Review: Global shutdown spurs cinematographers’ creativity in ‘Erēmīta (Anthologies)’

Filmmaker Ashley Connor in the movie "Erēmīta (Anthologies)."
(Erēmīta (Anthologies))

The hourlong experimental documentary “Erēmīta (Anthologies)” is a collection of short films made by cinematographers from around the world, each having been tasked by Egyptian American filmmaker Sam Abbas, as curator, with one key creative restriction: cellphone cameras only, no added lenses or devices. The impetus was itself an overarching constraint — this was March of 2020, when the pandemic had everybody in quarantine.

The shorts run the gamut from the avant-garde/impressionistic — like Soledad Rodríguez’s “The Eagle and the Snake,” shot through what appears to be a tube — to the observed, typically defined by a sense of being inside looking out. (The overall title translates as “hermit.”) American indie DP Ashley Connor’s “A Well Watered Woman” offers up a jaggedly edited bath starring her own body in close-up fragments, while Rome-based cinematographer Stefano Falivene (“Point of View”) contrasts the majesty of the ancient Coliseum (not a bad walking-distance destination) with the apartment-bound strangeness of his son’s online learning and his own video call about an upcoming, COVID-affected film project.

A few point the camera at others. “The Florida Project” cinematographer Alexis Zabe (“Shelter in Place”) hit the Venice Boardwalk to juxtapose pedestrian-cleared zones with the ever-present homeless encampments, while France’s Antoine Hébérle (“Ceux d’en Haut”) invents a delicate story of connection among young building residents who live on separate floors.

Abbas drops in his own static, crisply realized shots of a single woman and her dog at home — which feel like calm palate cleansers — as well as gives the whole piece a textual framework related to Nietzsche’s philosophical epic “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” which was probably a bit much. But as far as shutdown-inspired projects go, “Erēmīta (Anthologies)” has a certain felicitous intimacy, proof that when called to action, artists can meet a given moment — and the boundaries that come with it — with ideas at the ready, their eyes primed to see.

'Erēmīta (Anthologies)'

In English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 58 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 26, Laemmle Virtual Cinema; filmmakers share of revenue will be donated to Amnesty International