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Mercury Vapor

About this film

Images morph into one another. They appear and they cease, only in order to reappear again. In Eli Hayes’s highly experimental film Mercury Vapor, we are asked to imagine, to dream, to let the images happen to us. Without a narrative, without a classical structure, Hayes’s piece is perhaps one of the most experiential works tao films has shown so far. It’s challenging, it’s demanding, but it is also deeply rewarding. Welcome to a very special experience of the arts of film.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Eli, you’re an experimental filmmaker. Your work is abstract and imaginative, without making it impossible for the viewer to ‘get into’ your film. How do you strike a balance between abstraction and a viewer’s access to your film?

I appreciate that sentiment. That is, ultimately, the goal: to make films that appeal to both the portion of the mind that admires abstractions as well as the portion of the mind that admires a degree of accessibility.

I, of course, do not think that I have quite reached my goal yet with Mercury Vapor. Some who are deeply fascinated by experimental cinema may find it accessible, and even enjoyable, but it is difficult to find an audience for a 111 minute long, non-narrative experimental film.

Can you tell me a little about the footage you used? Is it found footage or did you shoot everything yourself and then edited the footage together?

I shot approximately 95 percent of the footage in the film and incorporated approximately 5% (brief) archival footage components and “found” still images.

What was the editing process like for Mercury Vapor? Several different images overlap. I can imagine that the editing took a lot of time.

There are thousands of images in the film total. It look longer to edit Mercury Vapor than any other film I’ve ever created by a long shot: over two years. It went through several different cuts/runtimes throughout those two years, though, before I reached this final cut.

Your experimental films are, to my mind, not made for the big cinema screen. I would think, cinema goers would quickly become bored and leave the auditorium. In a gallery, however, your work would receive a lot more attention. How do you conceive of your films? Do you think of where to show them while working on them, or is this something that becomes an issue only at the end of the filmmaking process? Or is it an issue at all for you?

With Mercury Vapor, I’d certainly prefer the setting of a museum walk or museum audience. I wouldn’t even mind if, after renting my film, viewers watched, say, the first half hour and, if necessary, took small breaks throughout the film to contemplate, or even just grab a snack, or take a short walk. As long as viewers don’t miss “the final transition”; the last quarter of the film.

Perhaps with experimental films more than with classical narrative films it must be difficult to find an appropriate ending. How did you know when and how to finish your film?

The film is quite simply a digital “trance-dimension” or dream-state; it’s intended to provoke a meditative, mesmerized perspective. All dreams have endings and the way that human beings’ dreams end are usually through some sort of abrupt exit. So I simply ended the film with the young woman exiting her nightmare, up a path out of the woods and away from the figure that had been following her.

Mercury Vapor could perhaps be described as an ambient piece. The soundtrack is superb background music for work, I have to say! But even the images - I was torn between simply experiencing the film and ‘reading’ it. How would you yourself describe the film, is it an experiental film? An intellectual film? A slow film? How should the viewer approach it?

I wouldn’t describe it as an intellectual film but I definitely think that it’s experiential in that, not to be reductive but, it is almost two hours of morphing colors and abstractions so, if one was to watch it on a large screen, it could be a fascinating experience. It’s certainly a slow/contemplative film as well though; some of the abstract images are intended to represent Rorschach tests so I want the non-concrete images to stimulate experiential and potentially even nostalgic thoughts and visions in the brain.

Do you have a new project you’re currently working on?

Yes! I’m working on another, untitled experimental short film with my friend Rohit Shivdas who co-directed our 2017 short film, “Prismatic Reverie”. I also released a few other short films over the past couple of months and am, of course, saving up money to eventually direct my first micro-budget feature (for which I have a few potential scripts in the works). Many more experimental shorts to come!