Gob Squad’s Super Night Shot is devised to illuminate cities at night – finding love and connection on streets where perhaps it is apparently absent. It takes the shape of four simultaneously recorded and presented one hour-long camcorder videos. At Latitude though, the chosen ‘city’ is Henham Park, and the streets are the pathways packed with festivalgoers, volunteers and staff, the summer afternoon falling away to a warm early evening across stalls and bars and marquees.
The four filmmaker stars each have a different role and goal: to find the perfect location for the final scene, to be the hero of the film, to publicise the hero and to find the perfect willing participant for the big kiss at the film’s close.
The success of the piece is in its excellent movement between the unscripted and the planned – the moments of unpredictable conversations with passers-by alongside perfectly timed synchronicity of camera movements, twirled umbrellas or the donning of masks, even when the four filmmakers are hundreds of feet away from each other and out of sight.
Filmed just an hour before it is shown, and because everyone is within a half-mile radius, there’s every chance that audience members will have seen the work being filmed, or – as I did – find themselves in the actual film.
As the Squad rehearsed the previous day, the whole event contributed to the weirdness of the Festival atmosphere that the film was celebrating. On Thursday you see a man wearing khaki twirling an umbrella. You assume he’s a nutty piece of festival colour – an eccentric chap having a good time. On Friday the act is repeated in front of a tripod, and an hour later the act is decoded.
While Henley Park does feel like it becomes a little city (or more cynically, a London away from London) during Latitude, the interrogation of passers-by in this festival context has the character of wacky vox pops rather than an examination or portrait of a city that I imagine Super Night Shots has had in its other incarnations since 2003 when the project was first devised in Berlin.
Without that grounding – the sense, perhaps of danger that comes from initiating conversations while wearing a rabbit mask with strangers in a living city after dark – the exercise feels a little fluffy. The humour is there in buckets, but the project feels more like light entertainment than it could do. The emphasis is thrown onto the engagement with filmic tropes – the hero, the antihero, the love interest, the big popcorn-selling kiss in the perfect location, and in a uniquely friendly atmosphere, any satire on these elements is a little toothless.
Super Night Shot is an impressive technical achievement – in the quick production turnaround and (live?) sound mixing of four camera feeds, and in the precise performance work where performers are also their own camera operators – but bringing it into the friendliest of surroundings, rather robs it of its incisive concept: to wage “a war on anonymity”. And perhaps that indicates that a festival, and perhaps Latitude in particular, is nothing like a city after all.