Tara Karajica talked to Nadine Poulain at the Berlinale about her short film “Sky Lines”, experimental cinema, her work and shooting the film in Serbia.
Can you tell us about your background?
Nadine Poulain: I have a Fine Arts background. I studied in New Zealand for one year and then I went to London to continue my studies in Fine Arts and earn a Master’s degree. I started to get very interested in film, and particularly art-house films during my studies. I also went to the London Film Academy for one month to shoot on 16mm and edit on a Steenbeck.
What attracts you to experimental cinema?
NP: I got very interested in working with time and sound. I love sound. I didn’t start as a filmmaker but I was fascinated by paintings and photography early on. I made some video installations as well. I love the physical nature of sound – and the emotions: when you feel the bass it does something that I find exciting. My images are often very hard, clean and rather cold when there is no sound. It is about something the body feels, the waves… And in this one, the sound is very particular. I also love sound design. I develop it with the idea of the project. I am a fan of low drones and bass. For “Sky Lines“, I wanted to create something scary and I knew it had to be a really high sound and those discords not to be too torturous but really on the edge.
Your press kit suggests that certain people associate “Sky Lines” with the Cold War, a nuclear catastrophe and even terrorist attacks. Can you comment on that? And also on the “descent to the condition of the fantastic and unbelievable, Lucifer’s greatest work of Art”?
NP: Yes. The beauty and formal aesthetics of sky lines capture people and yet there is this parallel with war and particularly the Cold War and its threat, which we don’t have in our countries today. Highflying bombers from the Second World War were the first planes that flew high enough to produce condensation trails. Those planes were naturally feared, very different from today. Douglas Allsop, an artist and professor wrote this piece and he’s from another generation, so this is why he connected the trails in the film to this memory. The quote of “… Lucifer’s greatest work of art” is from Karlheinz Stockhausen. What he said caused a great deal of controversy, particularly as it was taken out of context. He was likening the attack on the twin towers in New York to an art form created by the devil.
What prompted you to make “Sky Lines”? Why did you choose to work with condensation trails?
N.P.: I am interested in geometry and was fascinated by those contra trails besides or even because of all the problematic issues surrounding it. That’s a combination not so easy to explain: a sense of horror can sometimes be intriguing. Geometry, to have the lines – man-made lines – drawing themselves, and working with those and the planes that are not visible, I wanted to create a disorienting space where you’re floating and where the room’s spaces are opening and changing like a dance, a dance of death like it was described in that text. It’s a quite nice thought. It’s not a horror film, obviously, but the idea was to work with some kind of threat that we don’t see, we don’t know what it is. At the beginning, there is a post-explosion grumbling sound; we worked really hard on surround to have this come forward and then there are those high sounds. The sounds come and go and it is a sort of lingering shred that ends with a vertical still line, some kind of finite image. We are all conscious beings, we know we have to die and we are facing threats and fear so I was interested in the combination of a beautiful geometric piece with those controversial lines, which are wonderful in a way but also problematic and very scary.
You worked and studied all over the world. Why did you choose to make the film in Serbia?
N.P.: Yes, that’s a very important thing. In Serbia, my film “360°” was shown at the Alternative Video and Film Festival in Belgrade to which I couldn’t go but where I won a prize. It was on the list for Best Cinematic works and I was invited to the Academic Film Centre in Belgrade. I proposed a project and went there to make it.
I noticed that your work, both photographs and videos, are all black and white. Why?
N.P.: That was never a decision. It dates back to the early stages of my career. Black and white is somehow a restriction but it enables me to concentrate really on what I have there, to make a really focused piece, minimal and detached. Colour is emotional, I find, and I prefer a cold image.
Your work has been selected at many festivals, how do you feel now that it’s at the Berlinale?
N.P.: It’s wonderful. I’m from Berlin and that makes it even nicer! To see it on such a big screen, it’s really wonderful. It is not so easy as it is between art and film and this is not an experimental festival – I am not even in the experimental section – so there are some challenges. I like the mixed program but I can also see some difficulties with the content of a work like this: we watch an animation and then my film comes along, this jump can be difficult. In that sense, I think of the audience.
What are your next projects?
N.P.: I have been working on a documentary for a very long time and we are hoping it will be a bit easier to finish it now, to find the rest of the money. It’s an 80-90 min piece, a submarine journey, in black and white, with people. It’s not experimental but it’s very art-house and very, very minimal. Then, I have two ideas but it’s a bit too early to talk about them. I work a lot with water and the reflection of light. I have an exhibition at the moment in Bonn. It’s called “Prime Lines”. I show some photographs there and “Sky Lines” will also be shown there soon. Photography is something I’d like to concentrate on more.
Note: This interview was originally published on Yellow Bread’s sister publication, The Film Prospector, in February 2014.