleeting memories in the making (Figure_10,11). Indeed, a quote of Tenessee Williams ends the film reminding that “life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” While riding a tuk-tuk tends to make all the present moments going even quicker, the iPad has proven to be a helpful tool to both catch them going, as to memorize them.

Figure_10

Figure_10: Dresses and aprons hanging from the trees along Avenida da Marginal (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Figure_12

Figure_12: Fabrics for sale along Avenida da Marginal with the beach in the background (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Editing of the sound and the creation of moods

The editing strategies for the images explained above were all carefully chosen with as purpose to recreate the experience of my tuk-tuk ride in Maputo, incorporating ideas about how memory and visual perception work, freely blurring the thin line between the real and the surreal. For the composition of the soundtrack I did something similar, but I took this idea to a different level. In collaboration with sound artist Dafydd Hughes, we composed a soundtrack that is based on the four national colours of Mozambique: red, green, yellow and black (Figure_12). In Mozambique’s flag these colours have different meanings. Red represents Mozambique’s struggle for independence, green symbolizes the land, yellow stands for the mineral wealth of the nation and black represents the African continent. Dafydd Hughes took very small portions of the original sound of the images, mostly the tuk-tuk sounds, and created with this four different notes, that each were attributed to one of the four mentioned colours. Higher notes for yellow and green, lower notes for red and black. He then wrote a special program that allowed us to let the computer scan the edited images of Mobilarte (similar to how a squeegee would vertically pass over a window) creating a signal if one of the four national colours were hit or “switched on”. These signals were connected to the four notes created for the four colours and as such a musical composition was created for the first and last part of Mobilarte, Maputo Alto and Maputo Praia.

Figure_12

Figure_12: four flags in Mozambican colours (green, red, black, yellow) along the way, captured from inside the tuk-tuk (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

For the first part, the soundtrack also includes some of the real sounds of the tuk-tuk, mostly when it slows down or speeds up, or if it does any other manoeuver. I considered it important to keep the realistic tuk-tuk sounds in at those spots, as that helps the viewer to feel the movement of the vehicle, while also contributing to the more cinema vérité style of this first chapter. The last part on the contrary, has only the sound of the tuk-tuk at the beginning of the ride: soon it is edited out to let the musical soundtrack be the sole sound. Here the musical track was actually doubled up in editing with a brief delay, operating as an echo to itself, which contributes to the dreamy feel of this chapter and its purpose to express fleetingness. The second part of the video, Maputo Baixa, has a soundtrack that is a combination of two musical tracks. One is a collage of various parts of the sound created for part one, all played at only 30% of the speed. The other is a loop created by taking a small part of the sound of the first part also played at only 30% of the speed. Using the sound at only one third of its speed gives it a much lower pitch, making this chapter in the film stand out as the darkest. The effect of looping a small part also contributes to this feeling, as if a dark force pushes us to consider the more mysterious and melancholic sides of this city, reminding us of its violent past as well as its current dangers.11

Conclusion: Mobilarte as Mobilementary

To conclude I will explain the title of this piece, Mobilarte. As shown in the introduction of the video, before part one, it is the name of an art framing shop in uptown Maputo that I filmed on my ride through the city (Figure_13). As soon as I saw this sign, I chose it as the title for my video. In fact, I consider all my iPad videos to be a form of “mobile art”, art videos filmed on a mobile device. Yet, this piece also qualifies as a mobilementary, a term coined by Max Schleser in 2011 to describe mobile documentaries, such as documentaries shot on mobile phones.12 Indeed, by working with the specific technical aspects of the iPad camera, exploring and exploiting its own mobile-specific non-professional aesthetic, I hope to contribute to the growing impact of the mobile video format as an alternative cultural form of expression, a user-friendly and user-based one. As Schleser states, “by examining mobile production through its creative particularity as well as the specific rhythm that mobilementaries (mobile documentaries) develop, an intervention into the contemporary industry discourse can be established. The mobile aesthetic bears implications of transformation within the mediascape.”13

Figure_13

Figure_13: Inspiration for the title of the video captured during the ride (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture).

Schleser makes a comparison with how the cinematic experiments of the 1920s broke away from convention and explored the possibilities of a new film aesthetic before the term documentary was established and institutionalised, such as Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin Symphony of a City (1927). It is no coincidence that the films mentioned are both also city films. I could have discussed Mobilarte here as a city film by explaining how the piece portrays life in Maputo, but it seemed more useful to explain the piece’s aesthetic qualities and all the artistic decisions made in the process of making it. Interesting enough, that is also why the piece does qualify as a mobilementary. Schleser uses the term documentary “to a format before it was defined, illustrating the opportunity for users, pro-d-users, filmmakers and artists to explore the new emerging possibilities of mobile video” while he defines mobile as “an open approach to work with mobile devices within the framework of documentary.” Mobilarte is probably less “mobile” than other mobilementaries, because it was edited on computer and not on the iPad with its own editing software. As it aligns itself with travelogues and experimental film, I chose the title Mobilarte (mobile art). In any case it was meant to be both mobile (made on the move) and moving (made to move) (Figure_14).

Figure_14

Figure_14: Woman walking towards the centre of Maputo along Avenida da Marginal (Mobilarte (2014), digital frame capture of an out-take).

1 Used cars are one of the biggest import products for Mozambique. It is for many used car companies their fastest growing market in South-East Africa. Mozambicans can choose from a wide variety of formerly leased Japanese vehicles such as Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi. But European cars are popular too. Importing used cars into Mozambique is very easy. There are no major restrictions, and the port of Maputo is easy to access, although some companies prefer Durban as shipping is a bit more frequent there.

2 Also known as three-wheeler, Samosa, tempo, trishaw, moto-taxi or lapa. Tuk-tuk is a term commonly used in Thailand, an onomatopoeia for the sound of the vehicle’s two-tact motor.

3 The making of Mobilarte took two years. Part 3 of Mobilarte, Maputo Praia was the first part finished and it was selected for and screened at the 2013 edition of MINA, Mobile Image Network Aatearoa, New Zealand.

4 An edit of two sequential shots of the same subject that are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly which gives the edit the effect of jumping forwards in time.

5 Daniel J. Simons and Daniel T. Levin, “Change Blindness”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 1, No. 7, October 1997: 261.

6 Lev Kuleshov, Selected Works: Fifty Years in Films (Agrachev, D. and Belenkaya, N. tranlators). Moscow, Raduga Publishers: 1987.

7 Simons and Levin, 1997, op cit.: 267.

8 Mcel is Mozambique’s largest mobile network. It is 100% owned by the government. It began operating in 1997. In early 2012 mcel claimed to have more than 4.5 million subscribers, and a mobile network that covered 75% of Mozambique’s population, and 60% of the country’s territory (http://infoasaid.org/guide/mozambique/organisation/mcel). In 2005 the company teamed up with media giant Ericsson to reinforce its position as market leader in Mozambique and to expand its services (http://www.ericsson.com/article/mcel_1595655422_c). Their main competitor is Vodacom, a pan-African mobile telecommunications company that has its most subscribers in South-Africa.

9 Because this is a video effect that depends on the interlacing of the image, it cannot be shown as a still.

10 Line taken from The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams, quoted by Christof Koch as the epigraph to Ch. 11, Memories and Consciousness (p. 187) of The quest for consciousness: a neurobiological approach, Roberts & Company (2004) (hardback). In full it reads:
“Has it ever struck you, Connie, that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going? It’s really all memory, Connie, except for each passing moment.”

11 Filming on an iPad is kind of awkward while sitting on the backbench of a tuk-tuk, as you have to hold the tablet up in the air. Many bystanders gestured the driver or shouted things to us. Based on my experience filming there in 1999, I misunderstood this as negative reactions against me filming them. But the driver corrected me explaining that they were warning me to put my “computer” away so that it could not get stolen by one of the many thieves in the city. WikiTravel warns visitors to Maputo about the violent crimes in the city, although it does not rise to the level of violence in neighbouring Johannesburg. “Occasional pickpocketing attempts do occur and are almost guaranteed on busy streets. At night, it is better not to walk around alone. Regardless of the hour, be smart when walking around: don’t carry much around in the streets with you, and if you have a bag, keep it close to you. If you have a cell phone, do not flaunt it: pickpockets have been known to take cellphones right out of people’s hands while they are talking on them.” (http://wikitravel.org/en/Maputo)

12 Max R. C. Schleser, Mobile-mentary : Mobile Documentaries in the Mediascape. Saarbrücken, Lambert Academic Publishing : 2011.

13 Max Schleser, op. cit.: 235.

14 Max Schleser, op. cit.: 136.

Peer Review 1 (Jill Daniels)

The Mobilarte title hints at the fact that this is a film [1] shot on a mobile filming device and the subtitle Maputo was helpful in establishing the location. I watched this film twice, and both times I experienced pleasure in watching, appreciated the light, colour and sound, the linear quality of the travelling shots, the doubling back and on occasion superimposition, which I read as a temporal going forward with loops backwards and forwards through present and past, but also memory in a form of flashbacks. The images are aesthetically beautiful and I felt I was pulled along and then able to double back to reflect on what was just seen and what will still come.  The rhythmic tone of the sound worked well with the editing of the image to create a sense of haunting. This enriched the viewing experience. I noted the streets were full of cars in the first two parts of the film – this was also mentioned in the text as an aspect of modern city life that had changed since Cammaer’s last visit in 1999. I noted people were wearing t-shirts with brand names, using mobile phones and the streets were very busy (except for the 3rdsection on the beach). In the second viewing I noticed more detail and having read the text looked out for some of the things mentioned. I observed the contrast between the more opulent central city in the first part contrasting with the second part, which was clearly the poorer part of town, with scruffier streets, sprawling market stalls spilling out on to pavements; people rambled through the streets and in both sections city life was dominated by cars.

A journey mediated through a car or train window showing a landscape always just out of reach has always lulled me (and perhaps other spectators) into a sense of spatial distanciation leading to the tendency to dream while awake and then often to fall asleep. In the film this was deepened by the dreamlike images intercut throughout the film and the changing frame rate led to a haunted and nostalgic feel, referred to in the text. The Tennessee Williams quote at the end of the film is particularly apt and underlines the spectatorial sensation of mourning for both past and present, particularly in the empty spaces in the last part of the film.

The third part of the film, the beach sequence, was much more linear but my reflections varied from the discussion of this section in the text. It did begin to form a narrative albeit a very slight one but while the text discussed the materials blowing in the wind I thought about the beautiful empty beach. Images of materials flapping on lines, and a few forlorn tourist stalls with no customers, combined with the spatial emptiness led me to reflect on the fact that there are very few empty beaches in the world now, that tourists have taken them over often to the detriment of local inhabitants who become economically dependent on the tourist trade. I concluded there are very few tourists in Maputo. The tablecloths and prints hanging in the trees, blowing in the wind evoked a cinematic moment, or as David MacDougall might describe it, neither signifier nor signified but pure filmic sensation, a pleasurable feeling, which, countered by images of the pristine colourful party dresses – because the beaches were empty – gave me a deep sensation of nostalgia and loss. 

Much of the information about Maputo and its history now and in the past in the text is informative but does not connect very clearly with the film. The methodology sections were stronger in that respect. The use of the iPad as a means of filming and the possibilities of particular effects through changes of frame rates, difficult to achieve by other means, gives a very interesting insight into the effect on the maker while filming, of feeling that at the point of filming, she is already a spectator: “the iPad gives you an instant mediated experience”. This was unusual and fascinating. In providing a double mediation, the filming experience with an iPad may be a captivating and inspiring experience for the filmmaker, but there is also a danger of objectifying human beings caught by its frame and this led me to thoughts of ethical concerns in a more general sense. Cammaer’s analysis of the images of hanging materials as waving us goodbye by pointing to the past and future at the point of becoming a memory was not my own reading. I considered the colourful liberated materials to be exuberantly waving hello in the present, enjoying their freedom; but the bright hanging empty dresses I read as sad, absent and abandoned, deepened by the emptiness of the beach behind.  

The text refers to images of the Statue of Samora Machel, but I did not note it in either viewing.  Nor did I see shots of street signs, but I was struck in both viewings times by a Stop street sign filling the frame in a sudden static image, and by the many colourful billboards. In a more immersive cinema screening than my computer screen they may be visible. The text also discusses ‘change blindness’ citing a long quote from Simons and Levin where the viewer provides continuity and ignores what is not important.  The film’s travelling momentum provides this continuity but for me this was at the expense of many of the images which the text refers to as being important, particularly those that make reference to the signifiers of Maputo’s political past. The text’s main interest is in its useful discussion of the methodology in image and sound composition. I found the text helpful in deepening my experience of the film when I watched it a second time.

[1] While the text refers to the video at the start but elsewhere refers to it as a film I prefer to use the generic term film.

Peer Review 2 (Patrick Kelly)

Gerda Cammaer’s film Mobilearte is an experiential video presented in three parts, which each show a different area of Maputo, Mozambique. Riding on the back of a tuk-tuk and filming on an iPad, Cammaer demonstrates the mobility that the device affords, yet also points to the ‘instant mediated experience’ inherent in the use of a large screen. She points to the aesthetic qualities that spring from the iPad’s technical limitations, which include motion blurring that occurred when transcoding the video. She also invokes Simons & Levin’s thinking on ‘change blindness’ and utilises this concept as part of her approach to the video editing of the film; a technique that makes great practical, conceptual, and stylistic use of the single-perspective captured from the back of the tuk-tuk. Each of the three areas of Maputo shown in the film are presented using slightly different approaches to editing and music; features that demonstrate the effect that the geography has on Cammaer’s approach to aesthetics.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Mobilearte is Cammaer’s collaboration with Dafydd Hughes to produce the music featured in the film. By scanning of the images in the film for the colours of the national flag of Mozambique, the soundtrack is automated through the generation of certain tones for each colour. Cammaer discusses in her statement the approach to music in each part of the film, including the doubling up and brief delay of the soundtrack in the final segment; a technique that clearly shows the recurring themes of ‘fleetingness’ that are also apparent in the film’s embrace of motion blur and ‘change blindness’.

Cammaer discusses the approach she took to the making of the film in her accompanying text and it is clear that these are the key elements that make it a very conceptually interesting, modern, and meditative film.

It is clear that Mobilearte explores issues surrounding mobile filmmaking, specifically in relation to the use of the iPad camera and the resulting aesthetic qualities of the video. Cammaer writes in her statement that she hopes ‘to contribute to the growing impact of the mobile video format as an alternative cultural form of expression, a user-friendly and user-based one’, and I believe that she has made a very strong contribution with Mobilearte. The various contexts surrounding the film’s production have been clearly defined by Cammaer and the impact that these contexts have had on the design of the film is significant. There are innovations present in the aesthetic qualities of the film as well as through the detailed discussion of Cammaer’s approach to making it. As an aside, films that feature perspectives from public transportation are rampant in mobile films, but the use of a tuk-tuk in Mobilearte is both refreshing and conceptually stimulating within this field.

New knowledge is clearly evidenced in the written statement regarding the use of the iPad as a creative tool for expression. Significant knowledge springs from the exploitation of the mobile device’s strengths and limitations, including the mobility it affords, the resulting motion blur, editing to embrace ‘change blindness’, and the approach to shot length.
Overall, many of the significant contributions to do with aesthetics made by Mobilearte are often very clear to viewers of the film and, along with the pronounced themes of mobility and mediation in city films, I believe it could be argued that the film stands up as a product of research on its own right.

The magnitude of Cammaer’s approach to the aspects of making the film, including its soundtrack, however, becomes abundantly clear through her explicit discussion of her methods in the accompanying text. I therefore believe that the significance of the film can partly be understood by viewing it without the accompanying text, but the viewer will only gain a full understanding of its strong contribution to the field of mobile video from reading the written statement.

Filmmaker’s Response

I am very grateful for these two reviews of my film Mobilarte as they are both very thoughtful and insightful. They encourage me to continue exploring mobile cinema and make new experiential videos. The alternative reading of the third part of Mobilarte by the first reviewer is particularly inspiring. This is a useful frame of reference, as I continue to make work on the theme of travel and new mobilities, including tourism.

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