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Embracing Meta-Cinema through Experimental Short Films by Ann Huang

When I was young, the idea of connecting meta-cinema with my dreams felt like an impossible task. Over the past few years, I made four experimental shorts. My short films are based on surrealist poems I’ve written which were inspired by my dreams. It wasn’t until these films were completed that I became confident enough to talk about the relationship between meta-cinema and my dreams. Recently, I began embracing meta-cinema through my experimental short films.

So what is meta-cinema and how does it relate to my experimental short films? 

Basically, the use of meta-cinema in film is analogous to metafiction in literature. It’s a style of filmmaking in which the film deliberately informs the audience that they are watching a film.

During the 1960s, the French New Wave movement started using meta-cinema to unveil behind-the-scenes footage captured during the making of movies. The idea was to render a film’s true color and magical essence in its original state of making. Meta-cinema achieves this by having the characters commentate on the plot during the film, typically turning to talk to  the camera (audience) directly. In modern filmmaking, this style is often referred to as “breaking the fourth wall.”

In their own right, my dreams played a significant role in contributing to the meta-cinema filmmaking style of my experimental shorts. 

When I wake up from a dream state, the pieces I can recall are hindered. In these instances, I think of myself as both the lead actor in my dreams as well as the audience. It’s up to me to turn to myself (the audience) and narrate the storylines of my dreams. Imagine dreaming of your twin sister acting in a movie. What would it feel like to watch her in the film from the perspective of the audience?

Similar to sorting out dreams or psychic visions, a director can break the illusion of a film by telling the audience that it’s a work of fiction. Most of the time, filmmakers use meta-cinema to bring in non-diegetic aspects, such as dream elements, to teach the audience a lesson. Viewers are then faced with a moment of self-reflection and a sense of the auteur filmmaker’s vision. Most importantly, meta-cinema invites audiences to become the companion spectator of their own spectatorship.

For many film lovers in the US, Woody Allen is considered a pioneer in meta-cinema. For decades, his films have broken the fourth wall, speaking directly to viewers. However, the concept of meta-cinema is still a mystery to most people today. Audiences tend to dilute the importance of meta-cinema in the same way they dismiss interpretation of their nightly dreams. It is human nature to avoid delving into concepts that bewilder us. We don’t like to over think things we can’t easily grasp

As a poet, creating narrative filmmaking projects comes quite naturally to me. Each of my experimental shorts is based on lyrical poems I’ve written, so my relaxed reflexivity and unconsciousness are already at play. The construct of my memories is a mysterious instrument I must rely on as a narrative filmmaker. I try to identify with my conscious self as well as my deepest, collective self at large. I want to bring magic into the meta-cinematic lens so that our realities can be interpreted both inside and outside of diegetic storytelling.

For questions or comments about my award-winning experimental short films, contact us

Ann Huang

Saffron Splash Media today!

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The AFM is not a festival - it is the largest motion picture market in the world. 8,000 industry attendees, including producers, distributors, directors, agents, writers, lawyers & bankers. Over 540 films screened, most world or U.S. premieres.

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