CITIES UNDER THE SAND is an experiment in memories alien to us. Which somehow manages to convince us this are our own memories.
Cut together from inherited film footage, CITIES UNDER THE SAND is an experimental film which splices together old celluloid memories of family gatherings, vacations and other moments which transports us to a moment in someone else life. Another time and place with people who seem familiar yet we know that we never met. This strange brew is a nostalgia bomb for a time long gone. What was once buried beneath the sand comes forth for us to re-discover.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to remember a life that you did not live? To have memories that are not of your own, but that are as vivid as if you had been there on that day? The title CITIES UNDER THE SAND is part of the lyrics of the song "Sweet Bird" which plays in the background of the film as we see the images before us. That title is evocative of discovering the remnants of a long forgotten civilization buried beneath centuries of sand, waiting to be unearthed. Something that resembles the discovery of hours of footage belonging to a distant relative, his memories printed on film, his legacy. This is a work of reconstruction, of archaeology which feeds on the nostalgia of memories which belonged to somebody else. But there's also a deep sadness running through, we know most of the people on-screen are no longer among us, and that this is the print they have left behind in our world, forever embedded on film. The inevitability of death and the refusal to let our time pass is what fuels the creation of this short; distilled into a lyrical poem of all those things we refuse to leave behind: family, friends, loved ones, smiles. All those things we fear we will leave behind and that we will miss once we are gone. So many memories will fade when we depart this world, but fortunately for us there is one way to remain unforgotten from the collective memories of those who stay behind: film. Film is the closest thing to immortality that we have achieved. We are capable of leaving our print in celluloid for others to discover, we can print our memories and leave them behind for newer generations to relieve as if it was their own memories they are watching. What a time to be alive, then, when we can see a window into the past and rejoice knowing that the people we miss are still here, and that we too can leave a peace of our souls to be remembered.
Director Sandra Dillon inherited hours upon hours of vintage home movies shot in a variety of formats which ranged from 16mm, 8mm and Super 8 format which belonged to an Italian Uncle of hers named Frank. Dillon never actually met her uncle and only heard stories of him while growing up. However, when Dillon saw the footage herself she recognized family members and saw other people she had never seen before. By editing together the footage end using her sister's rendition of "Sweet Bird" by Joni Mitchell, Dillon shares with us the overwhelming sensations that going through this footage caused in her. There is a strange melancholy and nostalgia instilled by the old film, these are not our memories, not even Dillon's memories, but it certainly feels like we remember this, like the faded remembrance of a former life. In doing this, CITIES UNDER THE SAND is an experiment in pure sensations caused by an emphatic response to the footage we see. There is no plot, nor story and yet every frame and snippet we see tells a story that is suggested to us rather than told. We are witnessing family memories which are alien to us, and yet they possess a familiar quality to them. Dillon's intention is to share the same feeling of nostalgia she felt for something she didn't live through. And it works, along with the "Sweet Bird" cover sung by Dillon's sister (a childhood piano session caught on tape) this time-capsule of an experimental film manages to dig deep. The editing here is the key; Dillon's cut resembles what we imagine must be like seeing our lives before our own eyes before we die. We don't say this in a morbid sense, but rather in that sensation of a life well-lived, of being able to look back and feel at peace with what time we were given in this world. It's a strange kind of shared nostalgia, neither Dillon nor we experienced any of the things shown on the footage but we still get a sensation of Deja-Vu.
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