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Filmmaker Q&A: Timothy Smith

Trailer for Queering di Teknolojik

Dr. Timothy Smith is a London-based academic, programmer, artist, and filmmaker. Timothy obtained his BA(Hons) in Film Production and Animation from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and his MA in Art and Media Practice at the University of Westminster, in London.

Several of his film credits include narrative short films such as Attack (2005) and Le Weekend (2007). More recently, he has made experimental non-narrative films such as Béton brut (2014) and When we come to it (2015); which eventually led to his undertaking his PhD and making works such as A Queering of Memory: Parts 1&2 (2017), Queer Babel (2018) and Queering di Teknolojik (2019).

His film, Queering di Teknolojik, was shown at the 58th AAFF and was awarded the George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award. This award recognizes the filmmaker who best captures the bold and iconoclastic spirit of the Ann Arbor Film Festival founder, the late George Manupelli, whose vision for the festival continues to this day. The film is available to watch for free on Channel 4 on Demand.

What is your background as a filmmaker?

Things have kind of come full circle for me. I started out making experimental films on 16mm at a film school in Melbourne. Then a few years after I moved to London I did a Master’s degree in digital video and documentary. I made some documentary and narrative short films but in the last 6 years or so I've shifted back to more experimental work.

Tell us about your film, Queering di Teknolojik .

QUEERING DI TEKNOLOJIK is a message from the future. The film is a companion piece to my 2018 film QUEER BABEL and utilizes the same artificial intelligence digital voice software, except this time I have ‘queered the machine’ by training the AI with multiple voices. I worked with a group of other queer artists and activists, not only on the creation of the digital voice but in deciding what we wanted the voice to say. We speculated about the possibilities of a temporality yet to come and created a whole backstory about the future and how humanity arrived there, which then informed the script. What does the future look, sound, and feel like? Have they managed to overcome the challenges of climate change and avert the impending environmental catastrophe? Did they succeed in dismantling the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and finally achieve equality for all? Which strategies of protest and resistance were the most effective? The film is a message of hope.

Trailer for QUEER BABEL

What was your biggest challenge when creating QUEERING DI TEKNOLOJIK?

I made the film as part of my Ph.D., so I guess the biggest challenge was grappling with the pressure that the film needed to be a piece of research as well as practice. Determining whether or not any new knowledge was emerging from the process. Plus the anxiety of not knowing if it was any good or not.

What was the most exciting part?

Collaborating with my wonderfully talented friends. We had fun creating the digital voice, one night at my place over dinner. Then we discussed what we wanted the voice to say; what a queer utopian future looked like for each of us. So Mayer and I had already discussed the project for months and So had put me onto a lot of inspiring 'visionary fiction' literature by authors like Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Their work is grounded in social justice activism and it really resonated with our aspirations for the project. Then I asked Campbell X, Valentino Vecchietti, and Teresa Cisneros if they would like to collaborate with us and thankfully they said yes.

What influences you and how is that reflected in your work?

Social, racial, and environmental justice were the main influences for the film. I wanted to make a piece of work that tackled these issues in a meaningful way, so I felt an ethical responsibility to collaborate. It would have been very problematic for me to attempt to make the film on my own.

Is there a particular filmmaker who has inspired you?

I've definitely been inspired by the work of Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien, and John Akomfrah. More recently, Charlotte Prodger's films have been inspiring me.

What memorable responses have you had to this film?

Winning the 'George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award' at the 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival was a dream. We were also nominated for Best Short Film at the BFI London Film Festival in 2019. This year we were nominated for Best British Short at the Iris Prize Festival and we recently won the Best British Film Award at Queer Visions Film Festival, Bristol.

What format, techniques, and/or media do you use to create your film?

I shot some of the footage on Super 8 film, and other sequences just using my iPhone. The majority of the film is compiled from archive footage and work that other filmmakers have very generously made available for use through the Creative Commons license. I noticed that the digital voice had an audible glitch at the start and end of each line of dialogue. I harnessed this glitch and used it to create sound effects that operate like structural interference throughout the film.

Are you working on anything currently?

To be honest I'm waiting for inspiration. I completed my Ph.D. just as the pandemic was beginning, so I think I'm still processing post-Ph.D. feelings. I've been super impressed with people who have been able to come up with innovative ways of creating new work under lockdown, but most of my energy has been directed towards just surviving.

Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked you about?

I really want to thank AAFF, not just for showing my work and giving us the lovely award, but for all of the effort that went into staging the festival online. You must've been one of the first festivals to tackle that challenge and you pulled it off brilliantly. I'm sure many other festivals learned from the model that you created.

Thanks, Timothy! You can learn more about Timothy on his website.


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