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tarring a woman, a rabbit, a wolf dog and a bald eagle (in that order), The Animal That Therefore I Am was one of the more unusual features of last year’s Short Focus Film Festival. “What does the animal see when she looks at me?” is the question that writer and director Bea de Visser asks in her ten-minute short. Deploying innovative camera techniques, a remarkable use of space, and a manipulation of sounds, not only does the film pose this philosophical problem, but also raises questions of identity, interspecies relations, and the limits of representation. We find ourselves inside a well-lit room artfully strewn with feathers, mosses, and furs. The focus begins with an intimate close up of a woman (played by Erin Hill), followed by a rabbit, a wolf dog and, finally, a bald eagle. As each creature is introduced, the relations between them change: the rabbit transforms from pet to prey, the dog from pooch to predator. Identity is fluid. This idea of an unfixed self is emphasised by the extreme closeups of each animal. The shots of the woman’s face, crotch, stomach, armpit deny the viewer a still, complete image but, rather, provide an ever-changing collection of fragments defined by the external viewer rather than an intrinsic identity. This fluidity is taken even further when the narrator breaks the human body down into spittle, slime, nails, claws. The careful sequence of words here successfully plays with the boundaries between what we consider human and what we do not: spittle is found in the mouth, slime drips down the walls of caves; nails are for humans, claws for beasts. The interspecies kinship implied by these associations could be taken even further to a molecular level. If the edges between the woman and the animals are blurred, what, we could ask, defines the woman from the guitar she picks up and holds so close to her body? While the interactions between the four animals (or five, if you count the guitar) could give the impression of some kind of ‘natural’ relationships between them, it is important to remember that this is all highly orchestrated. A rabbit, a wolf dog, and a bald eagle would surely not cohabit so closely out of their own free will, let alone in such an overtly stylised space. Furthermore, this is not a neutral space: the eagle walks with bound feet and the wolf dog is held firmly back by the woman’s hands. The animals enter when they are wanted and they produce a desired effect.

As she gently strums the strings, the sound of the guitar mingles with the scuffle of claws and the snuffling of snouts - all a mesh of vibrations woven together by proximity. Each sound is distinct through its relation to the others: the eagle’s cries seem shrill over the low notes of the guitar, while the dog’s panting provides a gentle backdrop in comparison to the other sounds’ higher volumes. This clever use of sound emphasises the instability of who we are, that runs throughout the whole film.