Filmmaker Victor Dubyna has perhaps, with his film Wanton, created one of the densest works of today, where he uses autobiographical notes with the violence of a meat grinder shattering unwanted reflections in a dirty mirror. Wanton is among the awarded films in the Experimental Brasil 2023.
1. What led you down the path of experimental filmmaking, and how do you perceive its role in the broader landscape of cinema?
I’ve always been interested in movies and made stupid little videos as a kid. But it wasn’t until I went to ‘film school’ where everything really blossomed. The program wasn’t what I hoped it would be: not being hands-on, it was instead focused on film history, global cinema, film theory, etc. It was a let-down at first, but it quickly sucked me in. I was being exposed to all kinds of cinema I’d never seen before, and my ‘tastes’, knowledge, and palette seismically expanded. From there, I started making my own films. My first project that I consider to be of any value is my short film ‘Tasteless’, which was shot and edited with my friend and sometimes-collaborator Kirk Percival, all in the span of 24 hours. It was the editing process specifically that I think really got me high, fiending for more. I think that's the first time where I felt the beauty of an edit that’s goal isn’t to service a story, but rather is an expressive extension of the filmmaker. For that film, the ‘expression’ wasn’t much more than a drunken fool screaming at the top of his lungs, but even that can feel liberating. Looking back, I think that’s what really hooked me into experimental filmmaking.
As far as experimental cinema’s role in the broader landscape of cinema… I mean, I suppose it’s role is to experiment, right? To explore new forms of expression, and maybe ‘challenge’ the audience, or at least their conceptions about cinema, in one way or another.
2. When crafting a film, what is your approach to storytelling and how do you balance it with experimentation?
It’s not something I can really articulate or have thought about in words. There is a story in my film, but it isn’t a literal one. It’s an emotional one; embodied by these phantoms I’ve created. I suppose you could say the storytelling approach is very expressionistic. It’s a materialized, yet also abstracted, mental war , with the different sides of this person’s feelings and thoughts being represented by different figures in opposition with each other. Their trajectory, mutations, and interactions with one another is the meaning of the film.
All that is to say, I just told the story in a way that made sense to me emotionally, and pleased me, cinematically. As far as how I balanced ‘story-telling’ and ‘experimentation’ - I’m not sure. I think a lot of people would say that I didn’t successfully balance the two. But that’s fine. I just need to trust that my film will find other people like me.
3. How do you view the relationship between your films and the audience, and what techniques do you use to create an immersive experience?
I care a lot and am incredibly grateful for whatever ‘audience’ I can gather for any of my films. Anyone that watches my film and resonates with it emotionally - I love them, and feel connected to them, truly. With that being said, the ‘audience’ is never on my mind when I am creating. I think it can be harmful to your project to think about these things. If you want to make something interesting and honest, then you have to follow your idea wherever it takes you (not the other way around) and disregard whatever you think any audience might want. You’ll know when it feels right. For me it’s pretty intuitive. I think every filmmaker is making a film that they would like to see. And we are all humans; if you’re making something that you would enjoy watching, there will likely be someone out there who will enjoy watching it as well. So, I don’t know, it’s my hope and intention that every creative choice in the film contributes to creating an immersive experience. Pacing is important. A sense of trajectory. I hope the images and sounds are visceral and magnetic. I hope the images are ‘iconic’, in the sense that they are simple, but evocative and universal symbols; representing base feelings and human/social tropes, hopefully able to evoke an emotional response in any kind of person. It was my intention to make the symbols in the film timeless.
4. Can you provide insight into your creative process, from the initial idea to the final product?
Almost all of my narrative/theme based work starts from a place of personal expression. They come from a desire to self-reflect, and mainly, a need to just let things out, which I struggle with outside the context of art. This film uses a character that I created in my previous short film ‘I Wish I Still Believed in God’ which was kind of created in a slapdash Jackson Pollock kind of way. Visually and musically, it was very much just throwing things together. It wasn’t a calculated effort, but a completely instinctual one. I find myself enjoying things that are created by children; children don’t act in a calculated way, and when they create or express, there is a messiness and impulsiveness that, to me, makes for really strange and interesting art. I remember my niece, just for one of countless possible examples, one time quickly drawing a smiley face, and it turned out really demented and surreal. I tried to create like a child, so to speak, with ‘I Wish I Still Believed in God’ to get a similar kind of effect. I suppose that project can be described as a portrait of the internet, in all its fragmentation and distortion of information and identity.
Anyways, I really grew attached to this character that I created. Different images of him appeared in my mind, involuntarily, and I got the desire to do more with him, and got the feeling that I was finally understanding all that he was. I felt that I Wish I Still Believed In God didn’t do quite enough (after all, unlike this project, there was no thematic intention with that one). So I came up with a very loose story/idea for, not a sequel, not a remake, but a foggy in between of the two. I added new dimensions to the character and created ‘new characters’, all growing from things inside me that I finally knew how to articulate - at least cinematically. As for the process of making it, I just brainstormed lots of different ideas of how to creatively represent certain concepts and ideas and viscerally communicate certain feelings. The subject matter of the film is dark, and there were moments where I had to step away as it was making me very emotional, but for the most part, after coming up with the ideas, the shooting of them was very stoic and unemotional. Most of it was filmed in my basement bedroom alone. When shooting, I just tried to experiment as much as possible to create these warped dream images. Shooting through different pieces of glass I could find, shooting monitors reflecting different monitors, among other things. One of my proudest images is the image at 10:55 where my camera, zoomed in all the way, was pointed at my iPhone camera (the actual lens), which was acting as a mirror, reflecting Photo Booth on my laptop, which was reflecting me. I don’t know if that makes any sense reading it, but the raw image turned out stunningly, and looking at it, it’s hard to believe it’s a raw image - but it is (I'll use the image here). But yeah, I just tried to capture things in unique ways to create these spectral images. I didn’t storyboard anything, and I began shooting before I even knew exactly what was going to happen in every scene, or how it was going to end. I knew what ideas needed to be captured in every scene, and I knew emotionally how it needed to end, but I didn’t know how I was going to capture it yet. I just started, and let ideas come to me as they did. It’s a freeing and exciting way to make a film.
5. What obstacles have you encountered as a filmmaker, and how have you overcome them?
Funding! ‘Overcame’ it by making something with no budget.
6. How do you balance the technical aspects of filmmaking with artistic expression in your films?
In this case, (in most cases, no?) they were one and the same.
7. What guidance would you offer to those seeking to enter the world of filmmaking?
Just start! If you are reading this, it’s very likely that you have a camera in your pocket right now. Maybe you are even reading this on your ‘camera’. But yeah, if you haven’t made a film yet, don’t wait around for things to line up - just do it. As a, basically, self-taught filmmaker, simply doing it was, and continues to be, an invaluable learning experience. I made this film on a budget of 0 dollars, completely by myself. You don’t need money to make a great film, but understand your limitations and work within them. Just fucking go! Go start right now! Let it come from your soul! I will say, if making money is one of your primary motivations - don’t even bother. We have enough of you out there.
8. How do you define success in your films, and what metrics do you use to measure it?
Feelings of ‘success’ in any of my artistic endeavours come from two places. First, it comes from myself. Did I learn new things with this project? Did I improve as an artist with this project? Am I proud of what I created? Do I think my project has value? When I am confident that the answer to these questions is YES, then I feel I have succeeded. The second place it comes from is from the viewers. While my art comes from a personal place, I don’t want whatever I create to be viewed as ‘mine’. I hope viewers can make it their own and get something out of it. When someone tells me that a film of mine has been able to grant them some sort of emotional release, there’s nothing more validating, encouraging, and satisfying to hear.
9. What are some of the recurring themes or topics that you explore in your films, and what motivates you to delve into these subjects?
My filmography, I hope, is still in it’s infancy, meaning I don’t know if I’ve created quite enough to answer that question. But when I reflect on my work, I suppose recurring tropes are someone who is trying to break through something. Someone who wishes to be naked. Someone who is actively ignoring things, tucking truths away, and paying the price. I don’t know. Those are pretty very vague, but they’re the only solid through-lines of all the films I’ve made, I think. I'm sure there are others that I don’t even realize. My motivation for exploring the things that I explore is that they are the things that I think about, feel, and wish to get out. It’s not really a calculated thing. I just do whatever feels important and true. If I don’t feel a sense of emotional urgency behind an idea I won’t pursue it.
10. What are your five favorite films and filmmakers?
Terrence Malick, David Lynch, John Cassavetes, Bela Tarr, Harmony Korine.
Only being able to list 5 films is torture, so I must disobey…
Tree of Life
The Wolf House
12 Angry Men
Passion of Joan of Arc
The Long Goodbye
Mikey and Nicky
would list 100 more if I could, but I’ll stop there