Dispatches from Rotterdam: Gary Hawkins at the International Film Fest

A still from Gary Hawkins' short experimental film "Zero Irony" shows his grandfather.

A still from Gary Hawkins’  “Zero Irony”.

Filmmaker Gary Hawkins, a longtime instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies, is in the Netherlands for the world premiere of his short experimental film Zero Irony at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Hawk will be sending text, video, and still-image dispatches while he’s there. Herewith, his first—words and images (scroll down for slideshow and a link to Dispatch #2 below it).


I’m in a Boeing wide body, flying to Schiphol Airport where I hope to connect with Charles from the UK for a day in Amsterdam. Later that afternoon I’ll take a train to Rotterdam for IFFR 2015. I can’t sleep on planes, no matter what I take. I have a the tiny, pink clonazepam tablet in my pocket (non-addictive) and a plastic cup of aggressively cheap red wine sitting on the tray table in front of me. Taken together they’ll relax me into a dream state, but I won’t really sleep for another 30, maybe 40 hours.

My 11-minute film, Zero Irony premieres tomorrow night at 20:15 hours (8pm). The plan is to stash my luggage in an airport locker and spend the better part of the day exploring the city on adrenalin. I expect to fade somewhere in the giddy meshes of the late afternoon, and dream my through the premiere.

I’m attending tomorrow’s premiere with low expectations and for several reasons–I’m scheduled against two well-regarded features, a dance featuring an appearance by the Russian punk group, Pussy Riot, and most notably, against the first installment of the 20-film Tiger Awards Competition.

I’m also a little perplexed by my assigned “category”, a 5-film grouping entitled, “You Me and It.” I’m hoping it’ll all make sense when I see the other 4 films. I’m also amused by the title itself. I almost submitted my previous film, Me and You to IFFR. If accepted, would they stick Me and You in the You Me and It category? The other 4 films are EndlessNameless, described in the program as a dreamy afternoon in the garden of a high-ranking Thai army officer, A Minute Ago, about one’s inability to hold onto the present, The All-Hearing, about noise pollution in Cairo, and the titular, You Me and It which seems to have something to do with the cruelty of tickling.

The You Me and It logline reads, “Unpredictability is the measure of all things. A world in which inexplicable actions, sudden interruptions and noise pollution rule.”

Hmmmm. I’m not sure what any of that has to do with Zero Irony, which I fancy a religious film of sorts – religious in the way Melancholia is religious and Ben Hur is not. And now, midway through a four thousand mile journey over the dark Atlantic, I’m beginning to wonder what they think I’ve sent them. If they’re not picking up on the religious elements, what are they picking up on? And why do they like it? They’re the secularized Old Country and I’m an envoy from O’Connor’s Christ-haunted landscape. When they watch Zero Irony what do they see?

Zero Irony is an experimental film consisting of 11 one-minute repetitions of a single action: an old man looks out a window, turns and walks to an adjoining room where he looks out a second window. As we see this we hear prayer petitions on a religious radio station. For example:

“Pray for a woman’s healing from diabetes and bladder problems,”
“Pray for a pastor’s two daughters who are living sinful lifestyles,”
“Pray for a husband’s delivery from a hateful, nasty disposition.”

These prayer requests are followed by stormy indigo skies, ponderous music and the flickering manifestations of faces, representing… deities? The result is as rhythmic and interactive as the doxology of a Catholic mass, which, I suppose, could be stretched to represent the clergy, congregation and Holy Spirit of the You, Me, and It, but I seriously doubt the programmers were thinking along those lines.

Aside from all that, I think it’s funny that my grandfather made it to the Netherlands, because that old man staring out the windows is my mother’s father, Raymond Loflin. I took the shot with a Bell & Howell newsreel camera, loaded with either Plus-X or Tri-X film stock. I asked my grandfather if he would look out the window, then walk into the next room and gaze out another window, which he did, but he didn’t just walk casually. He walked with zero purpose, zero regard and zero irony. When he dropped dead of a heart attack in that very room three days later, I realized that he’d also walked with zero thought of the future, because of course, he had none.

And on that upbeat note I’m gonna have to say good-night, y’all. See you in Amsterdam.

Hawkins, Netherlands 2015

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All photographs by Gary Hawkins.





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