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Pau de Selfie

Hiran Matheus: Mobile Filmmaker, Researcher

Affiliation: Universidade Federal Fluminense
Title of work: Pau de Selfie  
Year: 2015
Length: 18 minutes and 49 seconds 

RESEARCH STATEMENT

Pau de Selfie, Portuguese for “Selfie-Stick”, is an experimental short film produced at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in the Cinema & Audio-visual program in 2015. UFF is one of the most prestigious public filmmaking colleges in Brazil, founded by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, precursor of the Brazilian Cinema Novo.

The main premise of this film is to fully use the popular photographic device known as selfie-stick in every single scene of the film. Another important point was that the selfie-stick was always shown within the frame to remind the viewer of the nature of the device in audio-visual terms, just as like in its popular use when the invasion of the device into the photographic space was assumed.

The mobile film merges documentary and performative fictions through a logic of low-budget inventive cinema, which refers to the cinematographic reality of countries like Brazil and Latin America as a whole. The use of the camera from a smartphone has always appeared to me as a possibility for poetic exploration of the many types of cinemas that appear to be made with few resources. At the same time, by discussing the device that facilitates selfies, as cinematic discourse, I as an author set myself as a character to think about a world and society that was still beginning to feel the first symptoms of the use of social networks based on one's own image. These have become increasingly popular through the use of smartphones over the years. Beyond everyday use, for me as an artist, it was important to think and investigate the use of the smartphone camera as a possibility to occupy artistic and cinematographic spaces. All this exploration is based on a personal trajectory as an audio-visual director with few resources within a university and academic environment. Through my experience with mobile cinema during my undergraduate studies, I was able to investigate mobile filmmaking as a researcher of this theme, as well as working on leaving a legacy for new generations of audio-visual artists, who may also have few resources, regardless of whether they are inside a university or not.

Pau de Selfie is a precursor for a self-portrait’s culture and social media that are based on valuing the "self" of each user. The mobile film approaches the defects and qualities of this whole essence to create a poetic reflection about this new reality. It is an essential film to understand the ways of diffusion and production of personal images with the advance of the internet and new technological possibilities every day. In its conception, the film speaks out for a democratisation of the audio-visual and proposes to the spectator that s/he surrenders themself to a cinematographic experience, despite the low budget and enunciation of the device that does not corroborate with an illusory pact of mainstream cinema. Pau De Selfie offers an invitation to the spectator to participate in a more active way to construct the film that is being seen.

Pau de Selfie, as a film, discusses actively and in a precursive way the role of smartphones in common audio-visual formats today, that are diffused on the internet, such as Vlogs, YouTube and more recent social medias like Instagram, Tik-Tok and other video sharing platforms. The mobile film also has a subjective mobile camera point of view relationship, worked in a unique and innovative way through the enunciation of the selfie-stick and intimately dialogues with fundamental premises of canonical authors of Brazilian Cinema such as Glauber Rocha’s “a camera in the hand and an idea in the head” (quoted in Costa Silva Júnior 2015, 110).

 

PEER REVIEW 1

The filmmaker’s intention, it would appear, is to depict the banality of mobile camera selfie culture by placing a selfie stick as the film’s central motif, leading the viewer through a series of disconnected vignettes. The filmmaker, as the main character, records his everyday life – socialising, showering, and alluding to cinema greats – Woody Allen, Truffaut and Goddard, no less – interspersed with moments of fantastical whimsy.

The viewer joins friends in a pool hall, consorts with drunks in the street, watches clouds with a sweetheart, and walks reverently through a cemetery, with one scene of hyperbolic gritty colour underpinned by a soliloquy of negative self-regard (the destructive nature of obsessive introspection, perhaps?).

The selfie stick assumes new roles – that of a cue stick, a violin bow, an assault rifle – as it permeates and integrates into the essence of the filmmaker’s being. But, of course, the selfie-stick is more than these parts. It is the silent observer, ever-present, omnipresent, and unflinching in reflection. “In which mirror has my face been lost?” the filmmaker ponders.

The film was made in 2015, and to some degree may have reflected sentiments of the time but fails to hold potency in 2023. Unlike Warhol, whom the film references, or other artists whose works remain relevant due to their timeless innovation and novelty, even seven years ago the tropes of this film were not new. By 2015, the idea of mobile cameras as self-portraiture had been around for at least seven years.

The research statement is bound to the film’s creation period and needs to take a more historical and reflective perspective. The film makes credible statements but to assess its merits in 2023, when so many newer frontiers in mobile cinematographic reality beckon to be explored, seems pointless other than as part of a contextualised retrospective or as historical curiosity.

 

PEER REVIEW 2

Which aspects of the submission are of interest/relevance and why?

The invention of the second camera coupled with the internet brought new kinetics of film making. Alisa Lebow’s (2012) first person filmmaking perspective is extended and innovated with the use of selfie stick perspective to showcase the film’s narrative. It is interesting to see the possibilities of mobile aesthetics with the selfie stick. Selfie sticks along with mobile camera phones deconstruct the idea of ‘tripod.’ The selfie stick automated with the help of human intelligence and body as an extension of cameras (McLuhan 1994). A longform film exploring the self with a selfie is a new method in itself. Similar excitement and innovation can be related to the film Max with Keitei (Schleser 2008).

 

Does the submission live up to its potential?

The film has potential in terms of the artist/author playing with the limited possibilities of shooting with mobile phones in low light and has exercised his creative potential in establishing story narratives convincingly with unconventional ways of filming. The excessive noise and dark grainy footage is wisely used to suite the emotional turmoil (Reference: Grainy black and white footage while walking on the street and smoking a cigarette) and has served as “the mobile aesthetical” feature of the footage as it was discussed by Baker, Schleser, and Molga (2009). The located bodies and self within the mobile haptic is communicated with empirical immersiveness. 

 

How does the submission expose practice as research?

The frames, shots, and spaces chosen to shoot like a billboard game (a perfect sync of game narrative) are creative strengths of the film. The film is not just observational but supports the composition and ‘selfie’ narratives intelligently as well as depicted more organically. I am sure it could open a new grammar of filming with the ‘real.’ The interaction with the homeless man on the street where the camera provides a point of view shot (POV) is much appreciated as it has pushed the obvious filmmaking techniques with the selfie stick to the next level. Though it is an experiment to shoot with the selfie-stick, it is not an experimental film as it has an intense narration of engaging the self with the inhuman society.

The sound design of the film is apt to the mood and emotion of the narrative. The film gradually pushes the viewer to the intensity of the mood because sound and visual blur or a dissolve transition effect is used in the cemetery.

In the closing scene with the violin, though there is a possibility of hiding the selfie-stick, the film uses it wisely as innovative aesthetics. The film is a combination of innovative practices that opens possibilities of gainfully using a selfie-stick to build narrative in various genres of film making. Though often the self-stick is highly used in travel vlogs, happy moments and informative purposes, it is perceived as a non-serious asset for serious filmmaking. But Pau de Selfie succeeded in establishing inner thought and emotional self vividly. 

The poetics of the film is more participatory, and it takes the audience along with the subject. At times the audience play as the camera themselves. Capturing of raw footage with subjective participation is truthful as one can see less editing intervention in the narration. It is an interesting way to record life where the sense of the camera is invisible, giving the feeling of a mirror within a mirror. The film is futuristic.

The film provides a historical document that will highlight individual expression in the early part of the 21st century. It will have some significant cultural relevance for future generations. In this document one can only see a silver coloured, telescopic stick which has been named a selfie-stick (again, a reference which we in this age understand, no idea if it will translate for future viewers), and there is a camera come audio reordered at the end of this stick which is documenting life as seen by the holder of the stick.

RESEARCHER RESPONSE

First of all, I would like to thank the reviewers for their time as well as for the comments that I receive as constructive. I would also like to thank the Sightlines Journal Committee for this possibility of exchanging ideas. As a final response, I would like to offer some of my motivations for choosing the selfie stick as my main theme for this mobile film and include some of the suggested references. The “Aesthetics of Mobile Media Art” contextualizes Pau de Selfie with reference to the intimate and everyday notions -

 

This aesthetic emphasises the importance of location… Mobile devices make the mundane interesting, the everyday confronted, providing a new lens for viewing the world through a new camera vision. … The sense of intimate connectedness to the message, its subject and the author, has emotional implications in everyday art experience, making one feel special, important and inspired

Baker, Schleser, and Molga 2009, 119

 

Besides being an object that represents many aspects of today, there are several things that fascinate me about the selfie stick, particularly the popularity of this object at the time the film took place. And like everything that becomes the domain of the popular, the selfie stick also suffered from some disdain. From when I first started seeing what was being said about the selfie stick, along with this growing trend of use, comments usually came in comical, negative and derogatory tones. 


My experience with its use was a search for answers as to why this object caused such a stir. One of the answers I reached was that the selfie stick was an object created to be used in a real world, but under the demand of the habits of a virtual world, that was still being groped through social networks. So, perhaps, there are these reactions. There is a conflict when we come across the use of this object.


I always liked the idea of working in the intersections between what is popular and what is ‘high art,’ even when I find these cultural borders irrelevant. The act of filming oneself may sound rather egocentric, but that is the premise of self-portraiture; we live in a society that is increasingly more passionate and fond of its own image. Some issues needed to be taken into account for the decision to accept myself as a character. In the beginning there is the difficulty of confronting the ego of others from the spectator’s point of view, but by exposing weaknesses instead of just success, I invite those watching to be part of some intimacy. 

 

Pau de Selfie was inspired by experimental first-person approaches which ranged from Maya Deren’s films to Max Schleser’s Max With a Keitai (2008). Especially the low resolution which crystallised in the keitai aesthetic to create a new filmic materiality that is based on an intimate approach specific to mobile media (Schleser 2011; 2021). Furthermore, capturing everyday life in the city in a way that makes mundane moments the story of the experimental film. 

 

From a more aesthetic point of view, there is another invitation that is proposed to the spectator. Pau de Selfie presents images of a documentary and fictional nature, but they are in no way diluted; there is a clear distinction between these in the mobile film’s aesthetic. From the beginning of the film, the selfie stick always appears on screen, which is commonly considered a ‘mistake’ when used for photographic registration, but has become popularly acceptable. By not hiding this monopod that connects the person filming to the edges of the screen, it is clear the intention is to always remind those watching of the existence of the device, and it is even incorporated as an extension of the body to be dried in the shower scene. After the first poem we hear a dialogue over the phone that is necessarily melodramatic, and we see a blurred image. When the dialogue reveals to us the situation of that conversation, in conjunction with the image gradually becoming clear, we find ourselves in the fictional situation, but the selfie stick is still on screen. 


In a film with no budget, all I can offer the viewer is a stroll through some of the deliriums of my head: bits of awkwardly told love stories, romantic clichés that hammer in my head, war stories, death stories, and a strange allegorical final scene that even I cannot explain all its faces. I want to offer a great story to the spectator, but I ask one thing in return, that s/he ignores the constant denunciation of the device printed on the film. My invitation is to watch a cinema that has few resources and wants to offer greatness. I also don't want the spectator to forget that the film walks intimately with Cinema Novo’s estética da fome (translated from Portuguese as aesthetics of hunger) in independent or guerrilla cinema (do Socorro Carvalho 2012).

 

REFERENCES

Araújo, Hiran Matheus. 2017. “Filmes de Celular: A Realização Cinematográfica Através do Smartphone.” BA thesis, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói. 

 

Baker, Camille, Max Schleser, and Kasia Molga. 2009. “Aesthetics of Mobile Media Art.” Journal of Media Practice 10 (2-3): 101–122. https://doi.org/10.1386/jmpr.10.2-3.101_1.

 

Costa Silva Júnior, Ailton. 2015. “Brazilian New Cinema and Social Representations: Dialogues Between the Seventh Art and Sociology.” Revista Sinais 2 (1): 110-125. https://periodicos.ufes.br/sinais/article/view/10367/7319.

 

do Socorro Carvalho, Maria.  2012. “Uma Estética da Fome: O Cinema Novo Da Tela Ao Texto.” Congresso Internacional da Associação de Pesquisadores em Crítica Genética. X Edição: 902-908. https://editora.pucrs.br/anais/apcg/edicao10/Maria.Socorro.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2gZYS6kLbv968WCJ8NjrvynK_Uunvak58Tfb4Rex5kBzTu0JvXG98W-JQ.

 

Lebow, Alisa, ed. 2012. The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary. New York: Columbia University Press.

 

McLuhan, Marshall. 1994. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


Schleser, Max, dir. 2008. Max With a Keitai. Max Schleser. YouTube video, 00:05:11. Accessed 7 June, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jc2iLI5Mx0.

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