For many filmmakers a medium where sound doesn’t synch well, cuts and dissolves are lost on a small screen, and viewers have to wait and wait for the film to download is a medium in which the limitations outweigh the benefits. But for media-makers who are experimenting and taking advantage of the ever-changing technology, web art is at the beginning of its evolution into a full-blown art form. These artists are finding that the web, like jazz, fosters an art form where the limitations are the liberating factor.
Minute by Minute (www.minutebyminute.co.uk) is a site whose centerpiece is a series of twenty-four one-minute films about Newham in East London, a dying industrial thruway that is now experiencing a resurgence. This exploration of urban space uses QuickTime video, still images, text, and design to form a curated piece whose themes, according to the artistic directors of the project, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, “act as a compositional glue across the entire site.”
The glue behind the project is Molloy and Lawlor. Through their London-based company, Desperate Optimists, the two have been making works in a variety of media for over fifteen years. After seeing a Flash-based website they produced (www.map50.com), the London Film and Video Development Agency asked them to create a moving image site. With support from the London Borough of Newham, they began development on “Minute by Minute.”
The concept behind the site was to find eight Newham-based artists who could create twenty-four one-minute films about their surroundings. The artists were given seven basic instructions:
1. Choose only one location in Newham.
2. Make three one-minute films in response to that locale.
3. The films must take place in the morning, afternoon, and night.
4. No camera moves (no panning and tilting and no zooming).
5. No synchronous sound.
6. Only three attempts to shoot any given scene.
7. Films must reflect upon incidental moments of activity.
These guidelines may seem strict, but the philosophy Desperate Optimists used to instigate this project was to create a space where structure and freedom support each other. “We’re great believers in the jazz structure model, by which we mean it must be tight so you feel clear and supported enough to play freely because you aren’t spending all your time looking for the structure.”
Simon Aeppli, whose Minute by Minute films are about how one man deals with the passing of time, felt it was best to keep the films short, static, and simple. “I concentrated on minimal actions and movements within the frame and worked hard on the soundtrack to lift out the visual material,” he explains. “The restrictions of the net actually open up creative choices for the filmmaker.”
When making art for the web, there are other things than the visual limitations to consider. Jocasta Lucas, whose three films use sound as the driving force, takes the audience’s mindset into consideration. “Films that are for the Internet should definitely take into account that the viewer is probably alone, in front of a small computer, and is involved in quite a private act,” comments Lucas. “Watching film on the Internet is quite a lonely thing to do.”
What makes these films different from so many others online is that they were made specifically for the web. The guidelines and rules imposed on the filmmakers were as much about keeping a common theme as making the films easily accessible to a wide audience online. Much of the inspiration for the films came directly from the Lumiere Brothers films, which, according to Molloy and Lawlor, are “very web friendly.” But it is not just the films that make the website complete. The designers use text and still images to utilize the frame around the films, exploring this East London community even further. Each site page is a love letter to Newham.
The filmmakers feel that creating films for the web is entirely different than making films for the theater or for television. Gillian Wylde, whose three films speak about loss, desire, and malady, found that it was “very disappointing to watch the films on a TV monitor.… This project has really made me think about projects for different formats.” What didn’t work for Gillian on the small screen? “Tiny moments; I would somehow try and make those tiny moments a wee bit larger.”