Jessica Sarah Rinland begins her experimental documentary/essay film Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another with an epigraph: “When discussing the importance of the replica in relation to the original, the experts mentioned that the Latin root of the word original is orior, meaning arising or being born; they said that the artwork may be an original but it is also a reproduction of the animal depicted and that the animal depicted is only a DNA replica of her ancestor.” I’m not sure the film has anything profound, or even coherent, to say about the phenomenological aspects or hermeneutics of reproduction; it is, perhaps, best to think of the film’s prologue — footage of a monkey with her babies in captivity — as a kind of poetic framework through which to view the rest of the film, a suggestion of sorts to organize the proceedings, as we follow the creation of a fabricated elephant tusk from beginning to end. Conflating the idea of biological reproduction, i.e. giving birth, and the act (or art) of mechanical reproduction is wandering about in the murky area of Benjamin and Adorno, who both bemoaned the idea of mechanical processes robbing artworks of their ‘aura,’ or originality, while simultaneously realizing that this act of mechanized reproduction was itself a kind of democratization.
This philosophical conundrum aside, Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another is most interesting as a document of process, skill, and duration; the filmmaking is delicate, tactile, and celebrates a kind of precision. As critic and curator Becca Voelcker wrote, “Rinland is fascinated by hands-on applications of science, and how they vary between disciplines…in playing with time by reproducing a seemingly old artefact (sic), the film winks at the cinema’s own temporal legerdemain and material fabrications.” For her part, Rinland excels at a kind of leisurely, metronomic pacing, as individual scenes of production play out seemingly in real time. In careful, precise framings, we see the steps taken as a mold is made, as plaster dust is vacuumed away, and as chipped edges are repaired. Rinland is just as fascinated by the patterns of dried, cracked plaster on a human hand as she is the high tech machinery that renders the mold. She also injects herself into the film in an interesting way — her brightly painted fingernails are often visible in the frame, though the camera almost never looks away from objects to view human faces. Indeed, it’s almost a shock when, at the end of the film, Rinland starts shooting scenes from a distance, showing full human bodies. Her attention to detail is what fascinates, although the undercurrent of philosophical musings (however diffuse) offers plenty of avenues for further contemplation. Not all of Rinland’s poetic evocations work, but Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another is both lively and playful, a worthwhile document on a specific act of creation that few of us would be privy to otherwise.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 7: Wavelengths Program.