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Snap happy

Willem Baptist

Willem Baptist’s feature debut Instant Dreams investigates the strange and continuing allure of the Polaroid. The company may have filed for bankruptcy in 2008 in the face of the digital revolution but that hasn’t lessened the cult of the instant camera in the slightest. Rotterdam-based Baptist has been a Polaroid lover himself since his teenage years when he first picked up an old camera in one of the city’s flea markets. “The camera was very worn down. I just thought it looked funny. I didn’t even attempt to make photographs with it,” he remembers. Eventually, he took the device to a camera shop and found some film to go in it. He figured out on his own how to use it. Baptist’s first pictures were of some sheep grazing in a field. The subject matter may have been banal but the process was magical. The idea that you could press a button and that a picture would pop out was exhilarating. It made him feel instantly like an artist. With its mesmeric music and stylised cinematography, Instant

Dreams has the feel of a sci-fi film. It was shot in cinemascope. Baptist freely admits that he is more influenced 2001: A Space Odyssey and by Close Encounters than he is by traditional documentary. “For me, this movie is a quest on the grand scale,” Baptist says of the decision to shoot in cinemascope. “I wanted to do a great epic movie… but, of course, on a very modest budget.” The film is produced by Pieter van Huystee. Initially, another producer had been attached to the project but decided to retire from the film business. At that point, Baptist was still trying to put the finance together. “I needed a producer fast.” Broadcaster NTR put him in touch with Van Huystee, who both agreed to come on board and accepted Baptist’s bold and ambitious vision for the film. “I am not interested in capturing reality. I am interested in capturing something deeper. For me, the story is everything,” the director declares of his approach. Instant Dreams isn’t intended as a conventional history of the Polaroid camera or even an account of enthusiasts’ attempts to preserve the format in a new digital era. His real fascination is with “our strange relationship with photographic images, and how we try to capture our dreams”, as well as with his subjects – the artists, scientists and authors who were even more obsessed by Polaroid than he was. They were distinguished figures. Among them

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was the German artist Stefanie Schneider, who uses her last remaining Polaroid stock to stage a shoot in the California desert, New York Magazine editor Christopher Bonanos and scientist Steve Herchen, who worked for Polaroid for many years and then assisted the “Impossible Project,” the group that stepped into the breach following the closure of Polaroid by buying the last surviving factory “unravelling the secrets” of instant film and trying to keep the Polaroid format alive. Some of the interviewees were initially sceptical about the young Dutch director and his project. “Christopher (Bonanos) couldn’t relate to the project at all. I said I was going to make this big scale philosophical movie about the mystery and magic of Polaroid and he was like ‘what are you talking about. There is no magic. It is all bullshit.’” Schneider, a big-name artist, took some convincing that Baptist could pull it off while Herchen was sympathetic (but also a little bewildered at first) by the director’s approach. “Only on the last day of shooting did he say ‘now I understand what you were trying to make.’” The subjects have seen the documentary. “That you were going to make this, we couldn’t have imagined!” they all said as they gave the film their instant approval. Geoffrey Macnab

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