I first met the Ik in Brooklyn during the spring of 2009. They arrived at my door, packaged neatly into a box just big enough to hold a pair of shoes.
Inside was a media drive with about 70 hours of footage shot by Cevin Soling in northeastern Uganda, one of the wildest and most ungoverned regions of the world. My instructions were to examine this footage and determine whether I could imagine a film.
The images were striking. Photographer David Pluth captured amazingly beautiful scenes, depicting a life so different from my own that it felt like science fiction. During subsequent weeks, I was overcome with the experience of a foreign planet, or a distant time, or perhaps both. It was in this way that I came to know Ikland.
Colin Turnbull was the only other visitor to film the Ik. It was he who introduced them to the world with his famously disparaging book, The Mountain People. His hours of 16mm footage provided content for the opening minutes of our film. While reading Turnbull, I noticed his characterization of Ik men and women as a collective scientific topic. Personalities were always described as aspects of Ik culture, which I thought was a mistake. He defined his characters within a hypothesis, but I wanted to do things differently. I decided to introduce the Ik as individuals, assuming nothing about their associations, with the expectation that any cultural conclusions would either reveal themselves, or not.
The film itself features a distinct visual and narrative style. The dimensions of movie screens have varied over the years. Originally, they were rectangles whose height was 75% of their length. They later became wider, but retained their basic, elongated rectangular shapes. As a filmmaker, I've always been jealous of the freedom that painters, sculptors, and other visual artists enjoy in determining the scale and dimensions of their work. I am particularly impressed with the geometric choices of the Suprematists during the early 20th century. They identified a previously unfulfilled visual language in the meaning of the shapes they used. I felt this could be exploited cinematically, so I arranged our images in specific spatial orientations to offer an extra narrative dimension. Aesthetic motives were also in play, but they were secondary.
This technique introduced the concept of vacant space to a canvas ordinarily filled from edge to edge. Spaces between the images describe proximity, just as the spaces between scenes distinguish chapters on a larger scale. This required an especially immersive and directional sound design to provide the proper context.
The importance of audio is usually overlooked in film, since the best designs are often the most transparent. However it was once pointed out to me that in movies, apart from what you see, sound is all there is. Insects have 12 eyes popping out of their skulls in all directions. Tragically, we do not. Hence, we must hear the things we can not see. With this in mind, I made room for non-native audio effects, ambience, and music, to explain Iklandís fragmented and surreal topography. We were blessed by the contributions of both Sacha Lucashenko and Martin Trum, who invented many ways to make this happen.
The process of making Ikland was uniquely open. No rules or expectations were provided. Our goal was to make the most aesthetic, pertinent, and experiential film possible. We tried to create an immersive environment to show what previously had only been reported. To understand our world, we all need to see it, and speak with others from far away places. We need to travel - metaphorically, if not physically. So if, in the end, Ikland provides the impression of experience, it will have been a success.