Wishing Well

Wishing Well

Length: 13:00 mins
Year of production: 2018
Exhibition Format: DCP or Quicktime file
Source Format: 16mm archival footage and HD Video
Language: No language
Selected Music by: Jeff Surak
Assistance: Alix Blevins
Consultance: Herbert Schwarze
Sound Mix: Philipp Bitter
Color Grading: Bertrand Glosset
Support/Mastering: Alfonso Merino

Synopsis: Gushing colors. A time disjointed, yet synchronous.
A transcendent turn, a quest for agency, a reunion with currents of the forest.

"The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for." J. Campbell

Short Statement: In many cultures, the forest is used widely as a motif, in stories, novels, films, a walk into the woods is often more than just a literal walk––it is a metaphorical journey into the human mind. I was interested in exploring the forest as a metaphor for human consciousness, and creating my own interpretation of the forest as a place for personal transformation; another trope that could be considered common in the “genre” of forest symbolism, if it can be called a genre. For me, the work has also been about unexpected encounters that open up new understandings of the self; as well as the changes that one goes through in life, both structural and psychological. My relationship to some of my films evolve over time, as has been the case with Wishing Well. More themes embedded within my short, that for me, have gained significance, are environmentalism, human agency, and the temporal relationship of a human lifespan against the lifespan of a forest. But just as my own relationship to my work changes, I welcome audiences to form their own relationship with it, and take away their own reading, association, and meaning from it. The work does not demand one reading or another, it is designed to be rather sensorial and experiential than rational.

Long Statement: I’ve been exploring the flicker technique over the past few years, and for each film, it has gained different meaning. In Wishing Well, I loved to conceive of the flicker, and the interruptions that the black frames pose, as a metaphor for streams of consciousness: thoughts are never constant, continuous or absolute, but always disrupted and fragmented; by internal and external sensory impressions, by dreams, memories, projections, and general mind wandering. When combining the flicker technique with layered cross dissolves, none of the images are shown in their entirety, are only partially visible, and always interlaced with other images. The fluidity of one image appearing, before it slips away again, the way one fades into another, and the abstract articulations of multiple, layered sequences––all of these compositional features afford possibilities of meaning. For Wishing Well, the structural elements of the montage became symbolic for how things appear, remain, are suppressed, or disappear from the conscious, subconscious and unconscious of the human mind.

In many cultures, in ceremonies, in religion and in rites, but also in literary works, music, and films, the forest appears almost universally: as a backdrop, as a stage, as a mystical, spiritual, or transcendental space, as a place for children’s (and adults’) stories, as a setting for education, asceticism, or for encounters with the supernatural. The forest is also popular in German cultural history, at times it’s even been labeled a typical motif: from ancient Germanic myths, to romantic paintings, poems, fairy tales and songs of the 19th century, to more recent environmental activism––depending on the era and genre, the forest has been charged with varied symbolic, metaphorical or allegorical meaning.

Here are two quotes taken from disparate modes of writing, and while they seem to correspond across time and contexts, the symbolism of the forest and the subtle evaluation of its attributes and agency couldn’t be more different:

"Thoughts grow in me like a forest, populated by many different animals. But man is domineering in his thinking, and therefore he kills the pleasure of the forest and that of the wild animals. Man is violent in his desire, and he himself becomes a darker forest and a sickened forest animal.” (Carl Jung, The Red Book)

“Animals lurked in the forest like tromp l’oeil figures, some of them horrific beasts he had never seen before. He would eventually have to pass through the forest, but he felt no fear. Of course––the forest was inside him, he knew, and it made him who he was. The beasts were the ones he himself possessed.” (Haruki Murakami, After the Quake)

Murakami often builds psychological narratives around a forest: a walk into the woods is usually more than just a literal walk––it’s a journey into the mind. I’d be remiss not to admit how much I’ve loved his use of symbolism, some of which, I think, might be reinterpreting (even subverting) Carl Jung’s theories on archetypes: symbolic images whose manifestations provide a basis for analysis; images that connect the individual personal unconscious with a larger, collective unconscious.

Time and time again, I have used images of trees and forests as metaphorical carriers in my films. When making Wishing Well, I wanted to focus entirely on the representation of the forest: I wanted to create an allegory for human consciousness. But using shots of the forest alone, as I had initially intended, didn’t quite achieve what I wanted, so I introduced a human figure, a young preschool boy, alone, seemingly unafraid, who goes on a quest. The fact that he is on his own, venturing into what appears to be a near magical, luminous forest, pays tribute to fairy tales in which children find themselves lost or abandoned in the woods. I didn’t want to create a linear narrative, in which there is an apparent reason for why the child goes into, and how he comes out of the forest.

Unlike above quotes, animals don’t feature in my forest. But for a brief moment, an older man, in black and white, shows up like a fleeting apparition, as if seemingly stepping out of mysteriously translucent seeds that the boy holds in his open palms. For me, the older man and the young boy are one and the same, but it’s unclear which time the film inhabits: are we looking at a memory of the old man of himself as a young boy, or is the old man a projection of the boy’s future?

Just as one can sense, in the features of any child, expressions of a lifetime; echoes of a childhood are inscribed in every person, who faces the end of their human time. I’ve always been fascinated with this, to conceive of time, present(s), past(s) and future(s), as embodied and visible, all at once, if only as a notion, an aura, or an imagination. In that way, the juxtaposition of the boy and the man, perhaps, is a minute visualization of a human life span, but the old man appearing out of the hands of the young boy, in the context of the film, is also a mini metaphor for personal agency.

While I was making the film, I had suffered my first depression induced by climate change. This frame of mind deeply informed the subtext of the work: in the middle of the film, after, by means of superimposition, the river water seems to burst out of the boys hands, there are layers of image sequences, barely visible, that show landscapes destroyed by storms and floods. Interweaved also, are images of celluloid film with heavy water damage, which, in its very own material way, erases representations of life into patterns of oblivion. I didn’t wan’t to make an instantly recognizable environmental film, after all, my main focus was on psychology; and also, it was simply not the mode I work in. I wanted to create possibilities for open interpretations, and allow the audience to have their own associations. But I deliberately embedded this theme into the timeline––submerged, subliminal, subconscious––and the way it is largely obscured is my observation of the ways that this topic has widely been treated: with mechanisms of retiring a problem into the recesses of consciousness; perhaps one explanation for the lack of collective demand/effort/action for the dramatic systemic changes that are necessary to tackle the cataclysmic climate events that have been unfolding in recent years.

The images of the boy were taken out of an educational short film from the 1970s, in which the child walks into the forest and sees man-made environmental pollution. I matted the child frame by frame, to isolate the protagonist and to erase the original background. In my film, we no longer see the things that the boy is looking at: empty cans of soda littering the forest floor, thrown away car tires, air pollution from nearby traffic, forest clearances for logging. In the source film, the boy resolves to plant a handful of acorns. This is both a symbol of hope and activism: to plant new trees not only to help new plant life grow, but also to fight the destruction of the ecosystems in the forest. For my film, I decided to matte the acorns that the boy holds in his hands, so that they appear translucent when superimposed with other footage, in this way magnifying a kind of alternate visibility. Aside from creative possibilities this offered, I wanted to open this sequence up to ambiguity. Children themselves have become a symbol of sorts for the climate crisis: they are carriers of hope, in that every generation seems to defer, and pass on the responsibility to act, to the next.

In the end of my film, the boy still plants the seeds, but while his motions and gestures are there, it's almost impossible to recognize what exactly he is doing. Perhaps we have long arrived at the point where political agency on every level––personal, proxy, collective––must move beyond symbolism, into immediate action, in order to maintain any futurity of hope. (Berlin, October 27, 2020. Sylvia Schedelbauer)

–––at once hypnotic and hypnagogic (Mubi)

–––Wishing Well evokes the awesome power of the natural world while seeming, through her lyrical superimpositions, to hold it in the palm of a hand. (Tony Pipolo, Artforum)

–––Schedelbauer attempts to reconcile the flicker, long seen as the ne plus ultra of materialist cinema, with the narrative imagination. Perhaps it’s the forest setting or the recurring figure of a boy, but the film powerfully evokes the childhood feeling of falling into a story. (Max Goldberg, KQED Arts)

–––The hypnotic oscillation of images crescendos into a fusion of figure and field as different temporalities, forms, and forces evoke an affecting, and at times ominous interior space of subconscious experience and transformation. (Aily Nash and Faraz Anoushahpour, program notes, Images Festival)

–––(...)a hallucinogenic collage film that follows a boy as he roams alone in the woods collecting and planting seeds. The images of the boy, which, as Schedelbauer explains in a statement, were taken from an educational short on environmental pollution made during the 1970s and then matted frame-by-frame by the filmmaker, flick through the film, cross-dissolved on luscious pictures of trees and images of celluloid film damaged by water. ‘I didn’t want to make an instantly recognizable environmental film,’ she writes, which is why any concerns about the ecological crisis we’re facing become apparent only when details about the film’s source materials are disclosed. Ultimately, Wishing Well’s reading remains slippery, its visuals transcending clearcut spatial and temporal markers. However, such a thematic porousness complements the film’s visual structure, allowing the human and natural worlds to collide. (Ren Scateni, Art Review)

–––The filmmaker shows, again in single frames, on found footage, a little boy surrounded by trees, holding a divining rod in his hand. Through the cinematic flicker, the forest pulsates, it becomes animated, its colorfs alternating between blue, green, red and pink. Trees and flowers suddenly sprout, and microscopic shots of tree and leaf structures alternate with the image of the boy. Schedelbauer combines mythological notions of tree and forest with a profoundly sensory-visual experience of film. (Claudia Slanar, catalogue text, Blickle Kino, Belvedere Vienna)

–––in Sylvia Schedelbauer’s psychedelically coloured Wishing Well, the natural world is rendered with the slipperiness of a half-remembered hallucination. The film operates as a simultaneous push and pull through the recesses of childhood memories: the serene tranquility of its natural setting disrupted by the film’s pulsating flicker. Firmly embedded within the avant-garde tradition, Wishing Well, is both a beginning and an end, a retraction and a journey into the new, where time and space are constantly in flux. Above all it’s a film of great transport, offering both a journey into the transcendent, but also one of great physicality and remarkable sensory stimulation. (Thomas Grimshaw, blog post, London Short Film Festival)

–––A forest glade. A flickering. A cutting sound accompanies and dissects the simplicity of the image immediately, while the camera simultaneously moves backwards – we are distancing ourselves, entering into something new. The journey begins. A child on a path. It remains in the blackness, its hand, its face. The forest. Two universes encountering one another. With a steady touch and a great sensitivity for movement and rhythm, for form and the fluidity of colours, Sylvia Schedelbauer tells of a search and a discovery. In the reverse motion of objects, time and memory are laid bare and speak of the beauty of the search and the uncovered treasure. (Maike Mia Höhne, program notes, Berlinale Shorts Competition)

–––The flickering of the images here is reminiscent of a steady pulse, with various images overlapping each other, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, as the camera slowly tracks backwards. The flickering is contrasted yet again with black frames as deliberate breaches that break up the linearity of the narrative. Digital shots of a forest, which are disrupted by a piercing sound, are superimposed with short sequences shot on 16 mm film. Sequences that show a boy who seems to be exploring the forest. In mythology, the forest has a unique position, being a setting of myths and legends just as it is a place of longing romanticised in painting and literature. In the reversed movement of the scenes, an attempt then occurs to proceed to such hidden thoughts and the forest thus becomes the place of personal yearnings and desires.(Lina Louisa Krämer, online journal, Kurzfilm Magazin)

–––Sylvia Scheldelbauer’s Wishing Well was another lysergic experience of the intimate. The primal pulse of her images set the pace of an invisible rhythm, while we travel a path that might be a metaphor for a memory, for the ghostly road of our memories, somewhat linked to the appearance of a second patina of light, apparitions that mix themselves, images within images, a beating heart that tries to infuse life through its communicating vessels. Wishing Well is a fantastic experience of the erotic (the sensory), but it is also interlocked with the idea of commuting layers of significants in order to construct a different creature, a living, breathing being pulsing along the 24fps of cinema. An aesthetic eye is keen on the compulsive merging of images, a method that dwells with a different array of paintings. The filmmaker is, indeed, not only painting with light, but also, mixing a palette with two different compositions. The living painting of Schedelbauer’s manifestation of life is constantly renewing itself, reinventing itself from the intentions of memory, as a resource of the imagination or plain brain activity. It’s a nostalgic exercise with structural components, it’s both recalling, building and breathing. A remarkable work. (José Sarmiento Hinojosa, Desistfilm)

–––A child exploring a forest is the starting point for an almost psychedelic journey, realized through continuous cuts, overlaps and flashes within, through the perceptive persistence of the flow of still images in succession, brings us into an imaginary world where color plays a primary role; and memory itself becomes a visual tool with which to create levels on levels of images and meaning. In this way, a new world appears to our eyes, a world in which we cannot do anything but follow the images, sounds and colors, getting lost within ourselves and within the intricate forest of our visual memory. (Stefano Romano, program notes, Art House Shkodër)

–––Flickering is used to reveal a parallel film dimension, which unpacks a world inside the world through an immersive audiovisual experience. This eco-parable fully captivates our sensory and sensual instincts while uncovering dark tales of the human destruction of nature. (Jury Statement, The Unforeseen - International Experimental Film Festival)

–––Sylvia Schedelbauer takes us on a journey into the farthest recesses of subconsciousness, weaving a flickering eco-parable around a boy's adventure in an enchanted forest. Her Wishing Well wishes you to wake your inner child and drink from the stream of free flowing thoughts, as the parallel dimensions assimilate into a redolent cacophony of colors. (Nikola Gocić - Ngboo Art)

–––In awarding the Max Bresele Memorial Prize for the film with special political relevance, we decided on a work that at first glance does not seem to be classically located in the field of political cinema. But what is this field and what does "classically" mean, and should political cinema not question exactly these parameters? In any case, our winning film reveals in a deeply sensual, almost hypnotic way that politics is always also a question of form and not just content. This does not mean that our winning film Wishing Well by Sylvia Schedelbauer solely works on an abstract and structural level, even if it does this in an extremely convincing way, with its rhythmic use of the flicker effect and the cross dissolves of images that seem to simultaneously drift into, and away from each other. Here is a filmmaker who works her way through the school known as experimental film in order to crystallize her very own physical and decidedly female view of the world. In the process of transformation from the pure, beguiling form into fragmented worlds of memory, featuring images of a forest, a river, a child, and the evoked feeling of touching a fragile natural world - reinforced by the use of analogue material - we discover an urgent and vital political attitude, composed of what is personally and individually missing, instead of a relentless, didactic moralizing of great and troubling themes. The film lets opposing images come together, for example when water seems to flow almost magically through the hands of the boy, and allows for an encounter in impressive cinematic moments. In them, the film explores the utopian potential of our perception and cinema at the same time. Wishing Well is a film filled with longing that was never allowed, or only allowed in cinema, full of dreams we once had, full of connections that get lost in the negative image of life. And because the filmmaker made us feel these things so intensely, we confer the Max Bresele Memorial Award for the film with special political relevance to Sylvia Schedelbauer for her film Wishing Well. (Jury Statement, International Short Film Week Regensburg)

2020 Best Experimental Film, Globe Film Festival, Tehran, Iran
2019 Max Bresele Memorial Prize for a Politically Relevant Film, International Short Film Week Regensburg, Germany
2018 Grand Prix, The Unforeseen - International Experimental Film Festival, Belgrade, Serbia
2018 CAMIRA Award, Curtocircuito International Film Festival, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
2018 Special Mention, International Film Festival Message to Man, St. Petersburg, Russia