Disappearance is a relentlessly chilling film; distorting notions of time and space it envelopes the viewer in a world where the threat of violence is at once explicit and underlying, a world in which each cryptic sign alludes as much to the inevitability of violence as to the futility of trying to escape it. Director Zachary Volker spoke to us about what brought him to make this film and the enduring importance of ambiguity and mystery in cinema.
Rooftop Films: Describe the film for someone who has not seen it.
Zachary Volker: Disappearance is about violence. It’s about an inability to escape from violence, and how violence and terror can distort logic. It’s the story of a young woman’s inability to escape from an impending and terrifying act of violence. It was inspired in part by a feature I wrote called Wreckages, and in part by the work of Michael Haneke and Roberto Bolaño.
RF: There is little dialogue in the film, why did you make this choice?
ZV: Above all, I’m most interested in experimenting with sound, and attempting to convey complex emotions onscreen through manipulations of sound—so, with Disappearance, I mostly used audio experimentation, chronological distortion, and music to set the tone, and not dialogue. I’m very fascinated with how much meaning can be expressed through atypical sound devices. I’m actually in post production now on my third film, Burials, and the audio is almost entirely composed of mangled voicemail messages and various forms of tape hiss and static. Most of the newer things I’m writing, however, have a lot of dialogue and are more comedic.
RF: Like the other shorts in our “Nothing As It Seems” series, Disappearance has an ambiguity to it. What did you do as a director to create this sense of mystery?
ZV: I’m always blown away when films obfuscate essential elements in a compelling and artful way—some of my favorite scenes involve the camera just stopping suddenly and leaving the action offscreen, and some of my favorite movies pose more questions than they do answers. I’m so in love with this ambiguity that all central action in my second film, Wounded Man, occurs offscreen—the main characters’ faces aren’t even seen. It’s important to starve the audience. This creates mystery.
RF: What was the inspiration behind this story? What made you want to make this film?
ZV: Someone I was close with suffered a bizarre break-in—the criminal left terrifying clues hidden around her apartment. I started noticing strange handwritten signs all around New York City, and this compelled me to write.
RF: What do you like about making short films?
ZV: I love stories that come on fast and burn without much development or warning. I love how bludgeoning short films—like short fiction—can be. And I think the limitations and difficulties of constructing short narratives can be very liberating.
RF: What’s your next project?
ZV: A feature script—a comic mystery about the death of a relationship. Also, a collaborative feature script about crime, and a new short script about crime. I’m almost done with a third short film—that should be finished by the end of the summer. And, if all goes well, new productions later this fall.