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15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
17-20 February 
Interview

Xavier Wehrli 
thought cabinet 

Section: We Are Not Our Trauma
xavierwehrli.com

A man forced to confront his most disturbing fantasies. Literally trapped in his own mind, the man’s only salvation lies in the Thought Cabinet - a mysterious, object-spawning wardrobe which allows him to experience a brief flurry of pleasant stimuli before waking once again to his isolated prison.  

 

Hey Xavier, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

 

Hello, thanks for having me. Like everyone else, I've just been taking it one day at a time. However, making films during the pandemic has certainly had its challenges.

 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

 

The last two years have been surprisingly productive for me. As I couldn't go out and collaborate, I worked on solo projects I'd usually never have the time for, like animations and oil paintings. More recently, I've been exploring modes of interactive storytelling.

 

What does it mean to be screening Thought Cabinet at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?

 

For me, screening "Thought Cabinet" at the Future Film Festival is a momentous occasion. I still find myself baffled that the British Film Institute is interested in my passion project. There can sometimes be a disconnect between young filmmakers and the industry we want to enter, so support from institutions like the BFI is reassuring.

 

Thought Cabinet is going to be in the We Are Not Our Trauma section of the festival, will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?

 

 I think there will always be nerves when it comes to festivals. Putting your thoughts and feelings into the public sphere is a risky endeavour, especially when it comes to the "We Are Not Our Trauma" category, in which young people try to connect to the world through vulnerability. Regardless of how "Thought Cabinet" is received, though, I'm just thrilled to have a seat at the table.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about how Thought Cabinet and what was the inspiration behind your film?

 

"Thought Cabinet" was inspired by a period of personal strife in high school. During this time, physical objects became manifestations of disturbing ideas, leading me to believe that mundane actions like twisting a doorknob or touching a belt would induce devastating real-world consequences. Having later learned to cope with these obsessive thought loops, I decided to explore them by making an experimental film.

 

Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that touched on your own experiences of mental strife and how cathartic has the process of making Thought Cabinet been for you? 

 

I definitely had some apprehensions about making "Thought Cabinet," the first concern being that of making my private struggles public, and the second being the validity of those struggles. For a while, I wondered whether I should grant myself the arrogance to express my own problems and expect other people to listen to them. However, the catharsis came when I realized that "Thought Cabinet" could potentially connect with others who've experienced similar distress.

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When working on a short film like this how close where you able to keep to your screenplay once shooting began, did you allow yourself much flexibility?

 

I'm a rather meticulous filmmaker, so even with experimental films, I front load pre-production, planning each beat until I've got the whole movie laid out before touching the camera. However, the four dream sequences in "Thought Cabinet" required a degree of flexibility I'd never experienced before. To imbue these moments with a subconscious flow, I gave myself the freedom to shoot whatever imagery I associated with their respective themes, having faith I could stitch these images together in the edit.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Thought Cabinet to life?

 

The biggest challenge of "Thought Cabinet" lay in finding a way to turn a highly subjective phenomenon into a linear narrative. As the film is devoid of dialogue, I found myself constantly re-writing the script so other people could "get it." However, a little ambiguity can do a lot for a film, and I'm always interested in hearing people's interpretations of the work.

 

Since making Thought Cabinet what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film and will you continue to write/direct short films?

 

The most valuable lesson I've learned from "Thought Cabinet" is how crucial sound design is to establishing a film's atmosphere. It wasn't until Robin Deibert-Patterson added his mix that the whole project clicked into place. This respect for sound is something I plan to keep in mind as I write and direct more short films.

 

Where did your passion for filmmaking and visual art come from and how much has your approach to your projects changed since you started out?

 

Art has always been my way of making sense of the world. Growing up in the digital age, the patience and introspection of art-making allowed me to construct my own sense of meaning within a constant flow of information. However, my approach to art has undoubtedly changed over the years. I used to make art solely for myself, but now I find it coming from a desire to connect with other people. This new framework has altered both the mediums I use and the topics I explore.

 

Does your work in visual art help to inform your approach to your film projects?

 

I think my background in visual art allows me to approach filmmaking with a degree of unconventionality. While I respect traditional modes of filmmaking, a part of me is rather bored by them. When watching "normal" films, I often want to say, "yes, this is all well and good, but what exactly are we doing here?" Whether we like it or not, filmmakers are artists, and innovation within any art form requires a re-evaluation of the practices we've taken for granted.

"You may not have access to the best equipment or resources right now, but getting caught up in these factors doesn't help much."

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

 

I think boundary-pushing is the only way for films to stay relevant. If filmmakers don't push narrative and formal pre-conceptions, the medium will stagnate, and people will stop paying attention. The good news is that film is relatively young and has plenty of room for innovation.

 

For anyone out there thinking about getting into filmmaking do you have any tips or advice you would offer them? 

 

One idea that's helped me through the initial steps is that of accepting your limitations. You may not have access to the best equipment or resources right now, but getting caught up in these factors doesn't help much. Instead, ask what you can do and make the best film possible within those limits. 

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Thought Cabinet?

 

Although "Thought Cabinet" can be is somewhat morbid, I hope it will instil a desire for people to connect with those around them. Feeling seen by others is such a vital step in overcoming mental isolation that even the attempt at connection is inherently meaningful.