Motion Art: Sandro and Malkovich Descend Into a Modern "Hell"

By David Schonauer   Monday November 21, 2016

Welcome to Hell.

Earlier this month, just days before the US presidential election, photographer and filmmaker Sandro Miller’s short film Hell was named the grand-prize winner of the International Motion Art Awards at the annual AI-AP Big Talk event. Made over the past year, the film presents a disturbing vision of man’s nature as the actor John Malkovich recites Plato’s Allegory of the Cave — a text, notes Miller, with modern relevance.

The Allegory of the Cave describes a gathering of people who have lived their entire lives chained inside a cave, facing a blank wall. Their sense of the world comes from the shadows they see projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them.

“It’s about ignorance and people in the shadows listening to one voice and accepting that as reality,” notes Miller. “It was written in the fourth century BC, and it could have been written yesterday.”

The film marks another chapter in a long series of collaborations between the Chicago-based photographer and Malkovich. In a 2015 AI-AP Profile, we described how the duo teamed for a memorable recreation of famous photographic portraits. Today, Miller describes how he and the actor made the short film, which is now being screened on the festival circuit. Go here to view it yourself.

And be prepared, because Hell  isn’t a pretty place.

Sandro Miller on Hell

John and I have been working together for 20 years. We get together maybe twice a year and create imagery that makes you think. We do films that push the boundaries and look at what’s going on in the world,. And that’s where Hell came from.

The project began when a music producer friend of mine asked me if it would be possible to record John reciting Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I said absolutely, and why don’t we film him and make something more of this recording. So in that sense the carriage came before the horse — I didn’t have an outlined storyboard for how I wanted this to look until after we had filmed John wearing army regalia and reciting the Allegory of the Cave.

Right about the time we had finished up in Chicago, Laquan McDonald was shot while walking away from a policeman. It made me start thinking about what humans have done to humans since the beginning of time.

Plato’s allegory was written as a discussion about ignorance and people in the shadows listening to one voice, a dictator, whoever that might be. And it seemed to be so relevant to what has been going on in our world over the past 100 years — all the atrocities that have occurred.

So I began putting together images in my mind that I wanted represented in the film, then I called an illustrator friend of mine, Jonathan Caustrita, who brought those images to life. We worked very closely creating the illustrations over a year’s time. We did this without a budget, so I was lenient on the timing of how things got done.

Then I went to Getty Images and purchased stock footage and still images of historic events —the Kennedy assassination and and Martin Luther King’s assassination and other events. After that I went to the editing company in Chicago that I do a lot of work with, Utopic, to put it all together. We sat down and discussed what I wanted to do. and these two great editors, Craig Lewandowski and Ryan Gilbert, did an amazing job with the motion graphics. We spent six months putting this together, way longer than what it should have been, but that’s what it took to get the music where we wanted it and the sound where we wanted it to be.

For me, what this film is really about is today. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was written in the fourth century BC, but it could have been written yesterday.

I hope it shakes some people up. It’s very difficult to change people and to change society. But I think films and photographs are great places to start. They’ve always made me think of who I am and how I want to act and how I want to live my life.


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