“Bird Watching,” a short film by photographer and filmmaker Anne Hollowday, explores the ways we perform and perceive gender in the world today. With a play-on-words approach, Hollowday uses real-life documentary interviews and archive footage to examine how women are seen.
What’s the idea behind the film?
Anne Hollowday: I’m interested in deconstructing and complicating our ideas around gender by documenting my experience and those of the people around me. Because it is framed as a metaphor, the film is about seeing gender narratives in the wider context of society, history and the nature of viewing. In that sense, “Bird Watching” is ontological in its investigation; I wanted to make a film that focused on lived experience from a first-person perspective. The goal was to create feedback loops of human experience in unexpected ways, asking questions about who is doing the seeing and who is being seen.
I began doing audio interviews, and for the longest time thought I would have a montage of footage from the streets of New York as a backdrop for the audio testimonies. The bird watching metaphor came to me one day and I immediately knew that was the framework to make this film work. Everything fell into place very quickly thereafter.
How did you approach the idea of “deconstructing” as an artist?
Anne Hollowday: I have both aesthetic and conceptual concerns as an artist. The work must have clarity and it must have a presence. Because “Bird Watching” as a project is born out of lived experience; to me, it’s not real unless it appears rounded in a textural sense.
I’m interested in exploring a filmmaking process that allows for the widest possible set of textures in both a project’s approach and form. In this film the mix of formats, aspect ratios and multi-layered metaphor provide a sensory experience that requires attention and repeat viewing.
The film starts with the question “What would the world be like if there weren’t pretty girls?” Tell us about your script writing process—why you chose this line as the opener and the narrative that follows.
Anne Hollowday: The film is based on audio interviews, each lasting approximately two to three hours. It’s a process of instinct and intuition, listening to each one over and over to pull out the excerpts that spoke to me. I have many hours of selects. This line sets up the themes of the film very quickly and asks an unexpected question that at once catches us off guard and shapes what comes next.