Recreated Memories

Creator's Statement

When I received the anonymous text from Ariel and Evelyn, I was pleasantly surprised. It was evocative, delicate, and brief. It spoke to me on several levels, so I assumed that making the video would be easy. Once I’d started thinking about the adaptation, however, it dawned on me that, more than anything, it would be easy to mess it up. On the one hand, the text worked so well on the page, I felt it did not need any audiovisual accompaniment. On the other hand, the words did conjure up vivid images in my mind. Yet, those images did not seem to exist in any film I had access to.

Although “Recreating Memories” is one of the shortest videos I have ever made, it turned out to be among the most challenging ones. When I signed up for the experiment, I had anticipated the process of adapting someone else’s memory to be challenging, but I did not expect the difficulties I would have with adapting a pre-written “script.” I usually conceive my essays based on what the audiovisual material reveals to me. Written or spoken commentary only comes in after the overall structure is firmly established. But on this one I had to reverse my process.

As the text indicated a female point of view in both the memory and the film in question (which I was glad I did not recognize), I decided against including my own voice in the video. In order to find appropriate material, I revisited a couple of autobiographical films, some of which were too sentimental and some too somber to match the delicately melancholy atmosphere of the text. For some time, I tried to make it work with scenes from Andrea Štaka’s feature films. But after a few failed attempts, I came back to a film I had initially considered too on the nose because it already reflected and recreated memories on a meta-level. Yet, Varda’s lighthearted exploration of remembering in Les plages D’agnès (2008) provided me with images that worked very well as slides. Once I had reduced the film to the backbone of a family memoir, everything fell into place. Since Les plages D’agnès associatively mixes documentary footage, staged memories and fictionalized scenes from previous films, deciding which images should be projected as slides (including the signature sound) and which should be framed as mental pictures happened rather intuitively. 

Knowing that the original text will eventually be published next to the video, it was easier to eliminate some of my favorite lines from the script. Initially conceived as an interplay of (lo-fi) waves from the film and newly recorded projector sounds, the soundtrack somehow lacked any hint of the longing I felt while reading the text. So I scored the onscreen words with a piece of music that was supposedly written for Les plages D’agnès (the composer is credited on IMDb) but not really used in the film.

At first, I was afraid that using a relatively well-known film might eclipse the author’s voice. But looking at it from a different angle, I found that the familiarity with Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy would elicit additional associations that might enrich the reflection. Thus, I am curious about how this audiovisual essay works for audio-viewers who have not previously been familiar with the two French filmmakers’ works.


Oswald Iten is a Swiss film scholar and video essayist with a practical background in hand-drawn animation. Currently, he works at the Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Sciences as teacher and a PhD researcher as part of Johannes Binotto’s project “Video Essay: Futures of Audiovisual Research and Teaching”. He is particularly interested in the relationship between sound and image, as well as colors and editing. He also works part-time in a cinema.

Memory text

A projector, photo slides, the warm light, silence broken by the sound of each slide passing through. Smiles. A moment that lingers. A chunk of time before the inevitable end.  

I find myself transported into the realm of family life, reminded of my grandparents and the warmth of their flat: The yellow-brown of the carpets. The round shapes of the old wooden furniture. The grey-and-yellow sofa with the symmetrical patterns and tube-shaped cushion that felt like a soft machine - old and always futuristic.

We also, rarely, looked at old picture slides of images, from before my time. They contained happy and grumpy faces in front of beautiful nature scenes. Holidays, memories that everyone couldn’t always remember but seemed to enjoy. The plastic of the projector was full of secrets – and similarly old and always futuristic.

I long for my grandparents and their place, here in the dark hall of the movie theatre, the only old building in the US town where I study for a year. I am far away. It is warm outside, and yellow; inside, a bit cold.

Time passes – and the projector stops. Hands hold one another and eyes meet. A grey curtain floating lightly in the wind of the open window. The inevitable end.

I admire the filmmaker and her presence in these delicate moments; she is so close and so connected, capturing the beauty of her family life as well as the sadness at the end of it. It feels like I can almost taste the heaviness of nostalgia in my heart. I enjoy it but it uncovers a subtle concern – can my family hold on to our time together?

Author’s reflection on the video

It is truly powerful to see this video essay, and to find my words within it. Strange at first because the new context creates a new perspective on how the text works for me, interfering with the mental/imagined images and feelings that have constructed this memory for me. 

I have written about a memory within a memory, several layers of feelings and images, connected and disconnected – and the contextualisation within a piece about “reconstructing memories” feels very strong. It makes me reflect about writing the text and how these memories have got their shape and meaning for me.

The combination of my words with images of Varda’s family history and memories that she reconstructs in her film in a new prism of visuals, feels like I am being connected. Some images I feel attached to, they share some of the warm quality and inquisitiveness of the images I have in my head – a family at the beach, the urgency and ultimately relentless “cutting” of images in a projector, the act of looking closely. A universal family practice of collecting mementos to hold on to?

But it goes further with Varda, who seems to actively engage with the longing of holding on, with images showing how she has her family with her as she reconstructs the memories. She has a close connection to the people who are part of the memories and now of their reconstruction. 

At the end, when the question appears: can we hold on to our connection? – it feels less heavy than in my original text but more like a contingent space, perhaps through the strength of images, a more positive and powerful question that can help connect people in the present.

But I also feel a special connection to the video essay and I am very grateful to see such a beautiful response to my text from someone I have never met. 


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.