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I Am Not Here

About this film

Can I be sure, I am not sleeping right now?

Two people pass their night in the sleep laboratory in a clinic in Brussels. They are taking a sleep test: eye movements, breathing, heart rate – everything is transcoded into the diagrams helping to diagnose the sleeping disorder. Two patients trying to sleep and to get rid of sleep at the same time. She lost her friend and tries to find him back in her dreams, he was sent back to his country from which he escaped.

Two different dream stories get united by a polysomnograph, the machine attaching their sleeping bodies to a hospital room. What does stay aside the sleep data?

The hidden traces of dreams: theirs and somewhere becoming our own. Found footage and dream evocations suggest the representation of their memories and subconsciousness. Personal experiences of dreams are evoked in a poetic dialogue between reality and imaginary, the objective and the subjective.

I am dreaming. What do I do next?

Anna Savchenko

Interview with the Director
Anna, your film has been made as part of DocNomads, which is a really interesting cooperative. Can you tell our viewers more about it?

DocNomads is, in fact, an international documentary film masters delevered by 3 universities in Portugal, Hungary and Belgium. By now it has already had 7 editions, we were the second one. Apart from the fact that we were 25 people from over 20 different countries, all together we were exploring the 3 countries and their documentary film scenes, making films and just sharing the times that has affected all of us a lot, not only as film authors, but as humans in general. We keep in touch and have been collaborating if possible until today. The network of the DocNomads alumni is quite a strong community, we are even researching to establish our own dream place residency to run the projects we have in mind for the moment. You can also encounter DocNomads graduates films and projects as numerous important documentary events and festivals. I am very happy that I had the chance to study at DocNomads and that I can keep being part of the community.

I Am Not Here is set in a hospital, in a laboratory for sleep experiments. This already situates it at the border between fiction and reality, I find. What is real, what is a dream? How did you conceive of the film?

To my mind, the border between fiction and reality or, as you put it, real and dream, is a very relative or even imaginary concept. Personally, there are moments when I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between fiction and real events. In this film, I am also testing the boundary by choosing to work in the documentary genre with the subject. I think it helped me to experiment with the narrative form and visuals to the explore where the border between real and dream fades or becomes irrelevant. The film is actually attempting to reflect on and transmit the feeling of this border. I believe there is no border between fiction and reality, once there is film language involved.

What I find particularly fascinating about your film is it’s almost haunting atmosphere. The whispering voice, the mind images, the inability to see everything clearly. We only see snippets of what you put in front of us, like the wheel of a hospital bed. Confinement seems to be the dominating characteristic of your film.

Confinement is an interesting way of seeing it, thanks for your reflection. I think it is true as far as the representation of sleep laboratory routines is concerned. Indeed trying to catch the biological data from sleep is trying to reduce or confine this only partly studied side of human activity to intelligible data. The audio-visual approach choices are also related to the fragmentary nature of dreams and sleep. Trying to remember, narrate or reproduce the experience of dreams I would always end up dealing only with pieces which my consciousness could preserve, my protagonists would share similar reflections when trying to share their dreams with me. So the whole film is trying to grasp the fragments like sparkles of dream memory. And at the same time, with its form the film reflects on the certain extend of impossibility to actually represent the dream state or build a linear story around it.

“A cold wind is blowing. It ruins everything. I’m sweating. As if my soul is there, but not my body.” I Am Not Here is not only thought-provoking concerning its images. You add a layer of thought to it. This makes the film almost haptic, I think.

The text of the film is purely the way it was told to me by the protagonists. I just collided it with images and sounds. Indeed I aimed at a sensorial and somehow poetic approach. Always keeping in mind the concept of narrative, textual or audio-visual forms constantly attempting to and failing at performing the dream state. I prefer to let the spectator choose either to focus on text or, on the contrary, just get dragged by the visuals, or switching between both.

Your films looks perfectly choreographed, scripted to the last detail. What was the shooting process like?

It was the shooting process of the graduation film, so it was very fast and chaotic, I would say. We only had one night arranged in the sleep lab to film, although I spent a lot of time there to research and observe the whole process beforehand. I dedicated a lot of time and attention to voice recording, until my protagonists really were half asleep while talking!

I would call the editing process more “choreographed” recycling of my own old images and found footage with newly filmed images, looking for the points where all of those elements could meet.

Three years have passed since you completed I Am Not Here. What have you been working on since then?

Ever since I’ve been working as a freelance director and editor. At the moment, I am directing an episode of a documentary film series about borders in Europe in collaboration with Off World Production in Belgium. I’m developing two feature length documentaries titled 72 Hours (in Belarus) and Palmeiras (in Portugal), writing the script for a short fiction, and I’m editing a documentary feature called We Will Remember Them by Annabel Verbeke. This one will be released very soon.

Thank you very much for this interview.