YIDFF 2023 New Asian Currents

Nowhere Near
Miko Revereza (Director)

Interviewer: Narita Yuta

No longer about investigation

Narita Yuta (NY): This film was made in 2023, but test footage shot in spring 2017 is placed at the beginning. Could you tell us how long the shooting period was and in what way it reached completion?

Miko Revereza (MR): The first step was to buy a new camera. I started shooting on a trial basis but actually didn’t really have any specific purpose or intention. It was just a question of collecting material. When I walked from my place to various locations, for example, when I went to work or to see friends, I always had my camera with me and shot there, including my own family, and my journey (in the film). So, in a sense, I considered the camera to be a part of my life and pointed it at things that caught my eye or attracted me wherever I went. I didn’t have any particular reason, but I was attracted to colors, light and things like that.

This is the third full-length film I’ve made, but it’s actually also the first, because I have made two other full-length films (No Data Plan (2018) and The Still Side (2021), but this was the first one I started. While I was still working on this one, the other two films were released, resulting in this being the third. The production process was very long and there were a lot of failures. I had four years of gradually shaping the film through trial and error, through a series of mistakes, and I failed again and was dissatisfied so spent another year on it. Then when I saw it again I still wasn’t very happy. I have continued this way through trial and error. At the same time, I kept writing about it, and later I put it all together in the form of a novel, which is actually going to be published in book form.

NY: You have made films about yourself in the past. This is also the case in this film, and we can find connections with your previous works in various scenes. Did you make this film as a stand-alone work? Or were you conscious of the connections as a series of films that build on the previous ones?

MR: Well, I would say so. It’s a series of films in the sense that it’s an ongoing process. But in terms of the style, I think I try something different each time. I’ve been doing a lot of investigation in my previous works. I have been on a spiritual journey, exploring various possibilities in the process. I mean, you could say that my previous works have always been a process of investigation, but this time I feel that I have tried everything, including all possible options and all possible means of expression, so I feel that my work on this theme of investigation has now settled down or come to an end.

On the expression of “somewhere else but here”

NY: In the films, you describe your footage as if the camera was being manipulated independently of your will. This and other scenes where the distance between the footage and you, editing it as the director, often bring about tensions peculiar to this work. I would like to know if there was anything you were aware of while editing this film.

MR: Talking about the editing process, when the editing was going well, the text (which was being written down at the same time) was also going well. The editing and the writing went on in parallel. The writing took the form of a book . . . , and I was very conscious of the synchronization between the book and the film. In other words, I was conscious of the feeling of turning the pages of a book, as I edited the film. I also inserted the text into the film as a context for the images. For example, as you mentioned, concerning the line in the church, “It’s like the camera is possessed.” I’m actually not very satisfied with the images myself. The reason is that the lighting is weak and the exposure and other technical aspects are not working. But I decided to make use of those things.

NY: Indeed, texts in the form of numbered annotations are inserted in places throughout the film. I felt that these annotations had complex nuances that varied from scene to scene, such as explanations of things that appeared in the film, quotations, or fragments of other words. What was the intention behind them?

MR: I used those spaces for annotations very consciously. It’s because everything has a meaning, such as where the text is pulled from. But in the early stages of editing, I connected the images together like a photo book. By adding such information as annotations and notes, they became reminders for me, and I could also use them as guides for editing. Basically, the way you annotate like that is like a book, isn’t it? I personally like to annotate in visual images in the same way I do in books. I also try not to put in too much unnecessary information, so rather than saying too much or creating something in the narration, I try to keep it to a minimum in the texts.

NY: While it has a very serious theme, the film also has an exquisite sense of humor in places, such as the funny little things that the people and children in town do, the use of the clarinet, which is not easy to play well, as background music, and your mother mistaking 9/11 as ‘7-Eleven.’ I think it gives the film a light balance that keeps it from becoming too heavy. The amateurish background music of the clarinet is particularly impressive. According to the credits, this is your own performance. Why did you decide to use it in the soundtrack?

MR: In terms of the clarinet, I often felt very frustrated during the production process when the narration didn’t go well, or when it wasn’t what I thought it should be. I used to practice the clarinet, and that became an outlet for a lot of stress. Whenever I felt stressed or frustrated, I would play the clarinet and blurt out stuff, or say bad words or whatever, and I would blow everything into the clarinet to release it, so I’m sure you’ve heard me say the ‘F’ word or something like that, but that’s how it came to be. My dad plays jazz piano and also doesn’t communicate emotion very well. When he plays, there is a sensitivity that you can hear. That’s the space where you can hear his emotion.

NY: Speaking of music, let me ask you about the original soundtrack. The score of the original soundtrack is credited in the end credits of the film and it says it was recorded in 2020. Was it recorded for this film? If so, I would like to know about episodes from the recording process.

MR: Right. That was absolutely for the film, and the composer is Vincent Yuen Ruiz, a creative collaborator of mine. I sent him the material I shot that was being edited, and we completed the soundtrack by correspondence.

NY: The use of music and the way you mention it, such as a lyric by Queens hip-hop group Mobb Deep, were also what I personally found interesting. Anyway, I think the film is not only your personal novel, but also an excellent critique of film, or moving images, as your situation is linked to film theory at the end. Also, in your previous statements you have often compared your situation to the film medium. Do you have any thoughts on the link between film as an art form and the subject matter you have pursued?

MR: Basically, I think I process my own ideas by using the film format. In editing, I use a computer, and that plays a big part. I put footage shot with a digital camera on a memory card, copy it to the computer, sort it into folders, organize the data and edit it. The material is all my own memory so to speak. I then reposition it as sequences in the editing process and arrange it. In short, working on the computer is itself connected to my own memory. I can also think of it mathematically. In mathematical equations, the goal is not to find the answer, but the process of solving. The process is very important. I think that is the connection between the film format and my subject matter.

I make various choices in the process, and my own situation in the US and the conflict of not being given an identity are also part of it. Also, I don’t know if this is a good comparison, but maybe it is similar to packing. When you pack a limited sized suitcase, you can’t take everything, so you have to make choices. It might be similar to that kind of process.

NY: Double exposures are often used in the film, particularly the superimposition of images of the “migratory bubbles” on the family, including your grandfather. Could you talk about any intentions behind this kind of direction?

MR: Related to what I said earlier about packing, the first thing is how to make it fit together. Originally, I had two separate images of bubbles and a family image, and I wanted to bring them together. I tried different things at random, to see how they could fit in the editing. In the process of trying out different combinations and different methods, sometimes there were moments when I felt very poetic or was affected somehow. When I expressed myself in that way, there was a moment when I became very emotional, or I was almost in tears. That was exactly how it reflected the situation of my family at that time.

Also, the use of water as a motif, or rather, as an expression of water, especially the motif of water flowing, and the ‘migratory bubbles’ you mentioned, were as expressed in the film. I think that where it is flowing to and where it will end up would overlap exactly with the situation I am experiencing, such as when I can no longer stay in the US and where I am going next.

What to explore in the future

NY: At the beginning of this interview, you said that you had reached the point where your investigation so far had come to an end. What kind of films do you want to make in the future? Are you going to move on to a different subject from the question you have been pursuing all along, “Why am I forever undocumented?”. You mentioned that you are about to publish a book, so will you continue to pursue the same subject in a different form? I would be interested to hear what you have in store for us in the future.

MR: First of all, about the book, I have already finished all the submissions and we’re just waiting for publication. Secondly, as far as the next subject is concerned, I think this film has brought this search and this subject to a close. I’m satisfied and exhausted at the same time, and I’m quite fed up now, so I’m going to put this to rest. As for what I will be making in the future, I would like to explore some non-personal, non-private things instead.

I also want to have fun in a playful way. I want to be open within myself, experiment with different ideas, and see what kind of expression it will be, be it experimental, abstract or more narrative oriented. The important point for me at the moment is to just have fun. The other thing is to be inspired by it. I don’t want to decide on something or look for something in particular, but I want to proceed freely.

NY: Finally, is there anything in particular you would like to mention about your work, or any messages you would like to express?

MR: I don’t know if there is much more I can say to the audience, because I have already put everything into the film, but this film has been a very long and difficult process for me. I have now come to the end of it, but now I think it was necessary for me to take that long period of time. It was important for me not to give up halfway through, not only because the film needed time to take shape as a work of art, but also because I was able to grow and learn so much in the process of making this film.

Compiled by Narita Yuta
Translated by Kae Ishihara

Photography: Umaki Shigenobu / Video: Kato Takanobu / Interpreter: Tanimoto Hiroyuki / 2023-10-08

Note: This interview was done for an online interview collection that was only to be in Japanese. Therefore, the text was prepared in Japanese based on a transcription of the words of the English-to-Japanese interpreter. When funds were found to create an English version, the Japanese text was then translated into English. Please thus be aware that the text above will not necessarily reflect the exact words spoken at the time of the interview.

Narita Yuta
Librarian at The Yamagata Documentary Film Library. Narita researches the history of cinema, notably the history of pre-war Japanese film. His articles include “Nihon eiga to kowairobenshi” (Nihon eiga no tanjo ed. by Iwamoto Kenji, Nihoneigashi sosho 15, Shinwasha, 2011); “‘Think Good’ ni tachiau tameni” (Eureka: Miyake Sho tokushu, Seidosha, December 2022).