Sound, Image, and Religious Experience

A Review of "Shunyata"

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Shunyata

This is a No Man is an Island film review written in collaboration with Cinema Escapist, as part of coverage of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Keep an eye out for more!

“SHUNYATA” SETS high ambitions, with a frame narrative suggesting religious or spiritual undertones. Likewise, the film aims to dazzle through sound and image. Consequently, it demands concentration in order to mine out meaning. 

However, this short film proves a bit less than the sum of its parts. Although the film may mean to impress, bright lights and repetitive droning aurality do not an art film make, except for those perhaps unfamiliar with video art. 

Film still

The film’s title invokes a Buddhist concept referring to emptiness. Apart from from referring to an ontological state of emptiness, the term also refers a meditative state. Very likely, the film hopes to bring about such a state in the gaze of the viewer. 

Nevertheless, where the film fails is that the effects it evokes do not come off as particularly evocative, or even reflective of the Buddhist concept of Shunyata. Instead, the film is rather indistinguishable from other video art, in the tradition of Stan Brakhage or others. The film does not come off as particularly distinguished in this respect, consisting primarily of attempts to shock and awe viewers with noise and light, rather than anything that provokes reflection, or impresses with technological accomplishment. 

Film still

The state that this, then, evokes in viewers is more of boredom than anything else. There is not any particular hook for viewers to enter into the work, to create any sense of meditativeness. Nevertheless, the work does make an effort, and it may resonate with some.