Drift: Dokumentarfilm von Helena Wittmann und Theresa George

18.06. | Kino City46 | 20:30

Wir freuen uns auf die Vorführung des abendfüllenden Dokumentarfilms Drift von Helena Wittmann und Theresa George. Der Film über das Meer ist ein als Beispiel einer experimentellen, sensorischen, audio-visuellen Anthropologie. Die Ethnologin und Autorin des Films, Theresa George, wird während des Screenings anwesend sein und für einen Q&A zur Verfügung stehen.


Two women spend a weekend together at the North Sea. Walks on the beach, fish buns at a snack stand, mobile weather forecasts. Sky, horizon, water. One of them will soon return to her family in Argentina, whereas the other one will try to come a step closer to the ocean. She travels to the Caribbean and the unknown makes her vulnerab- le. Then, the land gets out of sight. On a sailing vessel she crosses the Atlantic Ocean. One wave follows the other, they never resemble. Thoughts go astray, time leaves the beaten track and the swell lulls to deep sleep. The sea takes over the narration. And when she reappears, the wind is still in her hair while the ground beneath her feet is solid. She returns and the other one could ask: „Have you changed?“ 


Eintritt Studierende: 4,00 Euro

Eintritt regulär: 9,00 Euro


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Rezension des Anthropologen Stefan Helmreich
What does it mean to drift? Helena Wittmann’s affecting film, written with Theresa George, fastens together an assemblage of moving still lives about the sea, moving pictures matched in mood and motivation by Nika Breithaupt’s transfixing sound design and music. These are still lives about two people called to travel across the ocean — to family, to uncertain futures, to, by detours, one another. These are still lives, too, about the sea and our senses of it: about the ocean’s coastal clamor, about the mythic murmur and rumble of the maritime, about the rise and fall of waves unfurling at frequencies long and short. In DRIFT, people, water, and waves all emerge as diffracting patterns.

In Drift’s mesmerizing middle segment, the screen frames a succession of sea-sawing seascapes — daytime, nighttime, and night-for day — no land in sight. Viewers see the horizon tilt and sway, marking the vertiginous line between sky and sea — a swelling and scattering sea colored, in turns, blue-grey, Prussian blue, violet blue, cerulean, ultramarine, indigo, and iris. Just naming the colors summons up stories of travel. Prussian blue, recall, traveled from Europe to Japan to color Hokusai’s famous woodcut prints of the Great Wave; ultramarine moved from Afghanistan to Europe; indigo from India to Genoa...

The waves we see, meanwhile, waver across forms: large billowing swells, cat’s paws, whitecaps, spider-web foam networks that coalesce and decoalesce like taffy. At night, waves reveal themselves as patterns of moonlight glitter on an ink-black sea. One can almost imagine this raven black sea as a well of spilled ink — perhaps the squid ink that, Vilém Flusser (2011) reminds us, is a kind of non-in- scriptive medium (cf. Jue 2014). The ink-sea of Drift is cinematographic — motion writing — a midnight movie that is also a kind of calligraphy or painting. This black sea is an alien sea, like outer space made liquid.

With one fleeting exception, we see no swimming marine life in the many hued blue and black seas of Drift. This is an alien ocean thin on life. The seas of Drift are surfaces, their depths only inferred, left, in their mystery, to the viewers’ imagination. In a way, the seas we see are seas of physics, not biology or ecology. We see not, say, the carnage of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Leviathan (2012), a kind of horror movie about fishing that looks, with its fish-eye GoPro views, as though it was made by fish for fish (Chris Boebel, personal communi- cation). Neither does Drift intersect with the vast emptiness and fullness of the commodity ocean recorded in The Forgotten Space, Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s 2012 film about the container ships that cross-hatch today’s globalized sea. And neither is this the trash ocean, the sullied sea of Angela Sun’s 2013 Plastic Paradise: The Gre- at Pacific Garbage Patch. It is, still, however, and perhaps in ways more subtle, still a human, an all-too-human ocean...

Watching the waves in this film, just fresh from interviewing wave scientists about their work, I started to see some of the patterns about which I’d been learning. I saw parasitic capillary waves — tiny surface tension-y waves crawling up the backs of swells — signs of something that wave scientists call the Benjamin-Feir instability (Benjamin and Feir 1967). I saw ripped-apart Langmuir circulations, ocean surface vortices that align with wind direction.

I also noticed waves that can be read as signatures of human presence — waves made by the wake of the ship from which much of Drift was filmed. There are two sorts of such waves, “divergent waves which start at the bow and stern, and angle aft” and “transverse waves ... originally perpendicular to the ship‘s line of motion,” but farther away from the ship more aftly angled (http:// These last waves make it clear that Drift is a film made by an observer — an embodied, technologically enabled (by ship, camera, and editing suite) person. If mythic readings of waves often had them gendered as women — as dangerous seduc- tresses or as wild and protective mothers — or imagine as horses or dolphins (see Rodgers 2016, Helmreich 2017), these are, perhaps, ungendered (transgendered?) waves of physics — though still very much waves of culture. And it is precisely because these waves are patterns of culture that they invite reverie. Is this the timeless ocean of deep ecology? Is this the silent surface grave of the drowned — of, since this is the Atlantic, the Middle Passage? Is this the lifeless sea of an Anthropocene present and future? Is the wake of the ship from which Drift is filmed a sign that we should be holding a wake for the sea?

The incredible sound work of Nika Son buoys the images in the most affecting way. Sometimes, the sound work also brilliantly interferes with how we are to understand the waves we see. We hear, sometimes, wind — a documentary sound. But at other moments, particularly underneath the images of nighttime seas, we become aware of a deep sine wave — the bowed hum of an elec- tronic undulation. That deep vibration offers an abstract auditory double of the visual wave — inhuman electronics turn out to be the sign of human hearing and thinking and meditating. The slow swerve of that wave is at one point interrupted by something that sounds like a river going through and under metal, sounds like the speaking tongues of fishes (maybe a moment when Leviathan is playing in the next theatre over?). And then there are the sounds of waves breaking — the falling apart of cohe- rent sound and the falling apart of ocean waves. Literary theorist John Melillo (2016) reminds us of a passage from Leibniz’s New Essays on Human Understanding, from 1704, which reflects on the sound of crashing waves this way:

To hear this noise as we do, we must hear the parts which make up this whole, that is the noise of each wave, al- though each of these little noises makes itself known only when combined confusedly with all the others, and would not be noticed if the wave which made it were by itself.

Wave scientists have lately taken to listening to the sound of breaking to determine how waves fall apart (Lamarre and Melville 1994). Nika Son has tuned into this, too — we can hear the soundtrack as, in this way, an essay on hu- man understanding.

And Drift, too: a set of passages on how some humans see and hear the seas now, a spectrum of passages that resonate with all the many other seas that today crowd the planet: empty, full, mesmerizing, terrifying, pristine, polluted, dead, living, distracted, present. Drifting into an uncertain future.