Leaping between Georges Méliès, Leni Riefenstahl, Ted Turner, YouTubers, and the Earth as a pale blue dot, this fascinating, foreboding documentary examines the world as we see it—and ourselves within it—through photography.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Trawling the infinite moving image repository that is YouTube, filmmakers Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck have assembled a perfectly succinct yet startling history of photography—a found-footage essay that holds a mirror up to humanity from the moment the camera was invented.
Given the acceleration of technology and the intensity of our media consumption, no film on this subject can adequately encapsulate the evolution of image making over the past 200 years. But in taking us from the wonders of camera obscura to the horrors of a chimpanzee being trained to scroll through Instagram, Fantastic Machine smartly and ironically defines what is glorious, godawful, and terrifying about our ability to record and disseminate everything.
Citing powerful examples of the manipulation and commodification of imagery pre-digital era, the directors also tackle the age of the internet, content, monetisation and algorithms—no small feat, when literally billions of images are published and viewed daily. Matching Executive Producer Ruben Östlund’s pitch black sense of humour, there’s a gobsmacking absurdity to the reality—or sheer stupidity—of the situations compiled here that, depending on your view of the modern world, will either blow your mind or make you facepalm. — Tim Wong