The birth of mainstream time-lapse cinema began in 1982 with the release of the landmark film Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, cinematography by Ron Fricke (Baraka), with music composed by Philip Glass. The feature length film combined state-of-the-art filmmaking with a stunning message that captivated audiences on the big screen. Koyaanisqatsi broke the rules of filmmaking; it had no central characters and no dialogue, yet its message was explosive. It juxtaposed seemingly commonplace images with time-altered sequences, revealing an extraordinary visual landscape. Audiences were drawn into a roller coaster ride of image and sound that challenged their worldview. The fortunate ones who witnessed this experience firsthand remember it well. For some, it was an inspiration - for others, a turning point in cinema.
While time-lapse is now commonplace – available on every iPhone - back in the late 1970s, it required some major technical innovations to create those stunning visuals - and on celluloid, no less. Now, with digital cameras, dedicated software, and automated camera transports called sliders, sophisticated time-lapse filmmaking techniques are available to a broad range of photographers worldwide. The visual imagery of time-lapse offers a rare form of creative expression that crosses all language barriers, and brings inspiring beauty to viewers around the world.
"Time-lapse films are captivating to watch", says Casey Kiernan, creator of the Time-Lapse Film Festival, "because the visuals trigger both the left and right side of the viewer's brain. Your right brain is drawn into an imaginary world, while your left brain is trying to reconcile those images with a world you thought you understood. It's magic at its finest."
The modern era of time-lapse began in 2012, with the release of the film Timescapes by cinematographer and director Tom Lowe. Lowe propelled the art form forward with his combination of technical expertise and an amazing eye toward cinematography. Most modern-day time-lapsers follow his work as a guidepost.
Modern time-lapse filmmaking is driven as much by technology as it is by classic photographic and cinematographic techniques. Gunther Wegner, creator of LRTime-lapse software (a popular software product used for crafting time-lapse films), states "Like the darkroom in film photography, software plays an essential role in the creative process for time-lapse photographers. It helps to fix weaknesses in the technical equipment, like flicker, and enables the time-lapse photographer to bring their full editing creativity into the end product, making the art as exciting as it can be."
While the current state-of-the-art for time-lapse filmmaking showcases amazing imagery from around the world, the art form has much room to progress. Gary Yost, photographer and filmmaker, believes the genre needs to evolve to convey a conscious message to the audience. "Time-lapse needs a narrative. Rather than just making a beautiful time-lapse of the aurora borealis, you should interview the people who live with that phenomenon and find out how it affects them as human beings. Make time-lapse a part of an overall engaging story.”
Reggio agrees. With regard to the narrative of Koyaanisqatsi, he states: "The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value Koyaanisqatsi might have comes exclusively from the beholder." Peter Bill, an artist and activist who has been experimenting with time-lapse since the 1990s states, "The future of time-lapse is wide open. The medium will expand to utilize crowd-sourcing techniques for gathering footage and films will ultimately provide completely immersive 360 experiences. We will begin to see time-lapse films representing longer periods of time; spanning years, decades, even centuries."
The first annual Time-Lapse Film Festival will be held at the historic Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California on August 12-14, 2016. The three-day event offers a unique opportunity to view some of the essential films of the genre, as well as new films from around the world. Additionally, some of the top time-lapse filmmakers, including Reggio, will be on hand for Q&A.
"The motivation for the creation of the Time-Lapse Film Festival is to bring together the best time-lapse films from around the world. Ultimately, our goal is to propel the art form forward.” states Kiernan. "We received over 120 submissions from 25 countries our first year; clearly, time-lapse is a worldwide phenomenon that deserves recognition." "The requirement for submission is explicitly vague," continues Kiernan, "it only calls for 'altered time'. The requirements do not mandate any specific filming technique, process or style of imagery. As judges, we want to be surprised; we want the audience to be surprised. In order to push the boundaries of time-lapse, we offer categories in experimental, social commentary and documentary."
The itinerary for the three-day 2016 Time-lapse Film Festival is as follows:
• Friday, August 12 - Godfrey Reggio's films Koyaanisqatsi and Visitors will be shown, followed by Q&A with Reggio.
• Saturday, August 13 - The film festival ceremony showcasing the best of the submitted films, followed by awards, and a Q&A with the judges (Reggio, Yost, Bill, Wegner).
• Sunday, August 14 - Ron Fricke’s Baraka will be shown, followed by Q&A with the film’s producer.
The 2016 Time-lapse Film Festival is sponsored by Kessler Crane and Joshua Tree Workshops. For more information about the Time-lapse Film Festival, click here.