"How and Why This Film Got Made"

"THE VANISHING FIELD" (2020; 72 minutes; USA) This film was inspired, in part, by my friend Jogen, a Zen priest who was a resident for fifteen years at the Great Vow Zen Monastery (where most of the film's scenes were shot). In this docufiction movie, Jogen plays the character of Jacob, a novice Zen monk wrestling with the aftermath of a shocking out-of-body experience while meditating. Though this story was set in a Zen monastery with Buddhist non-actors, I never intended to make a "Buddhist movie". Instead, I felt ready to share a more personal story informed by my own traumatic out of body experience many years ago. Setting the story in a Zen monastery and through the context of meditation practice opened up new ways of seeing this life-changing event that continues impacting me and inspiring my films to this day.

In each of my films, I set up new technical and creative challenges to develop my cinematic craft. Since I chose a Zen monastery as the setting for this story and Zen monks, who agreed to play versions of themselves, I knew I had to fully commit to a Zen aesthetic while shooting, editing, and scoring the film. This meant far less talk and a greater presence of space throughout; "less is more". This movie wanted to act on the viewer as a meditation and so that's where it went. Filming at the monastery with Jogen, Ed, and Hogen definitely inspired the contemplative spirit that runs through the entire film, as did the many other monastery residents with whom Sylvi and I shared communal dinners with. I was especially impressed by Hogen Bay Roshi''s brilliant presence and his deftly improvised interactions with Jogen -- their scenes were all shot as first takes; nothing was repeated. Since we were also limited to shooting principal photography over just three days in the monastery, I had to be very specific about what I wanted for each shot and scene; so little room for errors and mishaps.

Contemplating which lens to use (photo by Sylvi Alli)

To support a Zen sense of immediacy and openess, I made this film without the safety net of a screenplay. Though I had the basic story in my head, most of the dialogue was improvised from prompts I offered on site before shooting each scene or moment. The voice-over narratives of the main character of Jacob were written by Jogen (as Jacob) and myself. An excerpt from Chekhov's "The Sea Gull" was inserted as the Oracle's monologue performed by Nita Bryant. Before shooting the final out of body scene, "the dragonfly", I met with talented dancer Douglas Allen over five weeks in a dance studio to find the transitions and structural components that would allow him to freely improvise his Dance of Death ritual during the shoot itself (the scene was accomplished after three takes). My pal Spyder, former bass player of Simeon Soul Charger (whose music enhanced my previous two films, "The Book of Jane" and "Out of the Woods") contributed the formidable sonic composition for this final "out of body" scene.

As with all my films, most of the soundtrack was developed, performed, and recorded by my gifted wife Sylvi. After sending her scenes from the film during editing, she would respond to them musically or with sound design ideas and e-mail the wav. files to me; we'd go back and forth like this until we were on the same page. I underwent a similar process with my CGI artist, Michael McWhirter who helped composit my "green screen" shoots for many dream sequences appearing in my other films since 2000. "The Vanishing Field" was also the first feature I edited completely by myself (on iMovie); my previous ten features were co-edited with Chris Odell (on FinalCutPro). I shot everything on my Panasonic Lumix GH2, the same camera I used on my previous two features, "Sylvani"(2015/2021) and "The Book of Jane" (2013)

The Covid-19 pandemic forced cancellation of our March 28th 2020 world premiere at Clinton Street Theater here in Portland OR; movie posters had been tacked up all around town, a thousand postcards placed! What to do?! I chose to premiere and release the film on YouTube as a free view. Reading all the written responses sent to me, I feel encouraged by what we did here. The future? I am currently in preproduction for my next feature, "The Alchemy of Sulphur", which may be ready by the end of this year 2021.

-- Antero Alli
March 5, 2021, Portland OR

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Antero Alli -- filmography