Made with the support of the National Archive and Record Administration (NARA), Washington DC, USA.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

4’ HD, Colour, Sound (2015)

The encroaching obsolescence of documenting and recording media is a developing crisis. The short film, How Many Clouds Can We Put Up There, by Valentina Bonizzi examines absurd responses to this crisis by following a public employee whose job requires him to archive surveillance footage stored on film. The film demonstrates that continued storage of this antiquated media is unsustainable, but yet is required because several interrelated systems depend on this archive. How Many Clouds Can We Put Up There is a meditation on paradigmatic shifts in technology and accepting the inherent contradictions of one’s fate.

With her directorial style of slowly bringing objects into the camera’s focus, while allowing her subject’s voice to guide the viewer through a narrative episode, Bonizzi has us follow the sole protagonist, Jerry Luchansky, as he describes handling and storing the hundreds of thousands of rolls of film containing aerial photography donated to the national archives. The viewer comes to understand that Luchansky’s task is an irrational one. Luchansky behaves as if his task is merely maintenance, but he admits at the outset of the film that the archive was already outdated when he arrived at the facility where he receives, sorts, examines and organizes the film that is sent in. The filmmaker smartly reveals how he shuffles around his workplace with the stilted gait of a person with fatigued joints. His appearance as a capable, but worn agent in the machinery of bureaucratic documentation is a fitting metaphor for the archive he ministers to and supervises.

Bonizzi demonstrates that the devious irony of Luchansky’s job: he must keep adding to the stores of film, which ultimately will fail and degrade, unless it is transferred to electronic media—to the cloud. But the stream of incoming film never slows or stops. Luchansky is a man doomed to always use the same rusty tools because he lacks the time to cease work and sharpen them.

Text by Seph Rodney