The Unbearable Nothingness of Being


One of the cardinal, unwritten rules of cinema is to always operate from a state of truth – a state that in all its manifestations of atavism and surreality takes you down a path of self-discovery. For despite its mass consumption, cinema remains an intensely personal experience that effortlessly dislodges image, constructs and places in its stead an amalgam of emotions from which you can draw at will and redefine the eternal conundrum of identity. Watching the 72-minute ‘teaser’ of Swedish artist and curator Anders Weberg’s ambitious film Ambiancé – the world’s longest film at 720 hours, to be released December 31, 2020 – is like drowning in an ocean of truth, where the deeper you go in visual experience, the higher you reach in sense experience, till you are afraid to breathe, lest this deeply enriching and cathartic journey comes to an end.

And it is precisely for this reason that it is difficult to categorise Anders as a filmmaker, despite the over 300 films he has worked on. (In his website, he says, 'I must be the most famous unknown filmmaker at the moment'). He is not obviously dictated by generic trends or box office numbers, and the more you delve into Anders’ work, the more you get the feeling that it is not about art for art’s sake either. It is something elusive, like wind on a butterfly’s wings; something you cannot pin down even if you spent decades researching and studying and analysing his vast repertoire of 20-plus years of work with video, sound, photography, new media and installations. It is almost like a separate entity that is at times mutually exclusive of Anders and sometimes inclusive, but always touching the surface of that which is always meant to dissolve in its deepest moment of creation. 'For me, ephemerality is not a concept, it is more a sign of our times,' he says. 'For the last couple of years, I kind of lost the lust for moving media. I am not so sure anymore about the future of screen-based media and have been thinking about a way to phase it out. Also, the concept of time has been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy and science; and I have for many years been interested in that concept, as that is the one thing we humans cannot control. We all have a relation to time, even though time does not exist. Just like everyone else, time is the most precious and valuable thing for me and I like to let things take time.'

Born in 1968 in the small town of Landskrona in the south of Sweden, Anders’ tryst with the medium of film began because of music. 'I have always played music but wasn’t good enough or handsome enough to pursue that,' his website states. 'But I wanted to be around the scene so I started making pop videos and have done about 100 in the past and still do some from time to time. But I have mostly been involved in the video art/experimental film scene.'

As part of his journey with video art and experimental film, Anders came up with P2P Art in 2006, 'art made for – and only available on – the peer to peer networks', where the original is deleted as soon as someone downloads or shares the film, or as Anders prefers to call it, 'P2P Art, the aesthetics of ephemerality'. 'I think it was around 2002 when my oldest son was 10 years old and he started to use the computer more frequently for gaming and the internet. I saw a change in how the young ones treated all different kind of media. Music, films and games where fast forwarded, downloaded and not seen and then deleted without any emotions attached to it. Also, following the comments and discussions on various torrent sites led me to think about a project that uses this new file-sharing technique. It was also around this time that the big Swedish file-sharing site, Pirate Bay, opened up and the media was all over the place. So I was toying with this idea till 2006, when I shared my first film, ‘Filter’, the last one out of the eight films released that still exists on the network. Not the original, of course, as I deleted that when it was released. To delete artwork has been done throughout the history of art with various media and techniques, so it is not something new. I just transformed it into a modern digital era using the file-sharing networks as the gallery,' he says.

In fact, Anders is exceptionally dispassionate about the whole idea of originality, something most artist(e)s believe is the bastion of creative thought and expression. 'Since the P2P Art Project, a lot of things had happened in the space of digital culture. By then, almost everything was a copy of a copy and everyone was striving for that. Nowadays, I sense a change, whether it is art, music or life itself... For me, personally, and work-wise, I always felt I got stuck when I thought about originality, so I decided I would work on the best copy ever made instead,' says Anders.

Whether that is humility speaking or modesty making its presence felt, there is something natural and uniquely prosaic about not just Anders’ views of life, but his approach to work and cinema as well. It springs from such a deep valley of thought that is personal in essence and yet universal in appeal, that you begin to wonder if even 720 hours of cinema will be able to encapsulate this world.

'The main reason for choosing 720 is that it has followed me for a long time because it is the resolution of PAL video and it makes 30 days if you go 24 hours per day. The number is also interesting mathematically: 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 720.'

Even though Anders tells us that the long-film format is nothing new to him ('I have done longer films before, the longest being 9 hours, 9 minutes, 9 seconds and 9 frames with the title 090909 released on September 9, 2009'), we are still curious to know how one even goes about beginning a project of this magnitude that manages to dwarf the infinity of time into finite space. 'My process is that I collect glimpses of light with the camera and take that with me into the computer where the real work begins of arranging and rearranging these glimpses into a flow, which I feel represents the emotion I am trying to express. I do have a general idea, mood and feel for the whole piece that I follow but because I work with emotions and not a scripted, dramaturgical piece, this changes a lot and will continue to do so in the upcoming years.

Right now I have finished 300 hours of finished film, and so I am in a good position. I have to completely finish at least one hour of edited film each week to reach my goal. That means I need 7 to 8 hours of raw material each week,' he explains.

Where the idea for Ambiancé stems from is difficult to ascertain. At one end, it is classified as a memoir movie, 'Every little part of me is in this movie. This will be my last after working full-time for almost 20 years, so it had better be. If not, what a waste.' On the other end of the spectrum is the inherent ephemerality of life reflected in art. 'My son from a previous marriage, André, 21 years old, died in January this year, after doing heavy drugs for the past year. He lived with me full time until he was 16 and as you can imagine this is the worst thing ever that can happen to a parent and I will never get over it. I rather think I will slowly learn to live with it. The teaser for Ambiancé was dedicated to him and all the scenes in it are related to him in some way, so the teaser helped a lot in being able to deal with my grief,' says Anders.

Perhaps it is this element of the individual — Anders’ career and life — that gives Ambiancé the edge, taking it beyond just the epithet of 'longest film'. 'That is the irony, that the media is stuck to the term of ‘longest film’ and are interested in just any kind of record. They think that is what I am after, but for me it is a play, an experiment with the idea of recording itself. Because it will be screened only one time across continents and then destroyed, this will actually be the longest film made that does not exist!'

And, also the longest film made that has been seen, in its entirety, by only the filmmaker and no one else. 'It is, as you say, physically impossible to watch the whole film for 30 days, and I will be the only one who has ever watched all the frames in this because I made it. But that I feel is so beautiful. Even the viewing experience becomes ephemeral, where the only thing that will remain are the memories of the little bits and parts the viewer got to see.'

To make way for this new cinematic experience, Anders has been dabbling with what he calls ‘live cinema’ in collaboration with a German electronic music composer Marcen Jules, where the lines between art, performance and cinema are completely dissolved. 'All the material used in these live performances, where everything we do is improvised depending on the place, setting, audience and mood, is from ‘Ambiancé’ and it is, for sure, also a way to prepare people for what is to come. I particularly enjoy these performances, as no two live performances are ever the same, and it is such a kick to do something live in front of an audience,' says Anders.

As this 46-year-old 'famous unknown filmmaker' gets ready to burst into public imagination in a few years, we wonder if French-Swiss filmmaker Godard, architect of the New Wave cinema movement, might have had Anders Weberg in mind when he made his iconic statement on cinema. For if cinema is truth 24 frames a second, then nowhere does it seem to sit as perfectly as in this small farm in the village of Kölleröd in Sweden where Anders weaves his ephemeral dreams of cinema in verity, allowing them to then find their counterparts in our own sense of truth, both the real and the imagined.