The longer I live alone here, off-grid in Suurbraak, managing my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law’s (Sasha) small Niche Unity farming operation, the more absorbed I become in what I call a hidden geography, captured also in a short film by Green Renaissance:
Ostensibly, the film is a creation of Justine du Toit (producer), Michael Raimondo (director), Warren Smart (cinematographer), and Jackie Viviers (editor) all of Green Renaissance.
My sense, however, is of deeper processes at work. Let me try to explain.
For me the film was uncanny, as I had been looking for both pairs of my glasses up until minutes before Justine and Michael’s arrival to show me the rough cut of their movie. While searching, the question popped into my mind: ‘Hendrik, what aren’t you seeing?’, and then as if to reinforce the question halfway through their movie hanging in the barn were my glasses.
For me seeing my glasses hanging in the barn evoked a sense of déjà vu, but what of the viewer?
The film opens in darkness, with nothing to see, just the sound of milking: ‘whoosh, whoosh’, cut to (narrative text is indicated in italics): And there’s nothing else, just you in this goat world, cut to Daisy’s eyes looking over the gate at the three of us inside the barn (Daisy is the matriarch) followed by the piano score and movie title, What actually IS superimposed over a close-up of a rather sinister image of one of the goat’s eyes (see the screen grab below),
perhaps reminding us that goats are intimately associated with the occult – as in that which is hidden.
My sense is that the tension set up by the goats’ eyes juxtaposed with the glasses hanging in the barn lie at the heart of this little movie.
So if the movie is about seeing, what should we be seeing?
Is it a case of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get): photogenic goats, an old man sounding off, footage of the luscious Suurbraak valley or is what we should be seeing invisible: as in that from which the visible emerges (the surrounding darkness out of which the goat’s eye peers, comes to mind)?
Certainly it’s not WYSIWYG, as the tight edits, narrative and voice-overs signal: It’s deep, deep stuff (Kashkha looking back into the camera). Humans have lost respect for animals (Daisy looking into the barn). Batteries and feedlots… If we don’t look after our animals and we just turn them into food factories … (aforementioned glasses, fade to antique Chinese urn, fade to transgenerational photographic image of Matthew glass raised as if toasting his father, fade to steaming clay and ash espresso cup from the Camino, referencing Sasha, born French, fade to barometer indicating stormy).
For me the movie reaches into what is below the surface and has been lost.
So what has been lost?
I spend most of my day caring for and thinking about the needs of all the animals on the farm. They, in turn, are continuously conscious of my presence.
Each provides a gateway to other, or what might traditionally be described as God. I provide the animals with a sense of security, governance and routine. They put me in touch with that which is primordial (William Blake’s The Tyger comes to mind). This mutuality is the hidden geography.
This self-same geography Justine most likely sensed when she interjected: “If only we had had a camera here to capture your saying that.” Michael’s searching interview questions that evoked my responses helped articulate it. Warren’s saturated, pregnant footage conveyed it. Justine and Michael’s brief to Jackie must have spoken to it. Jackie’s uncanny, David Lynchian edits framed it.
All mentioned above, as also the goats, sensing something important was happening, helped us see: if we don’t respect them …the animals are lost, and their loss is our loss.