Are we the spies, or the spied upon? How does the personal become public and the public become personal? What happens when we step out of our own histories and just watch them happen, rewrite them in our minds as we stand by and do nothing? In this modern age of movement and anti-specificity of place, why do we feel the need to show so much yet also to simply observe?
These are all questions raised by Sarah Wood’s thoughtful, indeed watchful meditation on what it is to be and to see, to remember, to traverse borders and to witness another’s life and death from the bird’s eye view of the camera and of flight.
I AM A SPY is a short film which takes the invention of cinema and aviation, but also of CCTV, to place us in the role of observer, both of what we see on screen but also of our own lives. As we watch, and listen to a woman’s voice narrating fragments of a life we cannot be sure is her own, we are moved to reflect upon and reconstruct our own memories in an image saturated world of casual espionage and socialised war. “We the living,” the voice says, “we edit life. History is what we’re making right now.” Maybe this voice is Wood herself: “A spy to my own history, I am wondering what an image can tell me.”
Muted in palette but not in metaphor, these are borrowed recollections revealed in image and voice, a flight of discovery rather than life with its feet on firm ground. What we see and hear is not just haunting but also beautiful: we see birds become planes as they take flight from gently fisted hands; we hear crackling tape and fire and falling. Light and air and smoke move as one, and it is not the airplanes which undulate, but their shadows on voluptuous mounding dunes and clouded plains. An unknown listener is addressed by this voice which is slow, mysterious, and strangely matter-of-fact – “in the grey light I remember you’re not there” – and we realise that perhaps this listener is us, that we, as we watch, are the observed.
I AM A SPY screened as part of the Cambridge Film Festival’s MICROCINEMA strand.