Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THE AQUARIUS PROJECT ~ a 30-minute alchemical docu-poem on WATER

In September 2003 a friend tipped me off that Discovery Channel was looking for 30-minute documentary ideas from untested filmmakers. He suggested I submit a brief outline and try my chances. Winning entries would be granted a production team and a $25,000 budget to realize the project. I just re-read this proposal from 9 years ago and decided it was worth preserving as a blogpost. Even with a $250,000 budget I no longer have the stamina to do stuff like this. But if any young filmmaker who chances upon this would like to pick up on it....


Preliminary outline

We are watery creatures living on the surface of a watery planet and are subject to lunar influences that generate a subtle emotional tide in our interactions with our environment.

Water is one of the five elements that constitute life as we know it.

No one can agree on what the fifth element is: the Chinese consider metal as the fifth element while Hindus say it is akasha, the ether. Recently, there has even been a suggestion that the fifth element is LOVE. But everyone accepts that Fire, Air, Water, and Earth are the elemental constituents of all life on this planet.

Fire is associated with Energy, represented in the Tarot deck by Wands and in the modern deck by Clubs. Air is Communication, represented by the Sword of Intellect in the Tarot and Spades in the secular deck. Earth is Material Wealth, represented as Pentacles in the Tarot and Diamonds in the modern deck.

Water is Emotion, represented by Cups and by Hearts.

Some astrologers say that on the vernal equinox of March 20, 2001, we finally entered the Age of Aquarius, symbolized by the Water-Bearer. Yet scientists have recently warned that water shortages may be a potential cause of violent conflict in the 21st century.

Water – in all its forms and moods and guises – is the main character of my proposed ‘alchemical docu-poem.’ Water in its literal and metaphorical aspects, as the source of life and the spring of our emotions: water is a liquid analogy for the entire gamut of feelings we experience – from mirthful playfulness to unmitigated rage, from transcendental serenity to violent agitation and profound sorrow. A few years ago I wrote a polemical tract which succinctly summarizes the poetic perspective I intend to translate into moving images and sounds:

Humility means acknowledging how little we know about the universe; and humility comes from realizing that nature’s beauty and mystery are worth infinitely more than our perverse obsession with illusory fame and fortune. Being able to breathe clean, fresh air and admire the distant hills every day may not get us into the Guinness Book of World Records or the Who's Who of the Banana Republics ‑ but it will certainly get us closer to regaining heaven on earth. So stop midway through this frantic and futile feast of fools and look up at the ethereal clouds in the sky, and remember why we chose to be born on this exquisite and unique gem of a planet.  Was it to puff ourselves up with toadish pompousness and amass a hoard of dragon's gold we could never bequeath to our grandchildren? Because our grandchildren would be too busy turning into cockroaches, rats and other lifeforms that can survive or even thrive in ugly and polluted environments.

Or did we come here to experience the separation of matter from spirit, and to learn how they can be harmoniously fused again? For this lesson would teach us that the outer reflects the inner.

Where there is drought in the external reality, it means our souls are parched of feelings, love has dried up. Where there are landslides and flash floods, it means our integrity is decaying and our emotions are murky and raging out of control, bursting the banks of tranquility. And where the air is thick with greasy crud and black with factory soot, it means our thoughts are indecent (i.e., mechanical, pornographic) and our spirit is exhausted.


The Aquarius Project will address the issue of modern technology indirectly, by demonstrating the intimate relationship between murky emotions and contaminated waterways. Humans and human activities play a supporting rĂ´le in the fluid narrative which will favor the non‑verbal over the verbal ‑ although a certain amount of language will be used to help shape the form and intent of the flow. The sad state of human emotions in an industrialized landscape is revealed in our clogged and polluted streams, many of which have undergone the indignity of being turned into drains and sewers.

Only when absolutely needed will a voiceover be used. However, text will feature as an aural and visual element in the narrative, which will alternate between linearity and non‑linearity. This could happen as bits of spoken dialog, as recitations, as song, or as direct interviews with the poet-documentator and others.

I envisage working independently with a digital videocam as well as with a professional crew to achieve a balance between the intimacy and immediacy of an experimental short feature and the technical polish and authority of a conventional documentary. As a musician, I look forward to creating part of the soundtrack for specific sequences, and using library music and live sound for others.

  
TENTATIVE CHECKLIST OF REQUIRED FOOTAGE:

  • Lots of generic water shots: cloud formations, dewdrops on leaves, cascading falls, ripples on lakes and ponds, reflections in puddles, slomo sequences of watery movement, torrential downpour, drizzle, dripping faucet, lawn sprinklers, bathroom showers, wet umbrellas, raincoats, flash floods, muddy rivulets, aquarium sequences, rolling breakers, shimmering seas, speedboat wakes, etc.
  • Whitewater rafters, kayakers, rubber‑tubers, waterskiers, fishermen, boaters, swimmers, kids in rivers, swimming pool sequences, bodysurfers, public urinals, sewage outlets, effluent pipes, drainpipes, monsoon drains, abandoned wells, gutters, stagnant ponds, poisoned streams, sanitation workers, laundrywomen, aquatic flora and fauna, pedestrians caught in thunderstorm, industrial carwash, glass & concrete urban gvs. 
  • Archival footage or stills of severe drought (Afghanistan), destructive floods (China, Bangladesh), famine (Biafra), pestilence (Kosovo, Cambodia), street riots (Indonesia), massacres (East Timor), massive catatastrophes (Kobe, Gujarat), destitution and suffering (Iraq, Sierra Leone), poverty and neglect (Chennai, Chow Kit).
  • General footage of industrial activity, environmental degradation, deforested hills, dust storms, physical and metaphysical desolation.
  • Celebrants and mourners: candid portraits of emoting humans (can either be original footage or culled from magazines, photo albums, libraries, etc.) 

My preferred approach to cooking is to select and prepare the ingredients, look up the recipes of a few tried‑and‑tested dishes ‑ and then leave it to inspiration (and the random factor) to integrate and synthesize the elements, trusting that my artistic instincts will unerringly guide me to making the right decisions. This could prove a chaotic and messy process, but having emerged from a commercial background where artistic self‑indulgence must always concede to entertaining, stimulating and captivating the audience ‑ and being, incidentally, a Capricornian with a hardwired sense of internal order ‑ I have full confidence that I can come up with an immensely watchable and memorable 26‑minute docu‑poem that's aesthetically more adventurous than the straightforward documentary, but still accessible to a mass audience.


I began using a box camera at the age of 6 or 7 and have been an avid photographer most of my life. In the 1970s I had the use of a Super 8 cinecamera and made several experimental home movies which, alas, have all succumbed to the ravages of climate and time. Although I have yet to own a digital videocam, I've handled them occasionally with wholly satisfactory results. I'd like to buy or borrow a decent digital videocam so that I can gather special footage unobtrusively and at my own leisure ‑ leaving the betacam sequences to more experienced professionals. As such, I'd like to be writer, co‑camera‑operator, editor and director on The Aquarius Project ‑ but would greatly appreciate the logistical support of a competent production house.

[First posted 10 August 2012]

2 comments:

masterymistery said...

What a wonderful concept! It could be one of say 4 (or five) on each of the Elements in turn...

Antares said...

@masterymistery - Thanks for being the first to comment and favorably appraise the idea! Ironically, I did get to own a semi-pro digital videocam 2 years later when commissioned to produce a feature-length doco for the Rainforest World Music Festival - but after two years with my nose glued to a laptop screen, digitizing, editing & processing video footage, I found myself in a dilemma - either to invest a lot more time, energy & resources in making movies, in order to get truly good at it; or to leave it to younger, more innovative & digitally savvy folks. Then I discovered blogging... :-)