Super 8 mm Success Stories

Dan Monceaux has had great success with his film A Shift in Perception. The film provides a view into the world of the visually impaired in an almost dreamlike manner. Dan combines the worlds of documentary and short filmmaking into a film loaded with visual poetry and an air of nostalgia. We tracked Dan down, first in Africa and then in Australia, to have him share a little bit about his project. Thanks to Dan for taking the time out of his hectic schedule.

Dan Monceaux
Dan Monceaux

How did you become interested in cinematography? Where were you born and raised? 
I was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. It's a small capital city on the south coast of Australia known for its lively arts and festival scene. My interest in cinematography was sparked by a few friends I met while at Uni who were involved with film production, and gradually increasing visits to The Mercury, our best independent cinema. I already had interests in animation and music composition that I had fostered as a teenager.

Do you have any formal cinematography training?
My cinematic skills are totally self-taught. I've always had a critical eye when it comes to viewing film, and that combined with a little technical reading and lots of trial and error laid the foundations for A Shift in Perception. I believe too much formal training in any art form can limit the originality of your expression. If you're never taught the rules, I believe you're better positioned to follow your instincts.

Tell us about your documentary A Shift in Perception. What is the film is about? What was the inspiration behind the project? 
The film was inspired by the thoughts and experiences of three vision-impaired women from the Port Adelaide Enfield area. The local council there had begun a community cultural development project to give these often-isolated members of the community a voice through public artwork. When the women decided they were happy simply to share their thoughts in conversation, we recorded them, edited them into a narrative, and set about illustrating their words in an intuitive and artistic manner. The end result reads partly like a dream, part like a conversation and we hope is as much a work of art as it is a documentary. Ultimately it's a celebration of the unique perspective and sensory experiences of the visually impaired citizen.

Leander, Edna and Rhonda are the stars of the documentary. How did you meet them and get them involved?
They all volunteered their time, personalities and stories when they heard about the community art project, well before the film itself was conceived. They were all using the welfare services provided by the council at that time. We ourselves enquired about the project once it was running, and when we met the ladies we immediately saw the potential for their words to be expanded into a film.

What was the "look" or mood you wanted to achieve? What techniques did you use and what was your overall photographic approach to the film? Can you describe a shot or sequence that illustrates that approach?
The overall approach to the film was to create an aesthetic that was dreamlike, imprecise, unpredictable and suggestive of the condition of blindness. Two of the women had lost their sight progressively, so with that in mind we shot sequences in soft focus, and played with time (including slow and fast motion). We even animated objects from the women's lives to express the role imagination plays in the blind person's daily experiences. We also wanted to give the viewer space for meditation and contemplation - the world of the blind person is often a very internal one. An example of this is the macro shot of the slow burning sparklers. While the spark motif was used moments before to illustrate the noises in Leander's head, in this one minute shot the visual metaphor is shifted, suggesting instead the passing of time and sight as slow, beautiful and poetic. Effects such as these could be said to take an impressionistic and metaphorical approach to the subject.

Why did you choose to shoot your project on Super 8 mm film? Which film stock or stocks did you use, and why?
We shot the film on Kodak's beautiful Kodachrome40 and TriX stocks. The richness of K40's colour was enjoyed in a few key sequences (including short bursts when Leander talks about the scent of roses) while the flexible 200asa rating of the black and white TriX made it an obvious choice for the monochrome footage. We even used a strip of blue leader and telecine'd that into the film to colour Rhonda's description of her dreams. She had told us that she dreamed mostly in black and white, and every now and again blue would come into it. Often ideas raised in conversation with the women lead us to visual ideas without directly being included in the film's voice-over. The film's editor and co-DOP Emma Sterling and I love the tactile nature of film and small format, and we even hand-developed a roll ourselves as negative in Diafine chemistry. The film was full of experimentation, and most of it we're happy to say, yielded appropriate results.

Dan Monceaux
Scene from A Shift in Perception

How have advancements in technology changed the way you shoot or finish a project? 
The increasing affordability of computers capable of editing and post production has been great for us. Emma and I are now set up with our own telecine suite: Super8 projector, telecine box (a box with a mirror in it essentially), camcorder, and home PC. From there Adobe Premiere was an affordable and satisfactory choice for editing. Most of our thinking still happens in camera though, so our editing is quite linear and straightforward.

A Shift in Perception has won many honors throughout the world including First Prize at the Black Maria Film & Video Festival, an IDFA Official Selection and a Gold Medal for Excellence at the Park City Film Music Festival, to name a few. What does it mean to you to have your work recognized? Are they any other exciting things happening for the documentary?
Yes, Emma Sterling, Alex Carpenter (our composer) all agree that having our work recognized really helps validate us as artists in a difficult industry. Film is our medium at this stage, but ultimately our interests lie in communicating ideas in meaningful and innovative ways. Alex does this on an abstract level with his music, and was a great inspiration to us. It was great to see his work acknowledged at Park City, and the few 'Best Film' awards we have all been pleasant surprises. We always considered what we were doing as quite niche, though it seems that has worked in our favour.

Where do you look for inspiration? Which other director or cinematographers' work do you admire and why?
Other directors I admire include Roman Polanski (particularly for 'Repulsion') and Jan Svankmayer (the stop motion animator). I enjoy surrealism and what I would describe as screen poetry and the work of these two artists shows deft examples of both. Lately I've been exploring experimental cinema from the 1900's-1960's and there's a lot of great ideas to enjoy there. I tend to look backward in time for inspiration rather than at what my contemporaries are up to. Michel Gondry is an exception to this rule.

Where can we see the film? Theatres, TV, DVD, internet, other festivals?
The film has screened widely at film festivals around the world since last November - in fact in over twenty different countries. In the USA it can now be seen on the FreeSpeechTV cable and satellite network, where they have licensed it for 9 months. In Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia we have Ronin Films www.roninfilms.com.au distributing the title for us, with an education kit included to reach yet another new market for us. The international version (and film's trailer) will still be available on our website http://www.danimations.com.au/perception/. The film is currently enjoying its online debut at the Con-Can Film Festival in Japan where you can view the whole film for free until July 17th.

What is your next project going to be?
We plan to make an environmental/human interest film on a marine conservation theme in regional South Australia this winter, and another film exploring the online dance music community in Australia over a longer period of time. Both of these films will use some Super8, but will also take advantage of our Sony HVR-A1P HDV camera. Our love for film will prevail for as long as Kodak makes it though, and presently our Super8 cameras are rattling away on a series of music videos for the debut album from electronic music act, Supermarket.