Deborah Stratman's Second Sighted showcases an unforgettable array of audio and visual material, ranging from computer-generated images to archival footage of satellites. The film transcends time as it jumps between style and tone, combining the new and the old, accomplished through the use of footage found in the Chicago Film Archives accompanied by the work of composer Olivia Block. “Obscure signs portend a looming, indecipherable slump. An oracular decoding of the landscape,” describes Stratman.

FilmLinc Daily viewed a handful of pieces in this year's lineup and asked directors a few questions about their work. Here, Stratman describes the process of working with an extensive collection of film footage to create her mesmerizing multi-media piece and the “sorcery” involved in placing archival footage in different sequences in order to reveal a new meaning. Second Sighted screened as part of Projections Program 4 on Friday. 

FilmLinc: Second Sighted has remarkable transitions between the archival material. What was the process of assembling footage and piecing the film together?

Deborah Stratman: Chicago Film Archives has a lot of disparate material, so the first thing I did was share with Collections Manager Anne Wells some loose categories I was interested in. This was my list: 

The sea
Data infrastructure
Bud Billiken parade
The deep tunnel system
Pumping stations
Fred Hampton
Harold Washington

Some of those themes weren’t represented. But plenty were. And a few additional titles were selected based on conversations we had when I was previewing material Anne had pulled. I ended up with 13 source films. I took those back to the studio and started scanning through them for sequences I found compelling, and just paid attention to what sorts of patterns surfaced. 

I didn’t assemble the footage to illustrate a preconceived theme; I let the shots I was attracted to suggest one. The process was a bit like throwing the I Ching, which I take as a mechanism that helps you articulate something you might be thinking but aren’t yet able to name. Though in this case, I think the images remain in a realm where naming is just beyond our grasp. A state that produces some anxiety.  

Structurally speaking, a cut decision might be based on movement trajectory, or color rhyme. Sometimes it’s about moving from depth to flatness, or vice versa. Others are motivated by semantic content, and the odd compound sentences that are produced by suturing unlike things.

It’s the only film I’ve ever cut silently, which I found quite difficult. But was an unavoidable condition of how the composer, Olivia Block, and I were able to collaborate as we were in different cities and both busy with other projects. We volleyed material back and forth a couple of times, but we didn’t belabor it. I should note that Olivia chose to generate her material from soundtracks of films in the same collection. So we both were operating under similar constraints.

FL: How do you hope to change the way viewers see archival material through the multimedia work in the film?

DS: It wasn’t my intention to change how people see archival material. But I did enjoy the process of unlocking meaning from sequences that have been frozen into narrow reads by the finished films that have been their hosts. Juxtaposing the archival fragments felt a bit like sorcery. If people started to view archival material in general as having unlimited magical recombinant potential, I guess that would be something. A wandering semiotics of the archive.

FL: What do you hope audiences will take away from the piece?

A sense of augury. Of how quick we humans are to read signs into place and into experience. Especially in the face of dark or thin times. But also the impression that even very mundane things can contain a magnetism can can positively charge its neighbors.