The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)

Two unknown men speak on the phone. They discuss their involvements in military operations in eastern Ukraine, accompanied by images of a chaotic stroll through a nightly, Russian forest.

A plane passes through the moonlit night sky, and a voice recites a poem by Anna Akhmatova, while a woman, in near darkness, looks at herself in the black mirror of her computer screen. Then, she looks at us.
Enter the strange and deceptive world of “The Sprawl,” Metahaven’s feature debut film.

Silent sword fighters stare at us. Silent actors look at us. They gaze at their screens, and at the deepest corners of YouTube. Strange and colorful interfaces overlay their appearance until medium and message become one. Together with master cinematographer Remko Schnorr and electronic musician Kuedo, Metahaven in “The Sprawl” create a new visual world for the internet’s geopolitical agitprop.

Nowadays, films live in a thousand and one forms on the internet. As short trailers, fragments, cloud-based copies of copies, endangered data, self-hosted vaults, and so on. Viewing cinema on a laptop screen is only possible when remembering that such an experience has little to do with cinema itself. As a hybrid, episodic documentary, “The Sprawl”‘s story isn’t linear. The film lends itself to be seen as a succession of impressions—a trailer, forever unfinished; the duration of each of those video pieces, or “shards,” is attuned to an attention span that is less cinema, and more internet.
sprawl.space is the online interface for The Sprawl, where the viewer can see the “shards” that make up the full version of the film. The website has been shaped by the interface design of Metahaven and the viewing algorithms of YouTube.

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The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)
—written and directed by Metahaven
—featuring Benjamin H. Bratton, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, and Peter Pomerantsev
—music by Kuedo
—cast: Gwen Pol, Georgina Dávid, Annabel Reid
—screen gazers: Georgina Dávid, Xuanhong Huang, Astrit Ismaili, Kees de Klein, Annabel Reid, Sofija Stankovic, Xiaoyao Pippa Xu
—camera: Remko Schnorr and Metahaven

director of photography: Remko Schnorr
additional photography: Metahaven, Solveig Suess
camera & lighting assistant: Elisa Grasso
sound on set: Ferry de Pater, Tim van Peppen

editing: Metahaven 
editing consultant: Daniel Goddard

music and sound design: Kuedo
web design: Metahaven
web programming: Jonas Lund

commissioned by Lighthouse and The Space
produced by Lighthouse and Metahaven

Lighthouse
senior producer: Emily Kyriakides
development producer: Sian Habell-Aili
artistic director: Juha van ’t Zelfde
executive director: Miriam Randall
communications manager: Aleida Strowger

production manager (nl): Anna Spierings, Lucy Chinen
production manager (uk): Fiona Fletcher

Metahaven
—Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden
—research assistant: Lucy Chinen
—design assistant: Kees de Klein
—3D animation: Benedikt “Mad Max” Wöppel
—Russian script consultant: Anastasia Kubrak
—interns: Anastasia Kubrak, Raf Rennie, Chloe Scheffe, Yee Jin Sha, Solveig Suess, Barron Webster, Joeri Woudstra

sound mix: Ranko Paukovic
color grading: Tobias Corba (FONO) 
hair and make-up: Aga Urbanowicz

voice-over: Masha Pruss
additional voice-over: Henrietta Meire

camera equipment: Camera Rentals
lighting equipment: Schram Studios
studios: Schram Studios, NL Studios

Excerpts from
—Leo Tolstoy
“What is Art?,” 1897
translation by Aylmer Maude
—Anna Akhmatova
“Requiem,” 1935—1940
translation by Nancy K. Anderson
—Nikolai Berdyaev
“Dream and Reality; An Essay in Autobiography”
—Qur’ân, Sûrat Taha
Chapter 20, verse 132
translation N.J. Dawood

translations Russian: Anastasia Kubrak, Ekaterina Kholyapina
translations Arabic: Selim Helmi, Remke Kruk

Music by Kuedo
—Vertical stack
—Border state collapse
—Case type classification
—Eyeless angel intervention
—Event tracking across populated terrain
all Kuedo tracks courtesy of Knives / Just isn’t music

Music by Enjoykin
—Nyash Myash
courtesy of Enjoykin

Acknowledgments
—Abkhazian News Network Agency (ANNA News), Neuromir TV—neuromir.tv, RT (TV-Novosti), Bellingcat, Euronews, Enjoykin, Grit TV—lauraflanders.com, Internet Party of Ukraine—ipu.com.ua, Politrussia, ITAR-TASS, ITN (Truthloader), My Revolution—Video Diary from Kiev, Nickolay Ovcharov, ECO Media TV

The producers would like to thank
—Charlie McGough, Bas Schram, Suzan Breedveld / NL Studios, Syb Groeneveld, Anthony Lilley, Maria Bota, Ingrid Kopp, Ruth Mackenzie

Metahaven would like to thank
—Benjamin H. Bratton, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Peter Pomerantsev, Paul Fuller, Ceci Moss, Joowon Park, Femke Herregraven, Kees van der Velden, Remke Kruk, Frans Oort, Vesper van der Velden

Made possible with the support of The Space, Creative Industries Fund NL, Media Fund NL, and Dutch Film Fund
© Metahaven, 2016