Picture of Light

Semaine de la Critique Locarno 1994

Picture of Light
CA/CH 1994 83'

Director: Peter Mettler
Script: Peter Mettler
Camera: Peter Mettler, Gerald Packer, Mark Cyre
Sound: Leon Johnson, Gaston Kyriazi
Editing:: Peter Mettler, Mike Munn
Music:: Jim O'Rourke
Production:: Grimthorpe Film

Peter Mettler 1994 83'

We live in a time where things do not seem to exist if they are not captured as an image.

But if you look into darkness you may see the lights of your own retina -- not unlike the Northern Lights, not unlike the movements of thought. Like a shapeless accumulation of everything we have ever seen. Before science explained, the Northern Lights were interpreted as visions, prophecies, spirits -- a trigger for the imagination -- images provided by nature framed by no less than the universe itself.

...aurora borealis...the lights with no bodies, pouring colours from the sky...a film exploring the capture of images from nature, images more special than any special effect...

Appearing in the film: Andreas Züst, (Snowdrift sculptor), Charles Bagnall (“It's in the hands of God”), Steve Bosnjak (Motel Owner), Gavin Conner (rifle man), Alex Ouskun/Flora S.N. Beardy (“His grandfather said…”), Gerald Packer (“ It's a little deep over here”), Ed Bazlik (“They're greenish…”), Father Kees Verspeek (“ They remind me of the wartime”), Dr. Don Lind (Outer space), Hugh Haqpi (Lost in the storm), Dr. Alex Tolton (Frostbite evaluation), Joseph Natakok (The Inuk elder) Brian Ladoon (Dog trainer), Atlas I Mission STS 45 Crew

"PICTURE OF LIGHT has the narrative innovation and esthetic brilliance of a good drama. Hypnotic displays of the aurora borealis...are the gold at the end of Mettler's rainbow, but getting there is more than half the fun. The film is an existential meditation on snow and space and cold, undercut by an absurdist wit... Mettler goes to a world where cameras freeze and tries to film nothingness, unbroken patterns of land and sky. He achieves amazing results. In the context of Canadian cinema, where characters often live in uneasy tension with their environment, for once there is no contest: the weather wins, hands down.”
Brian D. Johnson, Maclean's Magazine

"...you sense you're watching a new art form in the process of creation...among the very best documentaries to come along in years...PICTURE OF LIGHT is an elegantly framed lyric by Peter Mettler about the North and the northern lights. At the very outset, the director hints there's deeper music to be heard here by introducing us to a camera designed especially for the deep cold. Spurred on by thoughts of a man he met at a part "who watches the shy", Mettler's PICTURE OF LIGHT is as much a meditation on documentary filmmaking as it is on the North."

“Mettler points at the world… engaging us in poetry and imagination… Like the first gestures of cinema, he is always perceiving the world as an object of endless fascination… Peter Mettler dreams with his eyes open, and in wanting to convey the elusive aurora borealis, he takes measure of the infinite as no camera has ever done before…”
Jean Perret, Semaine de la critique, Locarno

"More than a film about the Northern Lights, Picture of Light is nothing less than a summation of Mettler's philosophical approach to his paradoxical art. Appropriately, the genesis of the film is as remarkable as the film itself. Mettler met meteorologist and artist Andrea Zuest at a dinner in Switzerland. Their mutual interest in auroras and "the pursuit of wonder" led to Zuest agreeing to fund the film. Subsequently, Mettler, Zuest and a small crew made two winter visits to Churchill, Manitoba, to film the aurora borealis with a special computer-designed camera. On one level, Picture of Light is a quintessential Canadian portrait of a natural world in extremis--a community surviving in a harsh land; a living, breathing, good-natured defiance of the elements; a frigid reminder of the necessity and futility of technology. It is also an examination of an elusive, fluid subject from different points of view. Essentially, the film is an accumulation of representations, or pictures of the lights, whether in language, photographic or video images. Each picture is incomplete, approximate; each an explanation or limited interpretation. Yet, each is spellbinding. When the lights are revealed in spectacular fashion (shot at slow speed and optically printed to stretch time), we are reminded that we are not looking at the real thing. It does not matter. The trick of physics and the "lies" of the camera that have made the images possible create wonder and awe. The paradox is complete."
Tom McSorley