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No VFX Were Used in the Making of This Hallucinatory Short Film

Calvin Frederick walks us through the hidden meanings of his dazzling lo-fi short, 'Agrabagrabah.'

Beckett Mufson

Beckett Mufson

Images courtesy the artist

A mirrored carousel, an army of lightboxes, and a treasure trove of home movies were used to create the vivid, Tron-like atmosphere of Calvin Frederick's latest experimental film, Agrabagrabah. Although it might look like the dazzling result of computer imagery and compositing techniques, the film’s abstract visuals are deeply rooted in reality. It may come as a suprise, in fact, that the film was inspired by the events of September 11, 2001. 

Agrabagrabah is divided into three parts: the first is a column of fractured colors and high-pitched sounds, created by front-projecting a home movie of a 1991 carnival helicopter ride onto a rotating cylinder covered in reflective tape. "I kept watching the footage and had one of those experiences we all have where you can’t tell if you remember something in your head, or whether you just remember it because you’ve seen the footage throughout your life," Frederick tells The Creators Project. This sensation, he adds, echoed his feelings when he tried to recall 9/11.

In the second part of the film, viewers zoom past green, yellow, blue, and red rectangular towers as a "wonderfully anxious" soundscape plays out. Before the events of 9/11, Frederick explains his family received negative news regarding the health of his grandfather. Then, when the attacks took place, “everything was just completely unraveling." To replicate that torrent of emotions, sound designer Daniel Eaton sourced vocal clips from Frederick’s childhood videos and stitched them together so that they were all talking at once.

"As a kid I always had the idea I would die in the year 2057," Frederick continues, explaining Agrabagrabah's final scene. Shot inside a hybrid fish tank/light sculpture, the scene consists of floating golden bubbles and a symmetrical view of the prism, giving off a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. "In thinking about 9/11 it is almost impossible not to imagine yourself in the buildings during the event," he goes on. "Sometimes I’m running up the building, sometimes I’m running down. This section of the film was all about trying to capture both of those sensations in one shot."

Frederick's new work is more introspective than the colorful light show of his previous short film, Bermuda. Ultimately, Agrabagrabah is a stunning reflection on childhood, mortality, and the fluid nature of memory—brought to life right here in the physical realm. Check out the film and some behind-the-scene snapshots below:  

This mirrored carousel
the centerpiece in part one of 'Agrabagrabah.'

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Lightboxes form the towers of color in 'Agrabagrabah' part two.

A bubbling tank creates the futuristic effect of the film's third part.

See more of Calvin Frederick's work on his Vimeo page.

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