Choosing to show the development of the universe and the human race within one feature film is a creative challenge. Two distinct filmmakers have worked on this task for many years. Therefore, we were able to see two ambitious and strongly authorial films with similar artistic concepts shortly after one another – Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016) from Terrence Malick and Photon (2017) from the Polish artist Norman Leto.
The painter and filmmaker Norman Leto started to work on Photon (2017) already in 2011. This ambitious project aims to map the development of the universe from the origins of matter to the most intricate organisms on Earth all within two hours. This film is however very distinct from a classic documentary. Its structure is set by acted-out excerpts starring the popular Polish actor Andrzej Chyra in the role of an unnamed scientist. He is interviewed by a journalist (Kaja Werbanowska) and reflects on various social and scientific topics which are then depicted in visual interpretations.
In this way, we gradually move from the beginning of the universe to the origins of life, from the beginning of life to its development, and from the human development to the birth of civilisation. The illustrative examples show the findings of quantum physics or evolutionary biology and other scientific phenomena. The turning point arrives once the film moves on to the present and looks into the near future of the universe. You will see how Norman Leto uses his research to create a film depicting the future of humankind and the entire universe once he showed us its history and present state.
While Malick’s Voyage of Time (2016) is primarily a film operating in the poetic documentary mode with all the characteristics typical for this filmmaker (poeticised dialogues, breath-taking and carefully arranged shots of emerging universe and natural scenery), Photon (2017) presents the audience with a more raw but playful spectacle. In addition to the cleverly structured narrative, it offers a strong visual experience which is very different from Malick’s approach. The origin of the universe is presented in the form of Lynch-like video-art and the film gradually transforms from the abstract to the specific. At the same time, Norman Leto has plenty of visual and filmmaking tricks up his sleeve.
His second feature film – the first was the art film Sailor (2010) – shows his wide artistic perspective and years of preparation and research. This, in many ways fascinating, project has seen several documentary festivals, including the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto and it was premiered at the CPH:DOX Festival in Copenhagen. If you missed it at the last year’s AFO International Competition 2018, AFO Cinema gives you another opportunity to see this film at the Metropol Cinema in Olomouc. Photon is an astonishing experience, a film which operates on the edge of science and art and transcends the limits of the unknown.
Author: Tomáš Poštulka
Editor: Nikol Láryšová