Peter Mettler is known for his intuitive and experimental film making. The new film Becoming Animal has also an ecological and philosophical depth, as it involves the Canadian philosopher David Abram.
«This film was actually not my idea. It was actually Scottish film director Emma Davie who proposed it. She found philosopher David Abram and then picked me to direct it together with her.»
Davie and Mettler have a longer companionship in filmmaking:
«A lot of my collaborators, producers and good friends are women. Emma was also an actor in my film Tectonic Plates (1992) – where she played a psychiatrist. She came from theatre and then went on to documentary. She was very impressed by David’s books. We actually met him in a workshop seminar, where she proposed to make this film.»
Abram is known for his ecological books The Spell of the Sensuous (1997), and later Becoming Animal (2011), which has the same title as Mettler‘s and Davie‘s new film: «David is a beautiful writer that goes on for pages and pages.»
Abram taught in Europe; at the University of Oslo in 2014 as part of the Arne Næss Programme on Global Justice and the Environment. He is also known for defining the academic field «ecopsychology»:
«We wanted to embody the ideas David was addressing, and add some of our ideas about what it means to record images of nature,» Mettler says.
Ecology and nature
What then, are the ecological insights in the film really about – animals or trees? Mettler explains what Abram means by the somehow strange expression – that the natures also «sees us»: «Reciprocity is the word David uses, the feeling that you look at the forest and it looks back at you, as you are the part of the same thing. It is about being present in the environment – whether it is a forest or a concrete parking lot.»
It seems like Mettler, Davie and Abram subscribe to the critical opposition against consumerism, climate change and cynical technological exploitation: «My film Petropolis (2009) has a question right at the beginning – ‘What is this word we called nature?’»
In Petropolis he was working with Greenpeace on filming the oil sands (or tar sands) project in Canada, run by the Norwegian Statoil company from 2007. He calls it his perhaps most political project:
«Probably the most overtly political because I do find my other films political in a different way also. Petropolis is showing an experience to the viewers that make them really feel the horror of this place but without doing a propaganda film. The forest environment was just gone and replaced with toxic pools of liquid, a barren landscape. When you look at it from the air, it was like an incredible oil painting. Disturbing. It is really only about profit.»
Nine years later – in a scene in the Becoming Animal – Mettler shoots a really long scene of untouched trees, with orange-coloured leaves that looks like they are dancing in the wind:
«As David tells us, all things we consider are actually expressive or animated. Looking there at how the wind blows and how the trees’ branches are moving – it actually starts to look like some kind of abstract paintings. Although different in intensity, changing between wild movements and just quietness. Such an experience can represent art, drama and musicality.»
«With enough time to look, you can start to think like that, instead of taking something for granted. Or else you will just see a tree,» he continues.
«So what is most important: to make a film that everybody can see, or to be here yourself in this present moment?»