Willemien Sanders
Dr. Willemien Sanders, lecturer, department of media and culture studies, Utrecht University.

The kind of visual, implicit documentary that defies storytelling dogmas.

Dream Box

Jeroen Van der Stock

Belgium 2017, 42min.

Mist slowly drifting up along a forested ridge; the sound of water, birds screeching.

The cleaning of a white van and metal cages; barking dogs.

Dense forest lit by sunlight; birds singing.

Dogs in a cage, a concrete floor, metal sides and bars; a man with a hose cleaning.

A forest stream cascading down; vapour rising up in lush green; the sound of water.

In Dream Box, Jeroen Van der Stock and DOP Xavier Van D’huynslager contrast sounds and images to tell a story about the Tokushima Kanri Center. This is an animal centre on Japan’s Shikoku Island where abandoned and stray cats and dogs are delivered to be castrated/sterilised and then … yes, then – what?

Japan is known for its ‘kawaii culture’: the love for anything cute and adorable (think Hello Kitty). However, when cute pets become superfluous, this love quickly evaporates. Dealing with the animals at the center seems a matter of processing. In a highly automated environment, existing mainly of concrete and steel, the furry animals and the rare blanket they get to lie down on appear to be the only soft surfaces around. The carers do their job seemingly by routine: cleaning, operating, while dressed in protective gear. They control the environment in which the animals move around from a distance, pushing buttons to open and close doors and move partitions.

 

Around the center, lush green forested hills contrast sharply and consistently with the mechanical surroundings where the animals await their uncertain future. Green bamboo, moist moss, streams, mist, wet bark; all breathing life and eternity.

 

Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century British philosopher, said the relevant question to ask about animals is “Can they suffer?” More recently, Australian philosopher Peter Singer asked critical and controversial questions about how we value human life versus how we value animal life. Dream Box makes us contemplate our relationship with animals, their rights as living creatures, dependent on our care, and our right to decide about their lives. It also lets us contemplate the role of beauty in our society.

With an absence of dialogue or voice over, and of any explicit explanation or elucidation, Dream Box is the kind of visual, implicit documentary that defies storytelling dogmas, but rather allows you to ask your own questions, to follow your thoughts and create your own story. It is the kind of film that deserves to be made and needs our support.

 

 


-