Film Director: If Guns Require Licenses, Why Not Cameras?

Ruben Ostlund interview

Oscar-nominated Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, seen above, delivered some thought-provoking quotes in a new interview for The Guardian, raising interesting questions about the nature of cameras and visual storytelling.

“I have an idea,” Östlund tells Catherine Shoard. “What if you were only allowed to use a camera if you have a license? You need one for a gun — at least in sophisticated countries. The camera is also a powerful tool.”

Östlund, known for satirical films like The Square and Triangle of Sadness, is the co-founder of the production company Plattform Produktion. The company has produced And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine, a documentary film by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck that looks at cameras themselves and the way that people have used them. The film also considers the potential social consequences of the proliferation of cameras.

“The camera is a fantastic machine. To explore, explain and expose how our unchecked obsession with image has grown, filmmakers Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck turn their cameras directly on society itself to take a look at how this obsession has begun to change our behavior,” the film’s website explains.

“You have to fight quite hard to make people realize what kind of effect the images we consume have,” Östlund adds.

The new 88-minute film has already made waves, winning the special jury award at the Sundance Film Festival. Its creators and Östlund all agree that “human development trails the [camera] technology,” as Shoard puts it.

“We now have in our pockets a fantastic opportunity to convey human experience,” Danielson explains. “Yet every day you see something online that makes you think: is this really the best we can do? I don’t think humanity has really matured enough in how we use this.”

Van Aertryck believes that more needs to be done to educate people, especially children, about the power of screens and images. After all, as the cliché goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

For his part, Östlund wonders if society has adequately grappled with the realization that society has moved from spreading information through text to primarily disseminating everything through images. The film considers how the camera itself and evolving camera technology have changed the way information is spread and consumed.

“The photographic image is so strong because, unlike text, it bypasses so many layers of intellect,” says Danielson.

Van Aertryck worries about increasing political populism worldwide and how it is driven by images.

“I think the algorithms will kill us before environmental problems,” he says. “They push us into rabbit holes where we don’t get contact with other people or ideas. When it comes to algorithms, we’re only consumers, not citizens. I think that needs to be changed.”

The film’s backer, Östlund, is a bit less dreary. He thinks that cinema offers a worthwhile defense against the downfalls of an image-based society. Unlike most visual content shared on social media, he thinks films can challenge people’s ideas in powerful ways.

Fantastic Machine will be in select theaters in the United Kingdom beginning on April 19.

Image credits: Header photo made using an image licensed via Depositphotos.