Summer Film Festival 4 Elements


At first sight, the topic of senses for a film seminar does not seem to make much sense. Cinematography, after all, only encompasses two of the five senses. As we learned during our dramaturgical sessions, the problem is not just the limitation of the audio-visual medium itself. In terms of the subject matter, far more films deal with the senses of sight and hearing than with the other senses. (In recent days, taste seems to be catching up, which probably does not come as a surprise, considering the popularity of various cooking channels). However, the link between senses and elements has existed since ancient times. For example, it was Aristotle who believed that each of the senses is based on the combination of the four elements – earth, air, water and fire – and thanks to these we are able to perceive the world around us. In reality, senses are a combination of physical and chemical reactions. Our receptors receive environmental stimuli and then send out signals to the brain, which processes and evaluates them.

The assertion that humans have five senses is one of the biggest misconceptions we learn in life. In fact, there are various categorizations of senses, or rather receptors that mediate them. Altogether the number of senses is then higher than five. According to the type of stimuli, receptors can be divided into:

  • Chemoreceptors (smells, flavours)

  • Photoreceptors (light, colour)

  • Thermoreceptors (cold, heat)

  • Mechanoreceptors (touch, position).

Another categorization is based on the environment from which the receptors transmit information. (Exteroceptors receive information from the environment external to the organism, while interoceptors from within the body). It is thus still not clear how many senses we really have. However, to the five traditionally recognized senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – at least hunger, thirst, pain, balance, thermoreception, proprioception (the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body) and kinaesthesia (muscle tension) need to be added. Some animals even have the ability to detect a magnetic field thanks to magnetoception. When thinking about senses in this broader sense, even the idea of their role within a film screening becomes clearer. Thanks to proprioception, balance and kinaesthesia, we are aware of the fact that we are in a cinema, sitting in seats off which we will not fall. The screening room may feel warm, nicely cold, or maybe even somewhat stuffy. After a while one body part or another starts to hurt slightly and hunger or thirst let themselves be heard. Seeing a cigarette casually hanging from the corner of Belmondo’s mouth, we might find ourselves overcome by a craving for having a smoke as well. Of course, it is sight and hearing that work the most. Film is, after all, an audio-visual medium and has remained so even today, despite various experiments in the past (moveable seats, releasing smells and alike). There is no need for it to be something else either. Film has the ability of evoking synaesthesia – a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another – one that is absent. An expressive film can evoke different feelings. It might seem to us that we can smell a medieval town reeking of excrement, rubbish and rats, or our mouths start to water at Ugo Tognazzi’s morsels.

When assembling the programme of this year’s ‘sensory’ film seminar, we did not aim at choosing films corresponding with particular senses. We feel that no such thing would be even possible since perception and senses are intricately connected. For example, if the subject matter of a film is vision loss, the film also deals with how the characters perceive the world through hearing, touch, temperature or smells. The sense of taste only works partially, if we do not perceive the stimulus by smell at the same time. However, there are certain lines we followed when selecting the films. One of them is a ‘contact’ line. It encompasses all the positional, motoric and tactile senses. It portrays mainly situations in which these senses are heightened (doing sports, dancing, having sex). Taste and smell connect predominantly with food and drinking. However, even ‘tasty’ films range from surrealism through social comedy to obsession, or even black tragicomedy.

The second line features films that deal with particular senses or their loss. We tried to select such films that not only tell the stories of what it feels like to be blind or deaf, but also work with the motif as with an atypical element in the plotline. Alternatively, they constitute the opportunity for the viewer to get in the shoes of someone existing in the world whose communication channels he or she doesn’t understand. In this way, The Tribe is not only a film about people with hearing impairments. The characters communicate by using sign language, which most of us don’t understand. The viewer is thus placed in the situation that deaf-mute people experience in our chatty world on a daily basis.

Apart from the thematic focus, the 4 Elements Film Seminar recognizes the importance of the formal level – that is to say, how the subject matter is reflected in the film’s form. Within this line, the topic of senses is a true blessing. Film has been experimenting with its boundaries mainly on the level of image and sound. It builds on their mutual complementation, on their being each other’s counterpoint, or works with each of the two individually. The Kino-Eye metaphor has existed since the very beginnings of cinematography itself. It points at the subjectivity and objectivity of a video recording as well as at admitting, denying, or highlighting them. A subjective camera may work as an eye of the main character, transforming the film to what the protagonist sees (Lady in the Lake), or the cameraperson can carry it on his or her shoulder to achieve a stronger feeling of objectivity (Lisbon Story).

A film can talk without using dialogue (In Silence), or with loud soundtrack (Sound of Noise). Similarly to other kinds of visual arts, it can play with optical illusions and change 2D and 3D perspective in the two-dimensional illusion of space. It can manipulate us subliminally and affect our senses without our even realizing it. Even though narrative film only uses some illusions and technical elements, experimental film builds solely on the attack at sight and hearing as well as on testing the boundaries of our ability to perceive. That is why this year experimental film is our ‘sensory’ film seminar’s must.

Watch the films, listen to our master classes, enjoy the picnic, smell and touch the cinema screening rooms, or exercise your proprioceptors and kinaesthesia in a dance. Simply enjoy our 4 Elements by your more than five senses.

Zuzana Otchka  Očenášová