There is a long-standing tradition in cinema for filmmaker’s to produce films that address their own mode of production. Since Dziga Vertov turned the camera on itself with Man with a Movie Camera (1929), we’ve revelled in the playful irony that the moving image allowed. This tendency becomes more pronounced with every filmic technological innovation, from the first movie camera to the webcam.
Unfortunately, most of these films have tended towards exploitation. It was in 1980 that the Italians produced the first found footage film, Cannibal Holocaust, which detailed the rather horrific misfortunes of an amoral film crew that bump into a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon. This morally reprehensible and all too realistic abomination (which led to the director being mistakenly arrested for murder at the premiere) paved the way for a range of imitators. Years later, with the production of portable video cameras, The Blair Witch Project (1999) followed a similar narrative (albeit more tastefully), as three documentary filmmakers are hunted down by the apparition of a long-deceased witch. The tradition continued as cameras became smaller and cheaper with movies like Cloverfield (2008), Diary of the Dead (2007) and a host of other “found footage” films.
Recently, as social media has grown to gargantuan proportions and with video cameras now available in every single phone, our relationship with the moving image has become far more intimate than ever before. No doubt there are many horror films that have already embraced this new technology, and certainly recent movies like The Social Network have begun to interrogate the medium, but recently I had the good fortune to view a small independent German film that elected to utilise contemporary social media in a far more interesting and authentic way – Pixelschatten.
Pixelschatten follows Pixel, a kind of minor celebrity in his hometown, where his blog has earned him a certain amount of notoriety. As the film commences (the film is made entirely from footage found on the blog and the viewer comments that follow), Pixel’s popularity is waning, and many are beginning to tire of his need to post the most intimate details of their lives on his blog. In response, Pixel seems to become more aggressive in his approach, crossing moral and possibly legal boundaries in his attempts to maintain what he perceives to be his artistic integrity.
Of course, what makes the film interesting is that Pixel’s notion of artistic integrity begins to directly conflict with social etiquette and common decency. What is it about Pixel’s blog that allows him to sit outside of his own world and make decisions that he would not make within it? And how is it that Pixel’s attempts to document reality have led to his alienation from it?
In a world overrun by rather tired formulae, it’s great to see young filmmakers taking such an innovative approach to the representation of the world of social media while still achieving a relatively commercial style. Pixelschatten is an excellent look at the attraction of social media, the dangers it represents, and the problematic nature of attempting to represent ‘the truth’ in one’s art, whatever that might mean.
For more info I’d recommend checking out the film’s website, http://www.pixelschatten.com/ or even contacting the filmmakers on Twitter at @ourlifeisonline.