Original Version: Colour, Super 16 mm blow-up and 35 mm, 83 min
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Excerpt 1: Picture of Light

We live in a time where things do not seem to exist if they are not captured as an image.

But if you look into darkness you may see the lights of your own retina -- not unlike the Northern Lights, not unlike the movements of thought. Like a shapeless accumulation of everything we have ever seen. 

Before science explained, the Northern Lights were interpreted as visions, prophecies, spirits -- a trigger for the imagination -- images provided by nature framed by no less than the universe itself.

...aurora borealis...the lights with no bodies, pouring colours from the sky...a film exploring the capture of images from nature, images more special than any special effect...


Excerpt 2: Picture of Light

Picture of Light takes the approach of a poetical essay documenting the search for a natural wonder; the mysterious Aurora Borealis. It's incorporeal lights and colours pouring from the sky lure a small film team of six to Canada's arctic. After strenuous and complicated technical preparations - among other things, the camera had to be protected against temperatures dropping to minus 40˚ Celsius - and with 50 pounds of batteries in their luggage, they set out on a 3000-mile train journey through practically uninhabited snowy landscapes to the end of the civilized world - Churchill, Manitoba.

Violent snowstorms force the crew to settle down to a long wait for a clear night in which the  Northern Lights may appear. Soon the TV set gains importance as the only link between the inhabitants of Churchill and the outside world. While waiting villagers are interviewed about  their life under the Northern Lights: the Croatian hotel owner hardly takes any notice of them; the priest is reminded of the searchlights during World War II; an old man speaks of the lights hypnotizing effect and remembers that people used to tell the weather forecast by them; another enthuses over the beauty of their colours. A member of Space Lab 3 reports live from outer space about his scientific observations of the polar lights, explaining the effects of their enormous sources of energy on the earth's magnetosphere. Mettler himself gives a diary-like voice-over of the events, augmenting the film images with background information, anecdotes and Inuit legends; at the same time questioning the act and responsibility of creating filmic representations of this natural phenomenon.

Over the course of a one-year editing process, the film gradually took shape out of the 18 hours of film material collected during two trips to Churchill. The lights could only be made visible by shooting three frames per minute and later expanding time on the optical printer. Mettler was aware that the images presented to the audience would suggest a reality completely different from the actual experience. Already during the long and cold nights in Churchill, Mettler had questioned the impulse to collect images. Not least for this reason, in Picture of Light he decided for the first time to make use of the voice-over; with which he self-critically tests the powerful potential and authority of the 'invisible' voice.

Picture of Light like his earlier films, deals with the tension between nature and technology, science and mythology. It reflects the desire to track down a wonder and to capture it on film, questioning ways in which experience molded by the media increasingly threaten to replace our individual and authentic experiences.


Original Version: Colour, Super 16 mm blow-up and 35 mm, 83 min
Release: 1994
Director/Text: Peter Mettler
Camera: Peter Mettler
Additional Camera:  Gerald Packer, Mark Cyre
Sound Recording: Leon Johnson, Gaston Kyriazi
Picture Editing: Peter Mettler, Mike Munn
Additional Picture Editing: Catherine Martin, Alexandra Gill
Sound Editing: Peter Mettler, Peter Braeker, A. Gill
Original Music: Jim O’Rourke
Sound Mix: Hans Kuenzi
Producers: Andreas Züst, Peter Mettler, A. Gill
Production: Grimthorpe Film Inc., and Andreas Züst

Appearing in the film: Andreas Züst, (Snowdrift sculptor), Charles Bagnall
(“It’s in the hands of God”), Steve Bosnjak (Motel Owner), Gavin Conner
(rifle man), Alex Ouskun/Flora S.N. Beardy (“His grandfather said…”), 
Gerald Packer (“ It’s a little deep over here”), Ed Bazlik (“They’re greenish…”), Father Kees Verspeek (“ They remind me of the wartime”), Dr. Don Lind
(Outer space), Hugh Haqpi (Lost in the storm), Dr. Alex Tolton (Frostbite evaluation), Joseph Natakok (The Inuk elder) Brian Ladoon (Dog trainer), 
Atlas I Mission STS 45 Crew

Shooting Location: Churchill Manitoba Canada


“The result of Mettler’s struggle with the elements is PICTURE OF LIGHT. It’s one of the most provocative and mesmerizing works at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.”
– Craig Macinnis, THE TORONTO STAR
“PICTURE OF LIGHT has the narrative innovation and esthetic brilliance of a good drama. Hypnotic displays  of the aurora borealis...are the gold at the end of Mettler’s rainbow, but getting there is more than half the fun. The film is an existential meditation on snow and space and cold, undercut by an absurdist wit... Mettler goes to a world where cameras freeze and tries to film nothingness, unbroken patterns of land and sky. He achieves amazing results. In the context of Canadian cinema, where characters often live in uneasy tension with their environment, for once there is no contest: the weather wins, hands down.”
– Brian D. Johnson, MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE
“PICTURE OF LIGHT is luminous and genuinely transcendent...”
“Taking a tiny crew to study the aurora borealis from the chilly vantage point of Churchill, Manitoba...has resulted in one of the most original and breathtaking documentaries of the year. Neither conventional nor experimental, PICTURE OF LIGHT compels on a multitude of levels...where one of this country’s most immaculate image-makers, points his camera toward the most spectacular special effect the natural world has to offer, and brings back a piece of heaven. Highly recommended.”
– Geoff Pevere, THE GLOBE & MAIL
“An extraordinary piece of filmmaking. In an era when only one movie in a hundred has a single moment of visionary power, Peter Mettler’s PICTURE OF LIGHT is bursting with them..this is a film that takes you places you have never been.”
– John Powers, VOGUE critic
“PICTURE OF LIGHT has the narrative innovation and esthetic brilliance of a good drama. Hypnotic displays of the aurora borealis...are the gold at the end of Mettler’s rainbow, but getting there is more than half the fun. The film is an existential meditation on snow and space and cold, undercut by an absurdist wit...Mettler goes to a world where cameras freeze and tries to film nothingness, unbroken patterns of land and sky. He achieves amazing results...”
– Brian D. Johnson, MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE
"...you sense you're watching a new art form in the process of creation...among the very best documentaries to come along in years...PICTURE OF LIGHT is an elegantly framed lyric by Peter Mettler about the North and the northern lights. At the very outset, the director hints there's deeper music to be heard here by introducing us to a camera designed especially for the deep cold. Spurred on by thoughts of a man he met at a part "who watches the shy", Mettler's PICTURE OF LIGHT is as much a meditation on documentary filmmaking as it is on the North."
– Peter Goddard, THE TORONTO STAR
"PICTURE OF LIGHT is the most beautiful fusion of art and science I've seen since Michael Snow's La Région Centrale."
– Jonathan Rosenbaum, CHICAGO READER critic
"PICTURE OF LIGHT confronts the ontological status of film, brandishing profundity, humour and many extraordinarily beautiful images, concluding finally that film's relationship to reality and experience is, in the best cases, rather like all of life's Big Questions -- puzzling, troubling, awe-inspiring."
– Peter Urquhart, REVERSE SHOT
"Personal, quirky, inquisitive and visually sophisticated, PICTURE OF LIGHT is Canadian writer/director Peter Mettler's investigative meditation on the aurora borealis -- the northern lights."
"With his masterful new film about the aurora borealis, PICTURE OF LIGHT,  a breathtaking investigation of the powers and limits of film language, Mettler should assume his rightful, prominent place in contemporary Canadian cinema...From its title onward, PICTURE OF LIGHT articulates the paradox of the extraordinary film unspooling before us. In a voice over that at once affirms and questions its authoritative role in the documentary tradition, Mettler reminds us that his tools are inadequate and falsifying. We know he is right. We also know, as he does, that these picture of light, these simulacra, do inspire wonder, do remind us that for all our scientific marvels and technological advances, we remain unfinished and searching. In its meditative, marvelous simplicity, PICTURE OF LIGHT unmasks its frames, and demands that we look beyond them."
– Tom McSorley, TAKE ONE
“Mettler is slowly but surely affirming his presence as one of the most original cineastes of his generation. He is an auteur of the utmost importance…his adventurous cinema displays the veritable images of today.”
– Norbert Cruetz, JOURNAL DE GENEVE
“Like the curtains of light, like a thousand fractured searchlights in the night sky, like a halogen haze, like a neon fog, like… Peter Mettler’s camera has accelerated the meteorological phenomena; out of the majestic glow develops a squirrly light of insanity… an impression of endlessness, of no borders, of flight and the immaterial.”
– Martin Schaub, DAS MAGAZIN, ZURICH
“[Mettler makes] films that work with insinuation, films that speak to the heart of the viewer, to their memories and dreams by addressing their emotions and senses.”
“Mettler points at the world… engaging us in poetry and imagination… Like the first gestures of cinema, he is always perceiving the world as an object of endless fascination… Peter Mettler dreams with his eyes open, and in wanting to convey the elusive aurora borealis, he takes measure of the infinite as no camera has ever done before…”


Screened at international film festivals including Rotterdam, Sidney, Locarno, Toronto, Hof, Sundance, Yamagata.

Hot Docs Toronto

Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland

Canadian Independent Film Caucas Documentary Awards

Swiss Ministry of Culture

Chicago International Film Festival, October 1994

Yamagata International Documentary Festival, Japan

Figueira da Foz International Festival, Portugal

MCTV Award, September 1994

Golden Gate Awards, San Francisco International Film Festival

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