The psychiatrist Carl Jung believed dreams are the language by which the subconscious speaks to the conscious mind. But the conversation isn’t always clear, and significant messages often are couched in random — and sometimes just plain weird — imagery.
The elusive nature of dreams is a recurring subject for the experimental filmmaker Lexi Bass, and it’s at the heart of her “How Bluebirds Are Born,” which will have a free screening Tuesday, Nov. 20, at University of Louisville’s Floyd Theatre.
“For me, it’s really important to recreate — not necessarily to re-enact a dream — but to recreate all the feelings and details that were important, and what I noticed in a dream, whether or not I truly understood what it meant,” said Bass, a visiting instructor at Berea College, where she teaches film production and theater design.
“How Bluebirds Are Born” deals with how a young woman’s personal trauma is represented in her dreams. Birds of prey symbolize the predators whom have injured her, and ultimately her journey to recovery is represented by the birth of new songbirds from the carrion of her past.
Or, at least, that’s this reviewer’s interpretation. The film is, as noted earlier, highly experimental and does not aspire to spell out a point-by-point narrative.
“Bluebirds” has screened at film festivals, including one in Cyprus. Bass said she has shown the film mostly on college campuses, to audiences who are familiar with edgier, surrealistic film and are ready to “engage it as a piece of art and not necessarily as something like what might come out of Hollywood.”
The UofL screening is being presented by Film Liberation Unit, a student-led group devoted to bringing experimental and underappreciated film to campus. Bass said she connected with the group when she returned to Kentucky this past year because she was “looking for people who were doing cool things with film for Louisville, and they certainly are.”
Some portions of “Bluebirds” were shot in and around Louisville, including an opening sequence at the Louisville Free Public Library’s main branch. Other footage was shot in North Carolina, where Bass worked until recently.
The library sequence includes a direct visual shout-out to Jung’s “Red Book.” Bass said the noted psychiatrist has been a huge inspiration for her, “both as a scientist as an artist,” in her own exploration of dreams through her films.
“Bluebirds” evokes a wide range of imagery, from digitally distorted footage of heron and the isolated countryside to more straightforward but still unsettling scenes from a posh faculty party.
Voice-overs relay memories, impressions and occasionally theory, including a conversation about postdormital sleep paralysis. This chat is immediately precursed by the story of a shared dream of being captured by the villainous Psy-Crow from the video game “Earthworm Jim.”
In several movements, Bass uses computer-generated voices to relate this dialogue — at one point describing a dream of a deformed bird with a “weird ambiguous body” that eats the speaker’s shirt.
“Those kind of voices, the uncanny speech that a computer can generate, work for things that just don’t feel like they can be uttered by a human voice,” she explained. “They are just too serious, or it’s just too deep to be spoken by a human voice.”
“I just wanted it to be spoken by a voice that would have some of the subtleties of a human being but with you fully knowing it is not a human being speaking,” she continued. “It creates an uncertainty, which is kind of the way dreams are — you recognize something, you don’t recognize it.”
“Bluebirds” also employs all original music, including an ocarina composition by Adriana Guzman, a collaborator whom Bass met while they both were at UofL as students. Guzman was there on a Fulbright to study the university’s collection of the instruments.
The free screening of “How Bluebirds Are Born” is at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the Floyd Theatre in UofL’s Swain Student Activities Center, 2100 S. Floyd St.