“SECRECY” co-directors, Peter Galison and Robb Moss
Visualizing secrecy might seem about as promising as singing in outer space. Film what? From the start, we’ve constantly been on the lookout for 10 percent more things to make visual. How to imagine information that has been withdrawn, conversations stifled, photographs blocked, or words censored?
In fact, the very absence of obvious things to film about secrecy became, over the course of making this film, our single greatest preoccupation. Some things ended up working pretty well — we found ways of animating the redaction — and de-redaction, the all-too familiar blacked-out texts. In fact, prodded by all the things we couldn’t see, animation grew into a kind of subplot of the story, an underground kind of imaginary secrecy that keeps cracking through to the surface. There’s a moment in our film, for example, when American soldiers are hunting (fruitlessly) through an underground bunker looking for weapons of mass destruction and, for a brief moment, the scene morphs over into the animated sequence of just the gas canisters and missiles they were hunting.
Not having the things we can’t see led us also to use artwork that grapple with secrecy… a re-creation by one artist, for example, of the heart of the Los Alamos laboratory where physicists put together the World War II A-bomb. But not everything worked. We tried (for example) to think of a way to make audio censorship work for us. It didn’t.
In a way, documentary film by its very nature is about not quite having what we want, or not having enough, or not being exactly where one wants. We’re always circling around things, catching a snippet, angling to a shot, constrained by real walls and the ordinary physics of things — fiction begins where all those constraints fall away. But maybe in that bumping up against missing or in-the-way things is what gives documentary its endless appeal.
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 18, 9:15 pm — Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City]