The NYFF sidebar Projections showcases an international lineup of contemporary avant-garde cinema, rethinking the way viewers interpret images, sounds, and filmmaking. In the case of Mike Stoltz's Under the Atmosphere, the juxtaposition of nature and mankind's development is set in Florida, where objects, people, landmarks, and landscapes are all juxtaposed in this world-traveling, mind-bending film. Stoltz describes his 16mm film with this statement: “Shot on the Central Florida Space Coast, site of NASA’s launchpads. Arcane text, an out-of-tune rock band, active landscape, and the surface of the image work toward a future-past shot reverse shot.”
FilmLinc Daily viewed a handful of pieces in this year's lineup and asked directors a few questions about their work. Mike Stoltz shared his thoughts on the location of the piece, his shifts between locations and tone, and the eclectic imagery in the film. Under the Atmosphere will screen today as part of Projections Program 7.
FilmLinc: The shooting location of Florida seems to be at the heart of Under the Atmosphere. Did the setting inspire the film's concept?
Mike Stoltz: I filmed Under the Atmosphere along the central Florida “Space Coast,” a stretch of beach bookended by an Air Force base and the NASA rocket launch pad facilities. It is a small sliver of land lying against an endless ocean and an even larger sky, filled with a variety of aircraft, rockets, and satellites constantly coming and going. This is also where I grew up, so it is a place I know well.
FL: The film provides large contrasts within certain frames, such as the juxtaposition of motionless manmade structures and the movement of nature. What was your approach to composing frames that express this disparity?
MS: So much of making this film involved thinking about scale and perspective, both in the image and and how I relate to the place I was filming. What I had access to on the ground there seemed unremarkable. Even in full daylight so much remained invisible to me—for example, the parts of the NASA grounds that I was denied permission to photograph, and the heavily guarded private aerospace and defense facilities in the area. Since parking lots and the office buildings were as close as I could get to these locations, I went ahead and filmed them. When I began pointing the lens up toward the sky the intersection of concrete slab and landscaped flora suggested a sort of chicken-and-egg game. Which came first? Which would outlast the other? The shifts in scale and depth against a big blue canopy allowed for my own shifts in perspective while making the film, something I hoped to further in the other scenes by positing my own performance both in front of and behind the camera.
FL: Going from scene to scene, the visuals and audio travel from the peaceful and serene to the jarring and frenetic, and then back again. What reactions do you hope to achieve through the diverse emotions the film expresses?
MS: My own memory of living in this area consists of idyllic moments of coastal life combined with the earth shaking from the most recent space shuttle launch, test missiles being fired over the ocean, and the occasional exploding spacecraft. It makes sense to me that the film contains moments of calm alongside sequences that have an electrical charge at their core. The fast-paced shots shift back and forth between two disparate vantage points, an attempt to see in two different directions at the same time. The sound during these moments works in a similar way, cross-cutting between two different field recordings or two tones rather than layering them on top of one another.