Last year, we wrote about the 47th New York Film Festival (NYFF) and the number of CalArtians involved in the festival’s experimental film program, the 13th Annual Views from the Avant-Garde. One of the films screened was Scrap Vessel, Jason Byrne’s (Film/Video MFA 06) CalArts thesis film. This year, Byrne, an audio/visual archivist for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, has been recognized by Filmmaker magazine as one of the “25 New Faces” of new independent film talent for 2010.
The experimental documentary chronicles the last trip of the cargo ship Hari Funafuti and uses the massive ship as a landscape. At the same time, the film explores the ship’s communist past, an unseen attack by pirates, a distant beach and a glowing ironworks factory while on its way to becoming a phantom ship.
In the magazine, Byrne says about the film, which is now making festival rounds:
I shot this film in the frame of mind of being alienated from the rest of the crew and of trying to capture my initial understanding of the new environment. Maybe the film is the reverse of an anthropological study. Once I began editing, I realized I also wanted the film to reflect the memories I had aboard the ship, which I created by manipulating shots to give them a dreamlike image. By manipulation, I was able to capture a stronger state of sublime (technically by building heavy contrast by rephotographing the print over and over again), along with sound of Albert Ortega’s haunted-like score, to capture the traces of memory that leave me continuously with the surreal vision of being aboard the vessel. Also, I was interested in creating a similar haunted feeling with the use of the dusty archival material left over from the former mainland Chinese crew, which is interspersed throughout the film, that includes 16mm motion pictures of 1970s/’80s Chinese communist message films, an audio-cassette mixtape and a roll of still photo negatives of the former crew. From my archival past (and present), as well as creating a still ‘living’ vision of my travel, this is a deeply personal film.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Byrne is already at work on his next project: a film about Mozambican workers sent to East Germany in the 1980s who have fought for 20 years for promised pensions.