Date of Submission

Fall 2012

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Peter Hutton

Abstract/Artist's Statement

1. This film essentially grew out of a fascination I’ve had with the landscape of Austin, Texas, where I was born and lived until the age of ten. What caught my attention, especially when coming back over the years, was the topography of the city itself, which is run through by limestone creeks—channels of vegetation, dead and living, situated behind buildings, parking lots or train tracks. This was the initial impetus.

2. Limestone is formed by the accumulation of marine fauna at the ocean floor, and when I was younger, I’d often find small fossils in creek beds. This led to a second preoccupation—not with the landscape in its current state, but as it existed millions of years ago, when oceans periodically covered what is now North America. I’ve always found this a potent image—the sea’s surface towering thousands of feet above the cityscape. If the film is “about” something, it’s that: present land giving way to seas of the past.

3. As my interest in prehistory broadened, three paradigmatic locales emerged: Enchanted Rock, a granite rock formation in central Texas dating to around a billion years ago, fossilized Permian reefs in the Guadalupe Mountains, and the aforementioned landscapes of Austin itself, deposited by a transcontinental seaway during the Cretaceous. Thus, I arrived at a broadly tripartite structure, with intertitles indicating each geological period.

4. This underpinning supports the film’s more detailed trajectory: a journey to and from these places, forward and backward in time—a road trip, if you will, extended through prehistory as well as geographic space. There are seven parts to this—perhaps akin to the seven days of creation in Genesis, otherwise an insignificant number. Each has a number and brief epigraph—the ghost of a title—selected for what I perceived to be some degree of resonance with the subject.

5. The question of temporal presence—the “here and now”—is a difficult one. There is an actual ocean, and coastal swamps—palms and conifers standing in for their prehistoric analogs—which come closest to depicting the geologic past. In one or two places, I’ve gone further, with a dissolve from rock to water, or the sound of the ocean over scenes of the land.

6. To deliberately leave out all signs of humanity would be to mistakenly deal in a cultural divide between the manmade and “natural” that is far too recent to bear weight on matters of prehistory. The tourists on Enchanted Rock, and the cars and buildings of Austin, all have their place. I regret that, in my haste to get to the summit, I neglected to film the trail crews working on Guadalupe Peak.

7. The title, Panthalassa, occurred to me only late in the editing process. It is, incidentally, the name of the ocean encircling the supercontinent known as Pangaea—the fossilized reefs in the middle of the film originally formed in its shallow reaches—but should also be seen in its original Greek sense: pan-thalassa, a universal or all-encompassing sea.

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