YIDFF 2023 International Competition

Knit’s Island
Guilhem Causse (Director)

Interviewer: Kusakabe Katsuyoshi

A film crew infiltrates the virtual world

Kusakabe Katsuyoshi (KK): First, what role did you play in this work? Also, what kind of avatar did you have?

Guilhem Causse (GC): I had a female avatar. In the game, you won’t survive unless you secure food and water, so it was my job to supply them. The game has elements that simulate real-life conditions, and you have to physically sustain yourself in various environments. We spent a total of about a thousand hours in the game, but we shot only about two hundred hours. Another four to five hundred hours were spent looking for food, looking for medicine, or protecting ourselves from enemy attacks. In order to make this film, we first had to survive in this space. Actually, we died many times in the game, and every time we logged back in, each of us ended up in completely different places, with no weapons whatsoever, so we would often spend whole afternoons looking for each other and re-forming the film unit. I myself died about three hundred times in the game.

KK: Was everyone in the film unit in front of a monitor, playing the game or filming, in the same space?

GC: There were two times when just the three of us holed up together for three months. This was because when you play the game, you’re always at risk of dying. On the other hand, this is also what made the game so interesting, and what drew so many people to it. As for us, we gradually came to understand the game’s peculiarities, and were drawn even more to its sense of danger. At the same time, if we died, there would be even greater risk to whether we could continue filming.

KK: Did you set up in-person appointments and establish relationships with the people you interviewed beforehand?

GC: No, basically, we met people in the game, then built relationships with them. In the beginning, we met a player called Rene, got to know them, and were then introduced to Rene’s friends—that was how we built up relationships with people. Once we knew them well enough in the game, we were able to contact each other even in the real world.

They lived in a game that was cut off from reality, so it was impossible to establish contact outside of the game, and I did not think that we should.

KK: Did you also meet Reverend Stone, who has a particular charm in the film, that way?

GC: Reverend Stone was also someone I met through a friend of a friend. In that sense, we met just like any other couple. In the world beyond the game, that is, his real life, a lot of things happened, with him quitting the game and coming back to it again, and as a result, that made its way into the film, the film as a whole moved in a direction that we had never expected, and his very presence became incredibly important.

KK: Do you mean that the film’s direction changed because of his presence?

GC: There are times when I catch myself thinking, what was even the point of spending so much time in the game? Many people go through such ups and downs, but I have no doubt that his presence through it all became, as a result, incredibly important in this film.

When we first met, everyone was, of course, acting out their role in the game, and they would answer my questions as characters in the game, but as we gradually got further into our conversations, they would become conversations about what the boundary between real life and the virtual world was. In the process, stories along the lines of, “Actually, in my real life, it’s like this . . .” would slip out, and I think that was a natural progression.

On the other hand, even if they told me about their real lives, I had no way of confirming the truth or falsity of whatever they had said, so I just accepted it as is. I think the reason we were able to build relationships there was simply because we had a relationship of trust.

KK: In cinema and theater, the world within the work and the real world of its audience are separated by a boundary that we call “the fourth wall,” but in this work, we get glimpses of the real world behind the people acting out their avatars in the virtual world, and at the same time, it seems that there is something even more complex in that we, as the audience, experience it through the screen. What were your thoughts on this structure?

GC: This film has a fifth wall, and when it cracks or collapses, reality makes its way in again and again. I think we have yet to find the words to define these multiple forms of consciousness or emotions, but I think that when we are in front of a computer, meet someone through the computer, then address or interact with that someone, the multiplicity that is engendered there is far more complex than the roles we act out in our so-called real-world relationships. I have a feeling that, amidst all of that, our multi-layered selves resonate with each other, create something like an echo, and bring out depths that are more real than reality itself.

Direction in the game

KK: This film has many cinematic shots, and I think the camerawork for it is really dynamic. Were you able to use the bird’s-eye view, pan, or tilt originally specified by the game?

GC: First, as part of the program’s design, we were able to use not one, but two or three cameras from the very beginning. That said, there were a lot of limitations when it came to actually matching camera positions with characters in the game. If the character didn’t survive, we would lose their camera position, so we were limited by a number of things in the game, like making sure that they weren’t killed by zombies, or that they didn’t stay too long someplace because it was cold, or even getting away from a camera position because we might contract a disease there.

On the other hand, we also had tools that were separated from the characters, that could act like drones, so to speak. We used them frequently, but we couldn’t do so unless we were temporarily offline. This is because the tools were made for when the player had exited the game and was looking at it as a whole. In some cases, we had to use the drone tool to recreate what the characters had experienced among themselves in the game.

Those scenes were all re-created from our actual experiences in the game as avatars. This means that we also had to think about the issue of the camera and photography from within the virtual world. We tried a lot of things, like purposefully setting up the lighting to what we wanted, or using the binoculars tool to get the same effect as a telephoto lens, or using a car to move around and create a traveling shot. It was something that I had tried out many times myself in the virtual world, even before I started this film.

I think that, just as fictional films would not exist without documentaries, video games themselves would not exist without the audio-visual language of films. We wanted to build a bridge between the two, and have the audience cross it.

Reality, fiction, virtuality

KK: What designs did you have in mind when you included actual, live-action footage in the last scene? Could you tell us who took the footage, and where these scenes were from?

GC: Those were views from the window, as seen by the characters in the real world. As for why, it is because as the viewer becomes immersed in this film, they become unable to distinguish the real and virtual worlds. So, I included that footage in the last scene with the goal of intentionally defusing the tension.

Also, I had the goal of building a bridge between the two worlds. When we thought about how to portray the characters at the end, we found that we had absolutely no interest in having them actually appear as themselves and do away with their anonymity. On the other hand, a computer screen is a window into another world of that person’s life. With that in mind, I thought that by asking what they saw in their real lives, by including the world outside their windows, we could connect the worlds they saw in reality and the world of the game, all while they held onto their anonymity. Of course, that will depend on the viewer’s perspective and interpretation.

KK: When I watched the last scenes, there were moments where it seemed that some part of them had been manufactured or were even virtual, even though it was all footage of the real world.

GC: I think that’s exactly it. When we think about what reality is, it might be a question of our lived realities being tied up with irregularities. In other words, in living, we face things that we had not anticipated—that is our real life.

In the game, there are bugs, or we hear a child crying in the real world through the screen, and through that, the fictional world unexpectedly falls apart. I think that it is when the fictional world falls apart that the question of what reality is first comes to mind.

Moreover, in today’s world, for example, if we use AI, we might be able to make images that are even more indistinguishable from reality. That is why I think the question, “What is reality?” is incredibly important in today’s world, and will perplex us even more.

KK: I think, as you said, that technological development will lead to the boundary between reality and the virtual breaking apart even more in the future. Could you tell us how you would approach such an issue, and whether you have any particular outlook on the future?

GC: Currently, I’ve already begun production on a series project. I can’t reveal the details, but it takes place in the world of a completely different type of video game, where participants re-create the real world within the space of the game. We’ve hired one actor, and that actor will participate in the game. In the world of that game, there is no one as yet who has the profession of actor. In other words, I’ve already entered production for a work where we experiment with creating the profession of actor in a world where “acting” does not exist. It is scheduled to air as a series.

Compiled by Kusakabe Katsuyoshi
Translated by Joelle Nazzicone

Photography: Kusunose Kaori / Video: Oshita Yumi / Interpreter: Fujiwara Toshi / 2023-10-09

Kusakabe Katsuyoshi
Born in Sagae City, Yamagata Prefecture. Former director of the YIDFF Yamagata office. After graduating from university, Kusakabe worked for a cinema while involved in independent screening activities. From 2007 to 2019 he worked in theYIDFF Yamagata office. Currently he is an author, contributing film criticism and articles to Kinema Junpo and other film journals while working as a caretaker for the elderly.