Tea time with Swatted

Meeting with...

Interview with Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis, director of Swatted

la mouche cf How did you learn about the “swatting” phenomenon?
In 2015, I experienced the phenomenon live. At the time I was interested in “let’s play”, a practice that came from video games where you film yourself live (gamestream) and comment on your game play. What interested me, beyond the violent arrests, was the strange overap on the screens: the game play, where the player controlled a SWAT team, and the intervention of the SWAT team in the player’s room (captured by the webcam). It was as if the SWAT team had literally come through the monitor.

la mouche cf Are you interested in the dangers present on the Internet and in virtual networks, and do you foresee making other films that address this subject?
In my films, I’m interested in the borders between the real and the virtual. Today, they are so entangled that we struggle to separate the two realities. We are in full virtual reality. New possibilities open to us, as well as new problems such as our changing relationship with our private data and our intimacy. What I would like to address is the opposite side of what we see, the hidden face of this race for technological progress. The impact of this “progress” is often downplayed by politicians and marketers for the benefit of sacrosaint economic growth. But I always try to address these subjects in my films in a sensitive and poetic way.

la mouche cf How did you procure the recordings of the 911 calls?
You have to effectively search the web… I didn’t have everything from the beginning. Some of the swattings arrived during editing. Current events made us change the narrative structure several times. One might as well say that we had to be very flexible. I think that outside of Fresnoy (National Contemporary Arts Studio, translator’s note), this kind of film would be impossible to produce.

la mouche cf Regarding the testimony of the swatting victims, did you record their voices or are they published online?
Quite astonishingly, the swatting victims often publish videos themselves where they talk about what happened to them. In certain cases, they do this to warn others of the danger and share the harassment that they suffered. In other cases, one may wonder whether the event is a godsend for them, resulting in increased subscriptions, hits, and thus more money. There are even those that organize fake swattings… hard to know where to start with that. Whether I recorded the voices or if they are published online, I’ll let you guess. Every time, the viewers are fooled…

la mouche cf Did you do research at the police departments and with SWAT teams to learn about their procedures and their reactions to this phenomenon?
I am so familiar with their protocol, I think I could become a member of a SWAT team! The procedures in the US require for them to take it seriously all the way to the end, even if they know it is a joke. That’s why it’s so violent and absurd at the same time. Regarding their reactions, they are obviously annoyed by this phenomenon which costs lots of money for each intervention and involves huge risks. On 28 December 2017, an innocent person died because of a swatting.

la mouche cf What interested you in the virtual sequences where buildings are represented only by architectural lines? Where did these images come from?
It is a film that was made entirely through the Internet. To weave the scenes, I wanted to use the same tools as the characters in my film, the streamers. The editing is hence a collage of webcam images and video game images that we generated and recorded through a streaming program. But I didn’t simply want to use the game for illustration. I wanted the gaming universe to be in phase with my subject. So, I decided to work with amateur developers to “hack” the game and remove most of the textures except for the lighting and the vegetation. I wanted to achieve a look that was not entirely realistic, but not entirely virtual. The wireframe that is rendered is thus a metaphor for the web.

la mouche cf Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
For a short film, I think it is easier to begin without a script, as was the case with this film. What I would hope for is to be able to produce more feature-length films based on intuition. We don’t need scripts, we need paradoxes. That is why short films innovate. It may seem absurd, but we should even make films starting from an image or a GIF. For that, we need more people like Pierre Braunberger in French film production. If someone is there to pick up the relay, count me as a client.

Swatted is being shown in Labo Competition L1.

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