Vertical films

Reflection and starting point for experiments.
24 June 2020. Published by Benoît Labourdette.
Reading time: 3 min  
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Moving images are verticalizing. This is far from being anecdotal and has an impact on our representation of the world. What philosophical changes does this bring about? How can we explore them? How can we share them?

Images are becoming more and more addressed

Since 2013 or so, videos shot with mobile phones have become mostly vertical, and social: they are almost always addressed, either to a single person, or to a group of people, known or unknown. Video has become the tool of new forms of conversation. It nevertheless loses all the richness of its language. On the contrary, it invents new genres, subjects, forms of expression, extremely rich.

Of course, one can make a negative a priori judgment. Because of the immense mass of productions, there is only a small proportion of objects worthy of interest, beyond their simple social function. But just as YouTube has opened up to specific audiovisual forms, TikTok and others are spaces for invention that can be exciting. In 2020, TikTok is the second most downloaded application, after Zoom, for 2 billion users. I think it is important to take it up in the educational field.

An example: Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (1929) is just a compilation of letters he addressed to a young aspiring writer, among the billions of letters that are written, and yet it has become an essential literary object in our cultural history, which has supported many artists’ vocations.

Experiments

As a filmmaker, after having explored (if not founded, in 2005 with the creation of the Pocket Films Festival) the mobile phone as a camera, then pico-projectors from 2011, drones from 2013, live video from 2016, virtual reality from 2017, my next field of experimentation is in this visual verticality, which draws a part of the future of moving images. For several years now, I have regularly experimented with the production, direction and projection of films in vertical format, among many other experiments, feeling the stakes in terms of the evolution of representations, which artists must grasp in order to clear them up, to illuminate them, with other lights than those of the social network trade.

But in the last year or so that these vertical images have absolutely entered everyone’s daily life, these experiments have become an ontological necessity in my artistic work. I have to look at it carefully, not in a personal attitude of exploration, but in a process of address of the images, this address being, in my opinion, consubstantial with the fact that the images are verticalized.

I was looking for spaces for collective experimentation and creation around this concept of verticality. I had planned to run a one-week workshop at La Fémis in March 2020 around these themes with the TikTok tool, but unfortunately the confinement did not make this workshop possible. Then came the proposal of Jacques Froger (Clair Obscur) to think about a project of artistic residency in a college in Rennes in 2020/2021. It was obvious that this step in my artistic journey, “Vertical films”, was the obvious choice for the residency project. It’s an approach that seems to me relevant and important for teenagers, in relation to the issues they are going through and that go through them.

Pedagogy

My creative approaches are almost always pedagogical and my pedagogical approaches are always creative. I have always made a close link between creation - diffusion - transmission of knowledge, by making films, creating cultural events (Pocket Films Festival in 2005, Fête nationale du court métrage in 2011, Par ma fenêtre in 2020, etc.) associated with educational and creative spaces.

This sharing of my creative questioning is always done with an openness to the ideas of others, in the sense that I have a lot to bring to others, but I also have a lot to receive. In this case, on the subject of vertical images, teenagers, for whom this culture is much more anchored than for me (for whom “normal” images are horizontal) have a lot to make me discover. Through these exchanges, we will grow together, I think, without any demagogy: I will give them confidence, technical and aesthetic mastery, which will allow them to express their point of view more deeply, to shape their gaze more rigorously than if they were alone. Thanks to me, I hope they will take that “step aside” to which creativity opens up: seeing things from a different point of view than they were used to. That is to say, to build their critical thinking on images, which is an important part of their civic competence.

Philosophy of Vertical Images

What is an image? What are images used for?

Images are closely related to the human body, since they are made and consumed primarily by and for human beings. Thus the horizontal image of cinema aims to situate the human in its context. It has expanded over the years to offer increasingly immersive “virtual reality” representations. In the 19th Century, cinema succeeded Panoramas, and was invented at about the same time as psychoanalysis. It stages the space of dreams, of another symbolic world, which allows us to discover ourselves more deeply. This is what makes it fascinating.

But now that moving images have become conversational, that humans are all or almost all equipped with this “prosthesis of distance vision” that is the mobile phone (which only has a phone in its name!), the image becomes vertical.

In philosophical terms, the image is changing its function for humans. The relationship between the vertical image and the verticality of our body, which is one of the great characteristics of our difference from other living species (with the opposable thumb and the enormous volume of the brain) is significant, in my opinion, of a revolution in our relationship to the world, to ourselves, to reality.

We make vertical images, so we no longer see the world in the same way. What is the world we are creating with these images? Without any value judgment, it is an essential space to explore, to become aware of.

For the record, the first feature film in vertical format is “God in my pocket” directed by Arnault Labaronne in 2006 as part of the Pocket Films Festival that I directed. He was a visionary.

The image has become a language that everyone “speaks” on a daily basis, much more so than before the democratization of digital tools. Thus the stakes of images touch more than ever our existence in a very direct way, at the psychological, sociological, political, artistic levels... It seems essential to me not to avoid critical thinking about images, their technologies and uses. To think, there is nothing like experimenting, searching, conceptualizing, sharing. I share here resources, projects and experiences around images, which I hope will be useful, in the fields of education, art, (...)