Les États généraux du film documentaire 2009 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Peter Hutton

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Peter Hutton

My work is not encumbered by ideas. There is no purpose to my work other than just allowing someone into my visual sensibility. I’ve always tried to fight the tendency to create additive meaning. The Lumières were not intent on providing you with a bigger idea that results from the accumulation of images. Rather, they explored places without a lot of baggage; they responded to things as they came. The experience of my films is a little like daydreaming. It might just be a formal composition that takes a while to develop, but as soon as you engage with it, you feel much more satisfied because you’re actually interacting with the work. It’s about taking the time to just sit down and look at things, which I don’t think is a very Western preoccupation. A lot of influences on me when I was younger were more Eastern. They suggested a contemplative way of looking – whether at painting, sculpture, architecture, or just a landscape – where the more time you spend actually looking at things, the more they reveal themselves in ways that you don’t expect.
There’s a very simple idea behind what I do, which is to try to take people back in time, rather than forward into the future. Using black and white is like being taken out of time and suspended in a space where there is no overt reference to daily experience. To me one of the most attractive things about cinema is the fact you can evoke a sense of mystery, of wonder or curiosity in an environment, a landscape, a room, anyplace, by suspending time. The incredible epiphanies of nature are often very subtle things, right at the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and offer some of these experiences.
What excites me about cinema are movement and transformation: the idea of bringing a sense of time into frozen renditions of nature. But on the other hand, there’s often an attempt to “stop time” in my films, letting time be an overriding element that provides some small revelation about the image. Mine is an extremely reductive strategy: it’s just collecting images, looking through the lens and seeing things that I really respond to, and recording them. I’m much less involved in the idea of structuring films, packaging images: there’s no plan. It just happens. Designing a structure that becomes a significant part of the film is the antithesis of what I do. My structures are a result of what the images tell me. It’s less an intellectual than an intuitive process.
I was first a sculptor and then a painter and finally a filmmaker, always overtly contemplating space in a three-dimensional way. When I got into film, I very much envisioned these flat, two-dimensional projections as three-dimensional sculptures: this gives the eye something to engage with, more surface and space to wander through. I think if an image is engaging, it provides the eye with an interesting spatial map to follow. I’m interested in reminding people of the visual potential of engaging with an image, of going on a little journey within the image. Each shot becomes a film in itself, if it’s choreographed in an interesting way, where you see the development of a movement and often a transformation and then the conclusion.

Peter Hutton

Edited excerpts from Scott MacDonald, A Critical Cinema 3. Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, in University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London.

Guests : Presentation and debates led by Federico Rossin (film critic and film programmer).