“Come to Minneapolis and wear a thick jacket and boots.” Such was Alec Soth’s cryptic reply when Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove requested to shoot a documentary about him. Not knowing what to expect, both directors – not a couple – followed the American photographer for three years, resulting in the film Somewhere to Disappear.

Writer Sam Steverlynck

This documentary shows Alec working on his Broken Manual project about hermits living in the most remote areas in the US. “It was one hell of a ride,” smiles Arnaud. “A crazy road movie for which we drove 30,000 kms and journeyed throughout the entire United States from east to west and north to south.” Though Paris-based Laure had previously worked on a documentary about Chilly Gonzales (read our interview with the artist here), Somewhere to Disappear was Arnaud’s debut. “Besides being a film, it was a real adventure for both of us. An amazing experience to have travelled that much and met all those singular individuals. And being a photography buff, it was awesome to spend so much time with Alec, whose work I adore.” Anecdotes from their peregrinations include a hermit on methadone freaking out and holding them at gunpoint, as well as being arrested by the FBI. In one scene featuring Tony – a daunting man living in a barred house without windows who seemed to suffer from paranoia – one notices the camera shaking. It was Arnaud trembling with fear.

The low-budget documentary was entirely funded by private money. The directors had difficulties selling their proposal, as they were constantly faced with the questions: “So what are you guys making? Is this a portrait of the photographer or the people retreating from society?” The reply was simply “both”. “We wanted this feature to be as much documentary as fiction; without interviews or the conven- tional codes of the documentary genre. That is why we treated Alec as a character. For us, it was more about making a poetic film. We took our time to create a slow sense of atmosphere.” Though there is no real narrative development, the documentary does have a sense of rhythm. The camera follows Alec closely in the beginning, yet shots become broader as the documentary progresses, focussing on the wild landscapes. Ghinzu’s guitarist Greg Remy (featured on page 61 of our red album), as well as Rob & L’Aiglon from Phoenix, kindly contributed to the introspective soundtrack.

Arnaud assures us that finding the hermits was less difficult than expected: “contrary to what one might think, a hermit living by himself in the woods is connected to society. He has electricity and Internet. Some even have a Facebook account and are members of online hermit communities!” Surprisingly enough, the interviewees were far from reluctant to chat with the crew, visibly in dire need of human interactions. They all had different reasons to retire from society but were all equally interesting. From the extremely shy teenager, to the redneck or tree hugger, the documentary por- trays a motley crew, but without ever sinking in the sensationalism of a freak show. Though Laure and Arnaud are still looking for a distributor, the documentary has already been screened in Minneapolis’ Walker Art Museum, Toronto’s Hot Docs festival and the LACMA in L.A. It will also be featured in the upcoming Rencontres d’Arles Photography Festival. Seems like its directors will have to wait a bit before they can retreat themselves.

Below are movie stills as well as a director’s cut of behind-the-scenes images.