By: Meera Eragoda, Arts & Culture Editor
Watching Mackenzie Reid Rostad’s Goodnight Goodnight made me wonder if we’ve constructed artificial lights to try and satiate the call of something deep within us for a star-filled sky. The experimental film, which explores light pollution, love, and hydroelectricity, recently premiered at Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland and won Best Canadian Short and Medium-Length Film at the Montreal International Documentary Festival.
Written and directed by SFU BFA grad Reid Rostad, with music by Rosie Long Decter and sound design by Alex Lane, the film features meditative shots overlaid with interviews and Reid Rostad’s own narration. It investigates patterns between human constructions like subways and natural phenomena like constellations, and gives rise to the question of how we find meaning in a world anchored by our own creations.
The film, described as a love letter, has no explicitly stated narrative but is meant to motivate us to interrogate our relationship with place and time. I had the chance to speak with Reid Rostad and asked about this and other details of the film. He elaborated that he hoped the film could “challenge some of the assumptions we have concerning time, space, and their continuity.
“Space and place tend to collapse when we look at everything that makes their existence possible. Spaces, such as a metro station in Montréal and a hydro-electric dam in northern Québec do not exist independent of the other.”
Place, he said, is different from space and “[a]s with love [ . . . ] we’ll never understand it until we’re able to untangle ourselves from our notions of space and time and the market imperatives which act on them.”
I asked Reid Rostad more about love and pollution and if he learned anything about either from making the film. He explained that “both love and light pollution are essentially photographed the same way — highlighting the absence of someone or something.
“This idea of feeling love only in its absence is very immature [ . . . ] Throughout the film, I’m kind of poking fun at this idea, which I embody, as it can be rather pathetic.” He went on to explain that the film presents an “unknown other” which mirrors narratives of unrequited love that consumers are fed. He added, “I don’t think we’ll have much luck preventing light pollution or solving much of anything if we’re not able to free ourselves from love as lack.”
A striking aspect of the film was Reid Rostad’s use of lingering shots and the way the framing illuminated the cold beauty of industry. It brought to mind a memory of visiting a friend in Lloydminster and being captivated by the lights of the oil refineries twinkling vividly against the dark night sky as we drove by. It sticks with me, perhaps because of the contradiction of finding beauty in something so destructive.
The film seemed a little reminiscent of Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018) and when I asked Reid Rostad about it, he revealed that one of his favourite filmmakers is Anthropocene co-director Jennifer Baichwal. Her opening shot in Manufactured Landscapes is directly referenced in one of the closing shots of Goodnight Goodnight. He said, “The mode and sensitivity of Manufactured Landscapes is something that has very much informed my work and interest in cinema at large.”
As Reid Rostad is forging ahead in the film industry, I was curious if he had any advice for SFU film students or students in general. He obliged. “You’re studying because you’re a student. When you graduate, condemned to the real world, you’ll lose this title and everything that came with it. You may well be starting at zero. It’s important to be patient with yourself and not lose sight of why you chose to study and practice art. Take time (as in years) to reflect on what that means to you, as it probably wasn’t for the degree.
“A final and more pointed word for film students. Motion pictures are almost as old as the city you’re studying them in. You probably can’t afford to live there, so there isn’t much point in reconstructing it elsewhere.”
As a history major and gender studies minor, I’ll leave it to film students to decode his advice.
Though there currently aren’t any plans for Goodnight Goodnight to be screened in Vancouver, if it is in the future, it’s worth watching for an exploration of the world — constructed and not. Or at the very least, a meditative experience filled with strangely beautiful shots.