all circles the moon & dirt shines in the sun Review – The Existence of Death is Sustained in This Immersive Film Experience From Dogmilk

Photography and filmmaking carry a mystical aura because they crystallise the past leaving subjects to remain alive and among us even when they have long deceased. This dualism between life and death which photography emanates is a key factor in the recent four-screen video installation by Dogmilk, a group of emerging filmmakers from Melbourne, entitled all circles the moon & dirt shines in the sun. The project finds Dogmilk beginning a specific creative exchange project with Indonesian filmmakers called Sipakatuo (Glorify One Another) and using Delta Sangalla TV (DTSV) footage, a group of filmmakers who document the regions called Toraja. Through several trips over to Indonesia sound designer Josh Peters establishes a multi-layered soundtrack and the film’s ninety minutes is composed of re-arranged and constructed footage by Wahyu Al Mardhani and Chris Cochrane-Friedrich, which DTSV have accumulated. The film balances life and death, illustrating the rituals and ceremonies prevalent in the Toraja in detail creating an immersive experience. 

The film doesn’t feature subtitles throughout, however there are intertitles which appear occasionally, provided by DTSV filmmaker and founder, Victor Konda. The absence of translation becomes apparent in the scenes where village members chant and sing different messages to their deceased loved ones, creating ambiguity for the audience. Although the intertitles provide a gentle and poetic backdrop to the installation project as Victor explains the reason DTSV came to be. Toraja, like the First Nations people of Australia did not have a literary culture thus Victor asked his uncle for a handy-cam to tell the narrative and leave an imprint, albeit in the form of multimedia. 

The films four screen installation is at first disorienting but the complex sound design and careful editing makes you feel engrossed in the rituals and ceremonies of Toraja. The deep green of the forest radiates on the various screens as well as the rich red and ochres consistently showing fires and burnings. Death seems apparent throughout the film’s entirety but there is a humanism and light prevalent throughout including when the wrinkled bodies of old women are washed and prepared for burial. It is evident that their skin is pierced with stories and the people cleaning them are shown laughing and joking with one another as the bodies are prepared for ceremony, an ongoing representation of life and death. 

Another key element in the film’s success as an installation is the rhythm and pacing of the editing which strikes a good balance between fast and mellow. At times the trembling bass line would kick in across the entire afternoon-lit room of the North Magdalen Laundry at the Abbotsford convent, accompanied by confronting footage of animals being butchered, signalling an important scene. Photography is a paradoxical medium in that it captures what is active in order for it to remain, for as long as the material can, alive and present. all circles the moon & dirt shines in the sun highlights this inextricable relationship through the literal portrayal of death via the medium of film in order to sustain its existence.

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