Director’s Statement

Extinction Number Six

In the October 30, 1958 issue of France-observateur, André Bazin writes of Chris Marker’s films as ushering in an entirely new notion of montage, one in which the connections are forged from ear to eye, rather than from one image to the next. In Marker’s montage, an image does not simply refer to the one preceding or following—here an image “refers laterally, in some way, to what is said.” (translation of Bazin article)

Within my own work I seek to construct a similar breed of horizontal montage, having arrived at cinema after butting up against the limits of language, entering through the opening forged by Marker. I conceive of montage not only as a practice of editing and juxtaposition, but as a manner of thought—with attendant formal, philosophical, and aesthetic strains—which begins as a form of research before morphing into a mode of articulation. In partaking of an essayistic montage, I engage cinema not to illustrate, through audiovisual means, an argument already settled in the verbal realm. Montage, rather, becomes a way to actively puzzle through a set of thorny, vexing, tangled knots, a process which commences with research, is mobilized during filming, and leaves its final mark during editing and post-production.

The particular knots of Extinction Number Six took shape during a year of focused reading, writing, diagrammatic drawing, and the amassing of a vast collection of archival still imagery—all before venturing out into the world to capture moving images. The film follows the journey of an eccentric narrator as she searches for material traces of Java’s colonial, mystical, and paleontological past. And what of my relationship to this unnamed narrator? While she may borrow my vocal chords and speak in the first person, her function is not autobiographical. Rather, I am her ventriloquist and she my dummy. Hers was a role I consciously played throughout various stages of the project—from research to filming, through writing and editing. Carried by her thought, the narrator moves through space and time without inhibition, allowing her to follow the visual rhyme of seemingly disparate images. She is perpetually constrained, however, by the odd habit of striving to think the postcolonial using the language of the archcolonial, a strategy that imparts upon her running accounts a persistently discordant, unsettled tone. My narrator may also be characterized by her affinity with the off-kilter wanderers of W.G. Sebald’s novels and Chris Marker’s films, her peregrinations being central to the logic of the film. Movement for her is generative, as she consciously partakes of the long tradition of ambulatory writing, holding walking to be a necessary stimulant of thought.

While the narration was penned after shooting had wrapped, the film’s structure was defined in advance through an iterative process of charting my ideas in schematic form. What began as an untidy, spatialized list of concerns gradually evolved into a clearly defined map of the project’s terrain. This schematic mapping contains several nodes of central importance, each defined by a box and surrounded by constellations of related ideas and images, many of which interconnect. While the map covers a wide swath of historical time, I knew the film’s narrative would not follow a neat, chronological progression. I imagined I could knit together these threads in multiple configurations, yet sought a particular pathway, or mode of encircling and sweeping together these fragments—one that would suggest to viewers something of the narrator’s conceptual, associative movement through and between these seemingly disparate shards. The flow of the film would thus hinge on the fluidity of the narrator’s traversal of these nodes. Throughout my work on the film, the poetic logic of this peripatetic inquiry found reflection in the topographic idiosyncrasy of the Solo River—which flows south from the volcanic Mount Lawu, as if to enter the Indian Ocean, before snaking counter-clockwise around the volcano, carving a wide delta emptying into the Java Sea.