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Seaworld

About this film

I saw Hing Tsang’s “Seaworld” for the first time in London. The film is a collaboration between Tsang and Jose Navarro, a puppeteer from Peru, and defies any genre. Perhaps one could describe the film as a dream piece, a visual lullaby, which draws you in the longer you watch it. The soothing music and the fascinating approach of recreating a sea world with hands, feet, and other body parts make for a deeply interesting and an oddly satisfying viewing.

“Seaworld” is a film that could run for hours. The combination of slow movements which resemble waves and the soothing music makes for a thoroughly intriguing watch, and asks us what film really is. Hing Tsang’s film is certainly a journey; a journey through nature, through the sea, and, most important of all, through your imagination.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Hing, you are a senior lecturer in Suffolk with a focus on documentary film. Can you tell us a little about your way into film, both as an academic and as a filmmaker?

My background combines both experimental practices and documentary. I started working on celluloid, making documentaries that tended much more towards formal experimentation. Then there was a long hiatus when I worked as a film technician on other people’s productions. I then did a Phd looking at the documentary practice of Johan van der Keuken, Jon Jost and Rithy Panh, with a theoretical perspective informed by Peircean semiotics. The latter involved much concentration on the body, senses and environment and all that is shared with all animals throughout the bio-sphere. This informs my practical work, probably on a more intuitive non-conscious level than is does in my more academic work.

Seaworld is very special. I’m not sure where to position it. Is it experimental cinema? Is “experimental cinema” perhaps even too narrow a genre for Seaworld? In the end, I wonder whether Seaworld hasn’t created its own genre.

I try not to work within the limits of genre. Although my background includes knowledge of canonical figures within the avant-garde - Brackhage, Gidal, le Grice et al – I have not worked consciously within these limits/possibilities. I suppose my influences on this is more video art from other figures such as Peter Campus and the great Leighton Pierce – but even this is indirect influence, relating to general ideas about self-transformation of the human body. I still have in mind the work of van der Keuken’s on landscape, but this is a documentary influence rather than something we might readily associate with canonical experimental cinema. So yes… I prefer not to work within genre, but neither am I consciously interested in creating another genre.

When I saw you in London last year, I learned that the film isn’t so much your film, but a project of yourself and Jose Navarro, a Peruvian puppet artist. How did you meet and where did the idea for the film come from?

The film is very much a collaboration. I met Jose when I was doing some community videos for the Latin American community in London around 2001, attending his live performances as a puppeteer and musician. Seaworld was and continues to be part of a more extended live performance called Animalia. As the title suggests, the live performance is concerned with the world of animals. Jose had worked in the Seaworld section of Animalia for over a decade before I met him. So Seaworld, as an audio-visual piece, is a radical translation of a pre-existing and co-existing live performance.

You have created a sea world quite literally with hands and feet. It’s astonishing, and very meditative. It feels a bit like a visual lullaby.

Thank you for saying that it is like a lullaby. Yes, I as a filmmaker wanted something that was emotionally and visually quite intense. I suppose that my childhood memories are linked to a notion that our own bodies feel immense, and maybe we lose this sensitivity as we grow older. The piece coincidentally seems to be very popular with children of friends that I have shown it to.

The film gave me the feeling that there is a special relationship between you and the sea. Is this correct?

The relationship is special in the sense that I work in Suffolk, and I spend my holidays on the coast here. But I am really a city dweller who has a great emotional attachment towards the sea. I love the sea but so do a lot of other people, I hope...

I noticed that Seaworld has a touch of green colour throughout. What we would expect is a blue touch, given that we’re seeing life in the sea. Why have you chosen the colour green for your film?

I was and continue to be interested in the idea of growth and I wanted to link the idea of human growth with something very organic - rooted in our evolutionary heritage. I was thinking of plant life and wanted to present the sea in more ecstatic terms than something that is threatening or dangerous.

Can you explain how you actually made this film? What is the process behind it?

This was a long process of improvisation where we were working quite intuitively. I was creating organic shapes from the combination of different limbs. I then played with scale, so that individual bodies could be seen as both immense and minuscule, changing their position and size within the frame. I also spent a lot of time texturing backgrounds. The green background that you see is actually a retexturing of the landscape shots that begin the film. Both myself and Jose Navarro were interested in an idea of total immersion. This was realised through body movement and different combinations of legs and arms, and I also wanted to make the initial landscape become literally fluid without the piece becoming overly intellectual or conceptual. As I produced different edited versions we would then do further improvisations that provided greater senses of scale and dimensionality.

Are there more films like this to come from you? What can we expect in future?

I am working on a piece that treats feet and hands as sources of light. It has a more urban setting, but it will probably be quite meditative. I have also done some experiments with 360 degree vision, playing with texture and light with the aim of creating some new pieces in this medium. I would hope that the final results remain organic rather than something associated with the shiny surfaces of digital technology. This work is in its early stages and will emerge through a similar process of improvisation, trial and error.

Thank you for this interview, Hing.