61 mins: 4k digital film on DCP
filmed on location in Astoria, Queens, NYC.
The film was awarded the prize for best edited film (Juan Soto) in the New Horizons competition at Black Canvas film festival, Mexico City in 2020 and received a special mention in the International Competition at Transcinema film festival, Peru, in 2021.
Philip Warnell's INTIMATE DISTANCES is a Chronicle of a Summer-type vérité in an absorbingly paradoxical pas de deux with surveillance techniques. Martha Wollner's ability to emotionally disarm is uncanny and crucial.
On a street corner in Queens, New York, an elderly, white-haired woman hovers, apparently waiting or looking for something – then starts approaching passersby. Miked up close, but viewed – surveillance-style – from distant rooftops, she asks them philosophical questions about turning points in their lives, sometimes eliciting candidly revealing answers from people who seemingly need to talk. She’s also seen up close at street level, viewed by a shaky nearby camera. And intermittently we hear the affectless voiceover of an English male reading an account of a prison spell. What exactly are we seeing? A documentary of sorts? A fiction stripped of its expected signposts? The woman is real-life casting director Martha Wollner, but the film never makes it clear what her mission is, what she hopes to learn, and what her relation is to the distant speaker (who may also be the distant observer). Echoing Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, as well as works by Phillip Warnell’s fellow British experimental directors John Smith and Chris Petit, this is an enigmatic, elusive piece. Yet, as the title suggests, those moments when Wollner connects with the interiority of perfect strangers makes this an alluringly, unexpectedly compassionate guerrilla foray into urban experience.
Jonathan Romney, Viennale
“Intimate Distances is uncannily prescient in its close attention to the social organisation of urban space, and also acutely attuned to the privileges of class and colour that tend to govern interactions between strangers in such spaces.”
Top film lists of 2020: Monica Delgado (Desistfilm) on Senses of Cinema and Sight & Sound Top ten film of Vadim Rizov.
Intimate Distance will screen at Rencontres Internationale, hosted at the Louvre, on Sunday 28th Feb at 2pm CET
Intimate Distances is being presented at Berlin Critics week on a program titled ‘beyond recognition’. Critics week is from Feb 27th - March 7th
Woche der Kritik
A free, open and very human film, which, when viewed in times of social distancing, releases a tremendous longing for that special form of unstable community that can only be made possible by overcoming anonymity in urban space. Jochen Werner
What Intimate Distances , Phillip Warnell's documentary, explores is human relationships through dialogue. It is the sample of how communication unites. How in a separate, isolated and confined society, struck by nostalgia for company and nostalgia for touch, it makes people split beings, lacking and desiring of another, like the Platonic androgynous, who dwells on the earth in search from their other part, from that person who complements them. It is inevitable to think and feel the movie from the moment I am watching it. They are fortuitous accidents, but perhaps the most significant at the moment of reception and interpretation. The film is presented as a wound in the present, as a painful look at the past in which the signs of this reality were already looming. The noise of the cars, the murmur of voices in the environment; the sounds that come out of the premises; the accelerated trot of pedestrians hurrying across the sidewalks. The responses of the people that Martha interviews, with great talent and a capacity for empathy capable of breaking any barrier of shyness or fear, are the opening to an intimate world that can only be accessed through oral words, through the middle of the voice.
Cero en Conducta
“Coming at a time of greater isolation than the modern world has known, INTIMATE DISTANCES feels like the panacea we needed. Casting director Martha Wollner searches for an actor for a feature film, and in doing so she takes to the streets of New York. What follows is a series of interactions between strangers, both fearful and compassionate, as the intimate direction of Phillip Warnell brings us up close with the kind of human connection we are currently unable to reach.”
“Did Martha finally cast someone? The question should not be taken as rhetoric, for a crime has titillated our curiosity throughout the film. An indirect crime, actually, because we could only project the imagination of a crime on the future film where the casted person would embody the criminal. Moreover, we also project the “criminality” on the passers-by in our accompanying Martha in her job. Insofar as the apparent concentration of Intimate Distances is on the process of casting instead of the final choice in casting, we will focus on our projection of criminality on people more than on the effective aptitude the persons could have in expressing criminality. In this way, we are not only aware of being the cinema-makers but also of being the makers of criminals”.
Film Explorer, Switzerland
Martha Wollner, legendary casting director (best known for her work with Albert Maysles), roams the streets of New York in search of an actor to play the role of a criminal in a fictional film. In a world in which it is no longer customary to interact in the public space, she dares to talk face to face to strangers. There are those who flee and those who fall into the arms of Martha, who has turned this practice into a form of life in which human encounters, sociological analysis and artistic work are all intertwined. Simultaneously, we hear the voice of a former prisoner recounting the crime that inspired the film. Reality and fantasy then come together like necessary doubles. The camera, set up at a certain distance from the bodies, gives us an image reminiscent of that of surveillance systems, whereas the sound proximity of the conversations invites us to plunge into a framework of unexpected confidentiality. Intimate Distances challenges our definition and understanding of distance, as well as our relationship with urban space, and reveals a growing intimacy between strangers.
Elena López Riera
Warnell's camera places us as spectators in the place of the voyeur that Hitchcock explored so much in his films, as if we were in front of a surveillance station screen. Are we all possible suspects as strangers? In this context, Martha breaks with the distance in front of the stranger, breaks the barrier of fear before the other and enters with her small conversations in a certain area of intimacy, which borders on confession and the catharsis of the couch. Thus, the loneliness and anguish of contemporary man is revealed, confined in his confinement between the push towards productivity and virtuality.
Intimate Distances Reviews, 2020/21
Beyond Recognition panel debate on the film at Berlin Critics Week (YouTube, English)
Transcinema cinema journal with two reviews of the film (Spanish)
Bring Me the Head of Transcinema
Carla Leonardi, a sala llena (Argentina)
El Universa national newspaper, Mexico (spanish)
Maeve Connolly (english)
Filmmaker Magazine (english)
Roger Koza (spanish)
Cine & Literature (spanish)
Marcela Gamberini (spanish)
Clarin Magazine (spanish)
Contemporary Scene (Italian)
Correspondencias Journal (Spanish)
Cero en Conducta (Spanish)
Perlentaucher Film (German)
Caroline Golum (English)
Visions du Reel, Switzerland
Open City Docs, London
Black Canvas, Mexico City
Linea D’Ombra, Italy
Berlin Film Festival (Critics Week)
Rencontres Internationale, Paris/Berlin
Jeonju International - expanded cinema, South Korea
made with the participation of:
Laura Coxson (co-producer)
Michelle Agnes Magalhaes