I used to be the type of person who avoided falling asleep while watching a film. Sleepy while watching on a laptop? I’d pause the movie and close the laptop. At the cinema? A quick trip to the restroom to freshen up always did the trick. I believed that sleepiness was something that must be fought, and falling asleep meant surrendering that fight. Who wants to surrender, right? But at this point, perhaps the question that comes to mind is, “Why should I fight sleepiness while watching a film?”.
I think, this perspective stems from opinions around me—which assume that if someone falls asleep while watching a film, it means they’re not smart enough to understand the film. As a film student, these opinions often turned into insults. “A film student falling asleep during a film? Such a shame”. During my early years of film school, these kind of remarks really hit me right on the chest. However, learning more and more about films, I’ve come to realize that, this perspective oversimplifies the potential of film itself as an artistic medium.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul even makes “sleeping” as an element that he often uses in his films, as seen in Blue (2018) and Memoria (2021). He also stated that he has no problem with audiences sleeping during his films. To him, if audiences sleep, only to wake up to a random scene, they gain a fresh and unique perspective on the film. Through his films, Apichatpong aims to provide an experience rather than mere entertainment—and falling asleep is one of those experiences.
When I found out that Minikino Film Week 9 featured a guest program from the Image Forum Festival titled Sleeping, Thinking, Walking, I was interested in experiencing that falling asleep experience—especially if the program was made to provoke sleepiness. The Image Forum Festival itself is a film festival based in Japan, dedicated to personal and experimental cinema in Japan. The Sleeping, Thinking, Walking program aimed to showcase different rhythms and pacing of storytelling in short films, and at the same time, liberating the audience to choose whether they want to follow or just doze off in the darkness. However, resisting the urge to fall asleep while watching had practically become my habit. Finally, on a beautiful sunset in Bali, during the MFW9 Happy Hour, I decided to get myself up from Warung Azkiyah and walk over to Irama Indah Minihall to watch the program.
As an audio-visual medium, feelings of sleepiness commonly comes from these two elements. Koyo Yamashita, the programmer, seems to have realized this in programming the films in Sleeping, Thinking, Walking. The program is opened with Molting (Bowda Katsushi, 2021), an animated film that tells the story of a creature that continues to molt, resembling the object it eats. Set on a dark gray moon-like plain, the film comes without dialogue. With a combination of gray tones and the absence of dialogue throughout the film, Molting seems to be a warm-up that prepares us before going deeper into this program. Even so, Molting can still be easily followed because of its linear narrative.
In contrast to Molting which creates sleepiness through the abscence of dialogue, the second film titled Sleepin’ager Waking (Fujii Anna, 2021) triggers sleepiness through its extensive use of dialogue. The film itself is a personal documentary that tells the story of quarter-life existential crisis. The dialogues come from fragmented memories from the filmmaker’s personal life, recorded on camera and stringing non-chronologically. This non-linear narrative creates a unique viewing experience, as well as making us easy to fall asleep because of its undramatized dialogues. To me, the experience felt much like I was being read a story before bed.
Up until the second film, I was (still) thinking that maybe this program wasn’t very sleepy since I can follow the first two films quite well. But then, I was proved wrong. The third film, titled grained time vol.5 walker(s) on the crossroad (Goshima Kazuhiro, 2021), invites us to focus on the simple act of walking. It accomplishes this with the assembly of photographs of people’s feet to create a stop-motion that mimics the motion of walking. At first, I was in awe by the simple yet intriguing experimentation by Kazuhiro. But this impression quickly turn into a feeling of relaxation because of the repetitive movements and the ASMR sounds of camera shutter. With the brief 3 minutes runtime, this film seems to prepare us for the film that comes after.
The fourth film, titled A Long Walk (Elysa Wendi & Lee Wai Shing, 2022), showcases a man walking through a long, dark tunnel throughout the film. The gray color appears again and fills the entire screen—this time darker than before. It was so dark that I gave up writing notes on my notebook. Combined by camera movements that create the illusion of a rotating tunnel, along with ambient sounds that resemble brown noise (a sound that is often used to make people sleep deeper), A Long Walk feels like abstract images that can only appear in dreams.
Throughout the film, I kept wondering if there would be any other thing going on beside the walking man. Several times, my mind went blank. Like my eyes were open, looking at the screen, but I wasn’t thinking of anything or remember what I watched seconds before. And when I focused my mind back to the screen, guess what, that man was still walking. It was A Long Walk indeed. Even so, I can’t deny myself that it was a very strong and memorable cinematic experience I rarely had.
The fifth film, titled On Time Off Time (Iwasaki Hirotoshi, 2020), continues the dreaming experience from the previous film. On Time Off Time divides the screen into square frames containing rotoscope animations of different parts of the human body moving in repetition. Dividing the screen into small squares, the film lets me choose which square to look at—or to look at all of them at once. The film also comes in black and white, forcing me to focus more on the repetitive movement, continuing the profound feeling of relaxation that was constantly present throughout the program.
Going to the fifth film, I was kind of accepting whatever the film tried to offer. I felt when watching the first four films, there were still this inner voice that forced me to not doze off—and it was honestly exhausting. Then, I tried to dissociate my mind from that voice and began to enjoy the relaxing feelings, enjoying the little squares of rotating body parts animation. It felt a lot like a relief.
The sixth and final film of this program is titled Silver Cave (Cai Caibei, 2022), an animated film using metal plates as its main medium. The abstract lines and shapes are created from the scratches on the metal plate. This reminds me of the film Eyes and Horns (Chaerin Im, 2021) which use similar production technique. However, because it was made on a metal plate, the dark gray color is (again) becoming the dominant color throughout this film.
The single light source that comes from the projector makes the entire room in Irama Indah Minihall constantly in darkness—an ideal condition for falling asleep. Several times, I looked to my surroundings, then saw several people looking half asleep, while others remained fixated on the screen. Honestly, I don’t really remember what shapes were etched on the metal plates throughout the film. In that last film, I felt like being in the in-between space—between the realm of the awake and the asleep. Even the occasional voiceover that appeared during the film, instead of jolting me awake, it sounded so soothing and calming—almost like a lullaby.
The program came to its end, the MFW9 closing bumper appeared and ended the darkness since approximately one hour ago. It was strange, the bumper felt brighter than usual. Once it ended, the audience seemed to take a little longer before getting up and leave. It seemed like they were carried away by the calm and sense of relaxation that the program offered. I stayed for a couple of minutes too, staring at the useless scribbly handwriting in my notebook as a result of writing in darkness.
After watching, I came back to Warung Azkiyah. Unexpectedly, a program that felt so sleepy actually brings up a very exciting discussion between me and several friends who were also watching. Julie, one of my Festival Writers friends, immediately mentioned that Sleepin’ager Waking is their favorite film out of the 6, and mentioned how the programming created a viewing experience that was stronger than watching each film separately. Another story also came from Ison, Minikino’s Video Editor Intern, who realized the major difference between watching the films in a big screen and small computer screen when he did subtitling job for several films in the program. Meanwhile, I too shared my experience about how at one point in A Long Walk, I saw the circle-shaped tunnel created an illusion, resembling the shape of the human eye’s retina.
Image Forum Festival through this program, seems to offer a form of experimentation that isn’t limited to just one film, but can also be done in programming. I think it’s fitting to call the Sleeping, Thinking, Walking program an experimental film program, designed not only to convey a message, but also to transfer distinct feelings and experiences. Even though I didn’t fall asleep, I think the feeling of being “in-between” that I experienced felt equally powerful and valid as any other cinematic encounter.
Moreover, the experience doesn’t end when the program ends, but is perfectly closed by a discussion that’s interesting as well. Now, in my upcoming (unnecessary) battle with sleepiness while watching a film, I will happily concede my defeat and letting myself be in the in-between space—or even embrace the idea of falling asleep instead.