People's Park

People's Park


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Across seventy-five minutes on an overcast Saturday afternoon in July 2011, J.P. Sniadecki and Libbie Dina Cohn roamed a park in Chengdu – in China’s Sichuan Province – armed with a camera and a microphone. People’s Park is their result, a single-take snail’s pace crawl through a vibrant public place in which every corner turned offers a new and quiet spectacle. Here, the ineluctable modality of the visible doubles as a document that is spatially and historically specific. In some ways, watch ten minutes and you’ve seen it all: if the film hasn’t piqued your interest by that point it’s unlikely to floor you at any stage thereafter, but there’s something strangely immersive and impressive in its unfailing fulfilment of a very simple premise.

The camera’s unchanging height and pace deny a human perspective – only the many instances in which passers-by look straight into the lens confirm we’re not in fact viewing proceedings from the vantage point of a ghost. Beginning with a slow tilt downward from the trees above, Sniadecki and Cohn move seamlessly and with a constant curiosity, resisting narration to allow the camera itself – and those people it records – to “speak”. The film unfolds like an unfussy, unhurried, unassuming real-world Russian Ark – and might say a great deal more about the history it unflinchingly documents.

Copy picture

As the camera drifts from place to place here, you might forget that you’re watching the same take as when the film began. There is a kind of spatial uniformity at work while every image is different. The actual textural qualities of the image(s) here are almost daringly unremarkable: at once, the film is a celebration of multiple multiplicities all captured within a singular vision. Sniadecki and Cohn draw us into this space at the same time as frustrating all notions of narrative, momentum or rhythm. In fact, with so much going on, it presumably took some effort not to hurry up and be swept along by actual events – to say nothing of the physical feat of ensuring the smooth operation of a camera for 80 minutes.

Patience and fluidity have their rewards. Though obviously pre-planned and choreographed, the film’s elegant visual movement brings with it ever-changing shifts in natural lighting, image density and, most notably, sonic textures. Note and ruminate upon those contemplative, acoustic non-places in which three different sources of otherwise conflicting music create their own weird and wonderful harmony.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2013
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A single tracking shot captures life in the People's Park in Chengdu, China.

Director: Libbie Dina Cohn, JP Sniadecki

Year: 2012

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US


NDNF 2013
EIFF 2013

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