Patrick Shen is an accomplished Director and Cinematographer. His film, FLIGHT FROM DEATH brought in seven “Best Documentary” awards, and he’s the founder of indie film company Transcendental Media. His latest documentary, IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE, asks an important question that no one seems to be asking. What happened to all of our quiet places?
Patrick answered our questions and talked about that silence, humanity, film, and what’s next.
Q: When did you first find yourself actively contemplating silence? Is there a particular silent space you find yourself coming back to?
A: Silence as an idea in itself didn’t emerge in my consciousness until I was introduced to the beautiful film by Philip Groning INTO GREAT SILENCE. It gave me a vocabulary to explore all the questions I had been asking since I was a teenager.
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten from your film? I’ve found myself actively turning off the radio in my car, or choosing to work without headphones more, since I watched it.
A: Many are really thankful that a film that address an issue that they have been thinking about for awhile exists. For others it seems to have awakened a perhaps previously subconscious sense that something about their environment was bothering them. Most people leave the theatre hyper aware of their aural surroundings, sometimes for the first time in a long while. That’s the curse and blessing of becoming more aware of the world – even the smallest things now seem to capture your attention. In a way you become more stimulated but at least your conscious of these things coming at you and are in a better position to deal with them in more constructive and healthier ways.
Q: That shot of the tree, alone in the field, bookends your film. That, and the imagery throughout, mimics the emotional atmosphere of silence. Did you find it difficult to capture this emotion, visually, or did it seem to come naturally?
A: I find cinematography to be a very honest process. You can’t capture something truthful unless you are genuinely engaged with what you’re filming. The great avant garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky talks about a “unity of heart” that develops between filmmaker and audience when the filmmaker is relating directly to the subject he/she is capturing. Filming those scenes were often the only bit of respite we got amidst a very hectic production schedule.
Q: Did making this film change the way you interact with your world?
A: This experience marks the beginning of a new chapter for me. After working in offices in loud bustling cities for over a decade, I now retreat to a small room I had built in my backyard where I do my work in quiet and solitude every day. Additionally, I think all my work moving forward is going to evolve from this new consciousness silence has inspired. Monastics, particularly those in the Zen tradition, see no distinction between activity and meditation. In the same way, I’m interested in dissolving the boundaries between my work, my home life, and my continuing exploration of silence.
Q: What do you hope viewers gain from IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE?
A: I hope viewers accept the invitation that the film extends to explore the subject further on their own. That’s ultimately what the film is meant to be, an invitation. Personally, I hope that the film inspires a more porous engagement with the world. Noise causes us to close ourselves off from the world; we shutter in response to loud sudden noises. When we’re still and silent, an enlarging of experience takes place. Instead of being a spectator of the show that’s going on we are a part of it, inside of it.
Q: You do a lot of documentary work. What would you say attracts you to the genre?
A: I won’t always be exclusive to the format but I do think that the non-fiction allows for a deeper engagement with a subject I think. Also, documentaries illuminate truths about the world and I think that’s what attracts me.
Q: Would you say documentaries have a certain purpose? Is that purpose to inspire, to shed light on, or to serve as a call to action? None of these or all?
A: All and more perhaps. There may be as many reasons to make a documentary as there are personalities in the world. A pervading theme amongst non-fiction however seems to be truth. A film will always reflect the experience of its creator and therefore can only be at best a representation or metaphor of some truth but that doesn’t necessarily make it less truthful. There is so much truth in the world that it’s important we have trusted curators to share wisdom they’ve drawn from it.
Q: Any upcoming projects or finals thoughts you’d like to share?
I plan to explore silence further and experiment more with different forms and maybe even different mediums. In Praise of Shadows is a new film I’ll start shooting soon that will be a contemporary portrait of modern life comprised entirely of shadows. Another untitled film that I began shooting last month in Seoul is inspired by something John Cage once said on the subject of boredom. He said “if you’re bored with something after two minutes, try it for four.” This film will consist of 17 four minute shots depicting aspects of contemporary life that most modern people deem forgettable, mundane, or boring yet make up the majority of our time on this planet. It’s a pure meditation really that asks us to re-examine why we find some moments important and so easily discard others.
IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE is screening in UK theatres now.