2015, HD Video, Stereo sound, 18'30''
A disembodied, anonymous character reflects on the titular Andre, a fellow prisoner whose obsessions with mainstream cinema and video technologies serve as oblique clues to how he escaped. Andre’s aspirations to achieve absolute fidelity in image-making intersect with questions about representation, identity, and personal ethics.
Aily Nash: B-ROLL with Andre (2015) is constructed out of two kinds of footage: the stock image that you purchased, entitled Mysterious Threatening Thug and GoPro footage that you shot, which includes everything else—images from the internet, Panera, and the Black Magic trade show. How did you come to creating the video out of these two image sources?
James N. Kienitz Wilkins: The title is literal. It is “b-roll” with Andre. The “a-roll” (interview footage normally considered primary information) is not with Andre. In today’s editing parlance, “b-roll” is supporting footage: cutaway shots, filler to cover a bad edit, bits and pieces to support the main argument of the “a-roll.” These moments are the closest we get to Andre, if we accept that the GoPro found in the box was operated by him. It’s the only physical evidence, and the only original footage, despite being perceived as supplemental footage. GoPro is an imaging company that markets a subjectivity-effect: the POV. It’s totally a product Andre would use, even as he’s researching better products to acquire. It’s very clunky and recognizable. So I wanted the footage to trace its own incriminating physicality, as if it’s trying to escape an inborn way of seeing things. Conversely, people usually assume I shot the hoodie figure, but I didn’t. It’s a stock footage loop that I purchased for $40. I think of the two formats as two competing positions in a dialogue (of course inspired in part by My Dinner with Andre (1981)), although they are more alike than not.
AN: This is the final film in your “Andre” trilogy. How did the series come to be?
JKW: The character Andre was introduced in my short, Special Features (2014) and reconsidered as a suspect in the sequel (or narrative prequel) called TESTER (2015). He’s first mentioned in Special Features as the antagonist in a dream recounted by an interview subject. Then it turns out that the interview subject is multiple subjects, and the dream is a retelling of my own dream. So from the very beginning, Andre was a character capable of moving across boundaries. I didn't plan this in advance, but it allowed me to explore the strange immateriality of moviemaking, which is what attracts me to it. I love how movies can never quite shake a reputation of irrelevancy, while also being an art form uniquely expressive of a dead serious desire to transcend (or perhaps control) the physical world.
AN: Your decision to use the faceless hooded figure, three different voice actors performing a single character, and the witness-protection voice encoder invites the viewer to make assumptions about the identity of the character. Why was it important that the work have this function?
JKW: It is all about assumptions. How movies are made and watched. Human-made rules and laws guiding how we interpret things. I’ve heard people bemoan movies because they’re manipulative. But that’s obvious. A movie is a manipulation of time, money, physical resources, desires, references, eras, and so on. You can’t hold an entire movie in your head or even in a moment, so you’re subject to a loss of control, just like in real life. I should note that I like the term “movie.” It’s a dumbly literal term, slangy, gets the point across, and avoids medium-specificity—really perfect for what I’m trying to do.
And I guess race is assumption with consequences. I could speak to this personally and there’s a lot to be said about blank black voids and why this sort of image is up for sale, but I feel the bigger concern in the movie is identity at large. The faceless hooded figure can be at once victim or perpetrator. I suppose I wanted to explore the identity of a character that isn’t really even a character. Who knows, deep down there is nothing essential about any of us, which is either freeing or horrifying.
Writer/Editor: James N. Kienitz Wilkins
Voices: Devin Kenny; Roland Allmeyer; Ismael Ramirez
Sound Mix: Josh Allen