March of community members of Willkani in La nación clandestina. In this sequence, the community of Willkani, Sebastián’s home ayllu, marches to a meeting place, where they consider how to respond to the military coup underway and support the striking miners. The long shot of the community, which advances to fill the frame, creates a visual contrast with the repeated long shots of the solitary Sebastián crossing the altiplano. When the camera follows Sebastián’s brother, Vicente, in close-up, it is because he has become the natural subject of interest for the group. The framing at the end of the shot, with Vicente in the foreground and the community in the background, emphasizes his integration with the group, as opposed to his brother’s isolation.
The community members appear over the crest of a hill, marching directly toward a camera shoulder height.
The camera begins to crane upward and pan right as the marchers pass.
The camera continues to pan right and then cranes downward
Camera comes to rest behind the shoulder of Vicente, Sebastián’s brother.
Camera leaves crane and follows Vicente hand-held as he walks up to address marchers
Camera comes to rest behind Vicente as he addresses marchers.
Filming La nación clandestina.
From left to right: Jorge Sanjinés, camaraman Rafael Flores, cinematographer César Pérez, and soundman Guillermo Palacios.
Jorge Sanjinés with cinematographer César Pérez.
From right to left: Jorge Sanjinés, cinematographer César Pérez, cameraman Rafael Flores, and Juana Gutierrez.
Jorge Sanjinés with Roque Salgado, who played the role of the yatiri, Tata Tankara
From right to left: Jorge Sanjinés, cameraman Rafael Flores, and actor Carlos Calcina, filming a scene set in the Ministry of the Interior, where Sebastián took a job.
Jorge Sanjinés (center) with cast members, the community of Willkani.
In our previous attempts we started from the basic idea of transmitting the impression of the spectator’s participation in the interior of the scene. The camera moved interpreting the spectator’s point of view, choosing moments and framings according to the logical and natural interest the dramatic action sparked. Medium shots and plans américain dominated the sequences, always respecting the spaces these shots afforded for spontaneous interventions; however, oftentimes these spaces were restricted because of the need for rhythm in editing. Camera movements did not have a foreseen ending because the individual or collective performance was largely left open to improvisation, or, starting from central ideas, could develop without limit until the roll of negative ran out—thus it was generally left to the editor, rather than the screenwriter or director, to determine when the shot should end.
This technique entailed severe narrative risks, as it made the context too susceptible to unforeseen circumstances that could disturb the film’s flow or rhythm. Likewise, in the absence of limits placed on the camera movement beforehand, the final composition was left to chance and usually could not be retained in editing. The shot’s initial composition could be foreseen, but not the final.
Another limitation presented itself when, as a scene developed, after holding the camera in a proper framing, it had to be suddenly displaced without motivation in order to get a tighter shot or reframe something, thus revealing the presence of the camera to the spectator. This violated the principle of participation, which depends upon achieving nearly imperceptible movements that interpret the spectator’s desire to move within the interior of the frame.
The advantage of this technique undoubtedly resided in the liberty of movement, creativity, and improvisation it afforded non-professional actors, generally chosen from amongst people who had lived the experiences being recreated or were familiar with them. Nevertheless, we realized that, by pre-recording on video before the shoot, it was possible to capture spontaneous performances, then order and coordinate them, extracting the essential parts. These could then be re-elaborated in an all-encompassing sequence shot with all the precision the moment of filming on negative stock requires.
All the difficulties and virtues our previous experiences shooting long takes revealed to us helped us to elaborate a different technique until we achieved, after numerous attempts, a narrative mechanic of the sequence shot attuned to the requirements already set forth: the all-encompassing sequence shot.
The all-encompassing sequence shot
In Andean culture, the predominance of the interest of the group, the collectivist tradition, practices of solidarity, and the vision of collectivity, integration, and participation, all comprise, in both their ideological significance and their daily practice, a unique way of facing reality, of resolving problems of life, society and even of one’s individuality, which, though subordinated to the interests of the collective, is equally existent and active.
Collective execution is a trait of Andean music. A Kantu, an impressive composition for wind and percussion instruments, cannot be played as a solo. Each musician plays his or her zampoña, extracting a part of each note, which the others go on to complete in these pieces of extraordinary solemnity. Here the mechanical structure of the execution obeys a group conception, a collective practice, an ideology that privileges communal interests.
To propose a narrative technique appropriate to the Andean cosmovision appeared to us of fundamental importance. To narrate that world cinematographically from within, creating Andean culture with cinema, extending the creative act by integrating the cinematic medium with the internal rhythms of our cultural majority in order to cease exercising a point of view that is distant, external, intrusive, and domineering.
Little by little it became clear to us that the camera had to move uninterruptedly, motivated by the scene’s internal dynamic. Only in this way could it achieve imperceptibility and spatial integration. By refraining from fragmenting the sequence into various shots, a new order could be transmitted, one appropriate for peoples who conceive of everything as extensions of themselves. The rhythm would be established internally by the movements of figures and things which, in turn, would dictate the movements of the camera: the tracking shots, the close-ups, and the wider shots that would include the whole group.
In order to execute shots without a cut lasting practically the entire time of a sequence, it became necessary to destroy established schemas. A camera operator who began moving on a dolly might have to move, imperceptibly, to the seat of a crane in order to raise himself to a height coinciding with that of an actor whom he or she would then immediately follow, camera in hand, to an encounter between this actor and others. Meanwhile, the dolly would be brought to this place, and the camera operator would use it to follow the characters as they speak for a long stretch. Finally, the camera would come to rest in a long close-up, aided by a portable stand that a camera assistant has carefully placed beneath the camera to lend it more stability. The entire shot could last for five or nine minutes, losing none of its intensity or interest.
This technique led us to another: the editing could be done beforehand in the shooting script and during the shooting itself. Since the sequence shot did not allow for internal cuts and its beginning and ending were perfectly delimited, all the camera movements, movements of the actors, mise-en-scene, and framings had to be accomplished very precisely. Therefore, once determined, then filmed and approved subsequent to review on a video monitor attached to the camera, the editing was also approved. The editing of a film would then be reduced to joining together 80 to 100 sequences—and the film would be completely edited!
Within a single sequence the scenario could be changed, but in order for the newly introduced theme to maintain its integrity, it would have to be brought to resolution without a cut.
It is clear that a good script will include instructions for editing the film: it is even possible to calculate with great precision the duration of each shot, indicating exactly how and where they should begin and end. But filmmakers know from experience that it is generally at the editing table that the final rhythm of a sequence is composed, shortening some shots, juxtaposing others, eliminating some, etc. During the editing process, many a film has been salvaged or sunk. The ability of the editor counts for much. With the wrapping of shooting, the film enters a new process. And the script, which oftentimes was modified and improved during shooting, will become a mere organizing tool during editing. The editor will consult the actual image achieved and, of course, the original idea for this image will, in comparison, hold much less weight. For it is the filmed image that imposes its resilience, its own magic—or, conversely, offers its own poverty or mediocrity.
In the Andean Sequence Shot, the process of creating the internal rhythm of the sequence—intuiting when the actors should move or the camera angles be changed in order to create spatial relations, creating a certain atmosphere, or controlling the internal dramatics of a scene—all this must be done in the planning and shooting stages, because its start is a voyage of no return. Once begun, the shot cannot be fractured or fragmented, and it will not be cut until it arrives at its conclusion. This process exercises a profound demand for concentration upon the filmmaker, an enormous effort obliging him or her to mentally visualize the entire sequence. The filmmaker will have to be able to write, imagine, and see in the “moviola” of his or her mind an all-encompassing sequence shot in order to be able to correctly conduct during the shoot the mise-en-scene, editing, and the composition of the spaces and sounds, all of which establish the visual dialectic of the scene. This particular process of planning a sequence shot must be aligned with the general consciousness of the film, its rhythm and overall continuity, so that the timing of each shot has the proper value of tension, growth, or neutrality in relation to the entire film. The filmmaker has to be able to feel, intuit, and know that, for example, shot #41 is in rhythm with those that precede and succeed it. He or she must be able to visualize the whole film before making it, visualize it in detail.
Naturally such a proposition presents extremely grave problems in terms of the camera, lighting, movement of actors, sound, and acting.
It is necessary to rehearse each shot to perfection. The camera operator needs to know exactly where and how to move; he or she must be familiar with the movements of the actors and have memorized their lines as cues, attending with precision to their often abrupt turns and shifts. He or she must do this with such control that no hesitations, slips, or tremors are revealed. The director of photography must place the lights and screens with the camera movements in mind. The direct sound recorder often has the greatest challenge in capturing the voices of the actors as they cross great distances, make 180 degree turns, etc. Lastly, the actors need to learn long speeches by heart, knowing exactly how and when to move during them. One mistake in the final three seconds of a six-minute shot will require the crew to start all over from the beginning.
Another characteristic born of this narrative method is the camera’s ability to adopt multiple points of view within a sequence: for example, it might begin with the point of view of a character who remembers something and then change into an instrument for describing that memory. The same shot could adopt a point of view outside both the character’s subjective point of view and the reconstructed memory in order to depict the collective vision of other characters who may have come into the frame, contravening the individual viewpoint, eliminating every last trace of those memories, or incorporating itself into that memory in a way that violates space and time.
While this approach involves risks and no small challenges, we propose it as a narrative option that emerges as an expressive need of a certain cosmovision. Hopefully it has a broader spectrum of uses or will allow the formulation of other narrative concerns. Such is the theory, and we suspect that practice will afford confirmations and negations useful to its further elaboration. That praxis will be called La nación clandestina (The Hidden Nation), currently in production.