In The Control Room

Creator's Statement

I had a strong response to the text because it stirred associations to my own experiences of sexual assault. It felt like an opportunity to try and in some form express what is so hard to talk about. But I also quickly felt the difficulty of approaching a topic this complex, and struggled with an acute sense of responsibility, the wish to “do it right,” to make a piece that would reflect the impact of the text on me.

I chose to focus on Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006), which recently provoked a familiar uneasiness in me, that I could connect to the text. The main character, Jackie, is placed in an eerie world, full of unspeakable danger, which had initially made me (wrongly) assume she had been a victim of sexual violence. The film’s way of relating her perspective seemed to offer an opportunity to explore some of the complex layers of unspeakable experience.

What intrigued me the most were the scenes in the dark control room where Jackie works as a CCTV operator. Her job is all about framing and recording, cutting to a new frame, zooming in and out, and following what was identified as dubious. All the while, she is accompanied by a drone sound that erupts and subsides seemingly in response to her experiences of the uncanny.

As routined as she seems to perform in her work, she is unable to grab onto the actual danger that affects her personally. The more concrete eeriness starts when she recognizes a man, and when she starts to chase him in his daily endeavors, herself in the dark control room, she misses what unfolds elsewhere: the knife attack on a girl by other girls.

To me this is a crucial moment that seems parallel to the sexual assault described in the text, which takes place in a dark cinema. Here in the dark, it is an encounter with the abject – with what Kristeva describes as “what disturbs identity, system and order” (1982: 4). Jackie’s job is to be confronted with the abject daily, but for her it has become more personal – not only because of a trauma she experienced in the past that seems related to the man she is following. In this specific moment, she is confronted with the perceived abject within herself. In the last shot of the sequence, the image zooms into the bloody detail of the girl’s wrists. But it is not Jackie who is zooming in, it seems like the machine itself is tormenting her, pointing towards her guilt of not seeing what was unfolding.   

The text and the film are told from the perspective of the person who experiences the abject. They are disorienting, guilt-laden and essentially inexpressible. So initially, I wanted to keep the essay abstract, without text and words, and focus on the moment of abject encounter. The soundscape is taken from a later moment in the film, when Jackie meets the man in the real world, dances with him and vomits after realizing that she got carried away, even enjoying herself. It is a moment that goes from revelling to brutal reality, and the impact of her encounter with the abject makes her physically sick. 

I found the three sequences revealed a sense of the abject but needed more context to connect to the text. In the end, the use of quotes from the text and of the whispering of my thoughts solved the issue of otherwise too technical and disconnected words. It created a sense of closeness, of support, of knowing someone and offering some insights, a sense of trust in the darkness, but perhaps also of highlighting the disembodied-ness of voiceover, which can be quite eerie.

This and the typed excerpts from the text helped to solve some of the issues I was initially concerned about – to acknowledge all perspectives: the experience of the person who wrote the text, my experience of sexual assault, and those of anyone who has experienced (sexual) trauma. Being aware of the impossibility of doing justice to all perspectives, this was a way to include several voices that could speak for themselves. Struggling initially to find a form, it was useful having to work within the rules of video creation, which clearly demonstrated a way of expressing what I had felt was perhaps impossible before.  


Work cited

Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror. Columbia University Press.



Julia Schönheit is a video editor with an MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths University London. She works on ethnographic film projects and in broadcast news. The first Once Upon a Screen prompt during lockdown provided the starting point for her exploration of the videographic essay as a form of critical encounter and filmmaking.  

Memory text

CW: This text refers to an experience of sexual abuse. 

The movie theater was almost completely empty. My friend and I in a middle row. A couple in the far back. Just the four of us. It was very quiet. I was wearing a brand-new rose-colored jacket I loved quite a bit. The theater darkened. The movie began. Credits rolled. The door behind us opened and another person entered. I could tell he was a middle-aged man but I couldn’t see his face in the darkness. I thought it was odd that a man his age would go see this movie. By himself. Rushing in after it had already started. The movie theater was almost completely empty but he sat down right next to me. I was an insecure 14-year-old girl, so I didn’t say anything. On the screen I saw a young woman on a horse. From the seat on my right, he moved closer towards me. From the speakers I heard intense organ music. The closer he came, the more I moved towards my friend on the left. She started giggling because she didn’t understand. I whispered: “This is uncomfortable”, but only to her. The movie flew by and took forever. I only remember snippets. That woman on a horse. A grand staircase. A chandelier. The middle-aged man touched me and I didn’t say anything. Touched me throughout the screening and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t dare make a scene. I pretended that I didn’t notice and just stared at the screen. Listened to the organs. Followed the woman on the horse. The movie’s mise-en-scène is dark throughout. At least that’s how I remember it. There wasn’t a brightly-lit scene that could have disclosed the man’s face. Not that I would have dared to look. The movie ended, the credits began to roll, and he jumped up and ran out of the theater. After a while I got up too and told my friend what had happened. She didn’t quite understand. At home, I took off that jacket I loved and threw it in the washing machine. I never wore it again.


Author’s reflection on the video

I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to share this difficult and dark memory publicly. I had processed the traumatic event quite thoroughly for a long time, but only in recent years had I started to consider the implications of the fact that it involved a film screening (the 2004 Joel Schumacher adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera to be exact) and that it occurred in a movie theater. There is something profound and disturbing about the darkened cinema, a space which feels both public and private, which can both hide and make visible, which involves acts of looking and being looked at. I found it worth exploring but I also knew I did not want to put images and sounds to it myself. Moreover, the experience of freezing or dissociating during a traumatic experience always lingers in an in-between space of memory: it is mine but not mine; it is both specific and common; I’m telling it but I’m also externalizing it. That is why the dialogical structure of this project seemed to be particularly suitable and I felt confident about entrusting another woman with the task. 

Julia Schönheit’s association of the text with the film Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006) is very intriguing and thought-provoking. The film largely takes place in a dark, isolated surveillance booth, and, in the tradition of films like Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) and Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981), self-reflexively centers on a character who witnesses and detects an alleged crime through her mediated environment. Julia’s video moves seamlessly between her engagements with the film and with the text. Her use of whispered voice-over to address the author (me) has an intimate, yet also a haunting, if not uncanny, quality. I find her use of black screens, isolated sound bits, repetition, and the way she hones in on the most visceral moments and aspects of the film very powerful and very fitting to the way in which an also visceral traumatic experience like mine might be processed and remembered.



Evelyn Kreutzer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, where she leads the project “The Digital Video Essay,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). She also serves as an associate editor at [in]Transition. Her written and videographic work has been published in journals like The Cine-Files, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, NECSUS, Research in Film & History, and [in]Transition.