“They’ll find me anywhere, won’t they?”
In a world where the quantified self is encouraged and technical surveillance seems to be the norm, it is often easy to forget just how much we are being watched. This is what makes the opening section of loosely narrative film Do Not Feed The Pigeons by Laura Hyppönen so terrifying; we see our protagonist take a journey that many of us take every day, on the tube, on the bus, in a lift, all the while being watched by CCTV.
The shots in the first segment of the film’s triptych sequence are real CCTV footage, reminding us that although this is fiction, it very much reflects our reality. This feeling of viewing someone in both their most unaware and later in their most intimate moments creates a stifling atmosphere. As a single-actor film, the audience becomes Josie Winston’s (Zoë Grisedale) only companion, but this dynamic does not feel like companionship. Instead the CCTV footage sets the precedent; we are also surveying her.
The first line that we hear is the title of the film, an automated recording, barking command ‘DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS’. As we follow Josie through the underground, we hear a varied collection of these recordings, all registering as natural to those who are used to the tannoy of the tube. Until suddenly, they’re not the regular ‘Please Mind The Gap’; instead we hear an announcement asking people to leave the station, to evacuate immediately. This sets the tone for the rest of the piece; a discomfort that you can’t put your finger on, a fear unknown.
Hyppönen spoke of how she was influenced by the dystopian 1984 by George Orwell and of how easy it is to crack whilst constantly being watched. Which is exactly what seems to happen to our protagonist. We see both her physical and emotional journey in three sections, from CCTV surveillance, to self-surveillance on a shaky handheld VHS video, to an unknown external environment, each one revealing the isolation felt by Josie in a different way, whether through being one in a crowd, through entrapment, or through total freedom. In her loneliness the camera becomes Josie’s only companion, as we realise that being constantly surveyed has led to her only knowing her worth when she’s being watched.
When giving more information about the reason she’s had to detach from society, we only gain fragments of information, but what Josie does say speaks volumes. She reveals to the VHS camera that she has had to depart from society as she is suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack, and is fearful of being found. This moment in the film makes us question the reliability of our narrator; whether the event really happened, or whether a life of constant surveillance has created a state of paranoia that made her departure from everyday life feel necessary.
These emotions are exacerbated by Agathe Max’s phenomenal score; the distorted music at vital moments in Josie’s journey makes us feel as though we are going mad with her, as the synthetic notes reach crescendo creating an unbearable tension and confusion. When speaking of the attack, she questions ‘I don’t know why the women did it…when there’s nothing to lose then you see things very differently.’ This statement makes us ponder the extent to which some would go to escape the repetitive nature of modern life that Josie describes as ‘Success. Freedom. Happiness. But no dreams.’
The Final Word: A dystopian vision which feels very close to home
Guest piece by Caitlin Heaton @caitlinheaton
DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS will be on the festival circuit this year – stay tuned!