If the recent Roma evokes memory by way of camera movement and motion – giving one the sense of and time to meditate on new and old perspectives of a past life – then 1999 does so in a viscerally visual manner, with light, textures, environments, and super-impositions. The whole of this production – a sort of docu-collage-glitch artifact that paints a portrait of a community in decades-old pain – comes about like a good/groovy yet bad/wicked acid trip, calling upon the feel of ghosts and spirits in the very bones of the people left behind and the architecture of the buildings once occupied. It acts as both the epicenter and exorcism of grief, and couldn’t possibly be more stunning.
The year that was 1999 was marred with aggression, being the time of the third and most infamously over-priced and angry Woodstock Music Festival, and before that the Columbine High School mass shooting. A new millennium was approaching, but would much change? In Canada, in a small town that spoke both English and French, a High School faced the specter-ish trend of multiple – one after another – suicides and had little to no system in place to handle it all. Neither did we in America with our problems. We still don’t.
In writer/director Samara Grace Chadwick & editor Terra Jean Long’s 1999, there comes a reconciliation for those who stayed alive, or rather for those who have the burden of remembering. Through a series of interviews and conversations, through poor VHS tracking video, and through shots of empty corridors and cold landscapes, a gloomy picture comes into focus of just what it’s like to be a youth under the clouds of depression, and how one and many deals with such massive loss.
Terra Jean Long, the editor of this film, is given top credit billing at the opening, and rightfully so. Without the kind of editorial collaboration with Samara that we see on display, without the additional eye for images upon images and lights upon colors and other vibrancies, we simply wouldn’t have the powerfully impactful story that is being screened. Beyond the awkward at first cultural language barrier of mixing English with French, we’re able to dive into some meaty retellings of diary entries and poetry, of polaroids and goofy clothes, and of moments captured on camera forever.
There is an overwhelming sense of wanting to forget on occasion, but it is understood that the participants feel a responsibility – accepted directly or indirectly – to recall and keep for themselves memories and perspectives of their lost friends and family members. What Samara Chadwick and Tamara Long accomplish in visually representing and expressing the very canvas and ink blot-like imagery that make up the intangible but ever-felt concept of memory is astounding.
1999 shows that a landmark of a time and a place – for reasons better or worse – can be accessed and tapped into in very real and scarily reel ways. The ghosts of the senses are everywhere. The smell, taste, and shock of a point in the lives of many that could be seen as turning points live on in the hallway lockers of a school once full and leap off the pages of yearbooks with gaps between photos. Truly affecting and effective, more immersive than 3D, and influenced by very much a work of its own gusto and style, 1999 ought to be cherished in public and private libraries with permanent slots, next to such works of magic as F for Fake, as Goodbye to Language, as Dusty Stacks of Mom and – why not? – as Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then. Look those up, please.
Just when I think my heart can only take so much…
RATING: 5 / 5
1999 screened at the New Orleans French Film Festival this past week and is an example of the kind of programming that the New Orleans Film Society and The Prytania Theater put on all year. Sign up for memberships with both organizations today!