Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat)

1979, 28 min, color, sound

Chott el-Djerid is a remarkable study of perception and transcendence. Viola writes that "Chott el-Djerid is the name of a vast dry salt lake in the Tunisian Sahara desert where mirages are most likely to form in the midday sun. Here, the intense desert heat manipulates, bends and distorts the light rays to such an extent that you actually see things which are not there. Trees and sand dunes float off the ground, the edges of mountains and buildings ripple and vibrate, color and form blend into one shimmering dance. In this piece, the desert mirages are set against images of the bleak winter prairies of Illinois and Saskatchewan, where the opposite climatic conditions induce a similar aura of uncertainty, disorientation and unfamiliarity. Ultimately the piece is not so much about mirages as it is about the limits of the image, i.e. at what distant point does the breakdown of normal conditions, or the lack of adequate visual information, cause us to reevaluate our perceptions of reality and realize that we are looking at something out of the ordinary — a transformation of the physical into the psychological."

Production Assistant: Kira Perov. Technical Assistance: Bobby Bielecki. Supervising Producer: Carol Brandenburg. Editor: John J. Godfrey. Produced in association with the TV Lab at WNET/Thirteen, New York.


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