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Film Spotlight

Silent Chirping of Invisible Digits
directed by Vera Sebert, Germany, 10:11


“Like a single frame, insects flash for the fraction of a second.” – Vera Sebert


 The smallest of the planet’s creatures are the focus in Silent Chirping of Invisible Digits, directed by Vera Sebert. Insects have evolved over the course of several hundred million years to be nearly silent and invisible, and Sebert explores their innate silence to make a create a piece that brings us down to their world. Similar to how the insect can buzz about and disappear in just a flash of light or within the blink of an eye, images of these bugs flash and flicker between black frames and lingering negative spaces. Most of the film is occupied by blackness, or the lack of an image, before an insect suddenly materializes in front of our eyes in the flash of a light, then vanishes again into pure darkness, as if recreating the fleeting lifespan of the average fly. 

The sound design is pivotal to Silent Chirping of Invisible Digits. Although the atypical buzzing may be most associated with the imagery of an insect, the film emphasizes other elements. Beyond the black spaces of visual void can be heard an endless crackle, a harmony of beating ruffles, seemingly straight from the mandibles of an insect’s mouth. While the bugs may not be occupying the space in front of our eyes, our ears always perceive them. Our ears often identify the presence of a flying insect before our eyes do, and the film reminds us that the creatures are always lingering in the shadows, beyond the light and in the darkness, even when all seems still. The static drone that cycles over black frames intensifies in the flashes of light, matching the anticipation of the viewer and meshes with the shock of the pair of eyes or legs that dominate the screen for brief moments at a time.

Insects in media are typically depicted as monstrous creatures, ones that are vile, horrifying, and vicious. This is typically done through the marvel of practical or special effects, heightening the more alien elements of the insect while not fully capturing the smaller details often missed or forgotten about. No special effects or alterations are needed to achieve this effect in Silent Chirping of Invisible Digits; the film’s construction itself is what repels and overwhelms the viewer. Despite the fact that these insects are fully in frame and sometimes extremely close to our point of view, they still disappear before we can fully process what is in front of us. The grotesque image of a fly’s face up close, compound eyes and proboscis occupying the full frame, only become clear when the brain puts the pieces together, often after the image returns to black. Vague shapes and otherworldly appendages quickly transform into the macabre corpse of a soulless maw, one of earth’s ugliest creatures, yet we’re not quick to identify the image in the moment. The insect world is one that was meant to be left in pure darkness. Despite being one of the most abundant animals on earth, the up-close face of the common housefly still seems so alien and so unfamiliar. Creatures that typically resemble featureless dots under lamps or ceiling lights are uncovered with highly detailed faces. There is nothing added to these insects besides what we as the viewer add to them. They are presented as they exist in the world, but it is up to the audience to decipher these images as beautiful or horrific, awe-inspired or grotesque, dreamlike or nightmarish. To the insects, the human world is no doubt just as polarizing and alien to them as their world is to us. 


- J. Tyler Wright, BFA Film Production ‘24

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