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Sarah Turner's Experimental Film Perestroika

The artist and filmmaker delves into the constructs of memory and explores how our present affects our past in a disturbing journey

Exploring the overlap between fact and fiction, renowned filmmaker and artist Sarah Turner's new film, Perestroika plays with the ways in which we experience memory. The conscious stream of thought we experience as sentient beings is constantly affected by the present, so our thoughts are never linear, and in an attempt to display that tension, Perestroika follows Turner in a reenactment of a journey she took in the 80s in which a close friend of hers died. Based entirely on a journey across Siberia in December 1988, the two-hour film follows the narrator who suffers from retrograde amnesia, reliving a memory while constantly moving forward in time. The conceptual elements of the film consist of haunting shots, in which something as simple as looking out of a train window for two hours becomes an intense and sometimes disturbing experience. 

Dazed Digital: Why Siberia? 
Sarah Turner: It was based on the premise that I was documenting the changes in a country going from communism to capitalism, and it's a re-enactment of the journey from 1987-88 that we had made together, thus blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

DD: Did you shoot all the imagery on-site yourself? Where did the footage come from?
Sarah Turner: Basically, we used the archive footage from the train window in 1987. When I repeated the journey we had three cameras and we shot continuously from the train window on the second journey.

DD: How close is the protagonist in the film to you in reality? Would you describe the narrator as the protagonist at all?
Sarah Turner: That's a hard question to answer – the character of Sarah Turner is a consciously constructed character and, as the film progresses, the character becomes increasingly delusional. What was important was the status was believable – that the fictional character believed that the lake was in fact on fire. So it follows that tradition of the mad person as the visionary. 

DD: How did you aim to convey the idea that you were travelling both in memory as well as geographically?
Sarah Turner: It was quite hard – we did it by working the details into the narration and made sure that the repeated journey was also taken at exactly the same time, as it was crucial to the climate change idea. The first time I went to the Soviet Union, I took the train on Christmas Day. I made absolutely sure that it was as near to that time of years it could be, so I took the trainon on New Years Eve for the shoot, five days difference. The conditions were exactly the same at least weather-wise. How does anyone experience the present? We're always affected by our past. All those ideas go into the film.

DD: What kind of reaction do you expect from an audience?
Sarah Turner: Well, I think it depends on different audiences. On one level, some people will get more out of it if they're familiar with the language of experimental film and contemporary art. Some might find it really boring! Just sitting on a train looking out a window sounds boring, but some people at the London Film Festival were very, very upset by it. Obviously, when I showed it in London, there were people in the audience who knew Sian, the girl who died in the film, and it's extremely upsetting to hear someone speak who's been dead for a long time - much more upsetting than looking at a photograph. But some people there didn't know me or Sian, and I was quite surprised that they were upset. I think people enjoy the film's intensity, for me it's very physical – the experience of being on that train… the journey was four days and the film is two hours so it's quite a compressed experience.