Sundance: ‘Fantastic Machine’ entertains while examining relationship between humans and camera

Jan 25, 2023, 6:19 PM | Updated: 6:21 pm
woman leans off skyscraper for video content...
Viktoria Odintcova appears in Fantastic Machine by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute| Photo by Alexander Tikhomirov. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

SALT LAKE CITY — While the Utah’s political leaders grapple with laws to combat the dangers of social media, Utah’s Sundance Film Festival premiered “Fantastic Machine,” turning the camera lens not only the camera but what it has meant to humans — spoiler: it has drastically changed us.

From the the invention of a single camera in 1816 to today’s collection of 46 billion image makers around the globe, directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck collected an evocative cut of historic images and video, including a healthy does of funny, they also talked with KSL TV and their Sundance audience.

“On YouTube every time we would find something that spoke to this relationship of camera and human behavior, we would save that and show it to colleagues and discuss, because it would say something about the human condition,” Van Aertryck said. As they studied what it means to humans to see their own image, they sampled studies of children or aboriginal populations as they were exposed to images for the first time.

“It (the assembled video) follows the rhythm that is needed in the film and then afterwards we had to see what the bill is,” co-director Axel Danielson said. “And we had to come back to our financiers and say ‘Guys, can you help us?’ ”

A still from Fantastic Machine by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

Much of the content, from the first known photograph of a human (a man getting a shoes shine) to a series of dictators, to documentation of the horrors of Nazi  prison camps in WWII, to one of the very first viral videos on YouTube, to the humorous and harrowing footage on contemporary social media, the film exposes humanity’s obsession with the image and the social consequences that comes with it.

The film is something of a visual sociology lesson while never feeling preachy. The directors said their tight, 85-minute, documentary doesn’t pretend to provide answers but pose questions and initiate dialog.

The first half spends time establishing the camera while the second half showcases social media. Their five-year effort of watching and selecting clips was rewarded at the Sundance the world’s premiere independent film festival.

A still from Fantastic Machine by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy Sundance Institute)

“It’s such a great feeling to see it in the room, with an audience,” Danielson said. “These images, we are used to seeing them in our screens and the discussion is not in the public room, it’s a private thing. But this private thing affects all of society.”

The Tuesday night screening in Salt Lake City, drew big laughs, a few gasps and some groans. It plays twice more in Park City and doesn’t yet have a distributor, though it seems hard to imagine a streaming service or documentary theater circuit will not be wise enough to realize the human obsession with image will lead to clicks and views.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


Soundgarden performs on stage for Guitar Hero game...
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

Missy, Willie and George Michael among Rock Hall nominees

Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden, Cyndi Lauper, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow and the late George Michael are nominees for 2023 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a list that includes a mix of country, soul, hip-hop, metal, pop, rap-rock and grunge.
4 days ago
FILE PHOTO (Deseret News)...
Rio Yamat, Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor arrested in Nevada sex abuse case

Las Vegas police have arrested former actor Nathan Chasing Horse at his home after uncovering what they describe as two decades of sexual assault and human trafficking allegations.
5 days ago
Priscilla Presley speaks at the public memorial for Lisa Marie Presley at Graceland on January 22, ...
Andrew Dalton, Associated Press

Priscilla Presley disputes trust of late Lisa Marie Presley

Priscilla Presley has filed legal documents disputing who oversees the estate of her late daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
5 days ago
Alec Baldwin charged in Rust shooting...
Associated Press

Prosecutors file charges in set shooting by Alec Baldwin

Actor Alec Baldwin and a weapons specialist have been formally charged with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a New Mexico movie set, according to court documents filed by prosecutors Tuesday.
5 days ago
R&B singer R. Kelly (L) arrives at the Cook County courthouse where jury selection is scheduled to ...
Claire Savage and Michael Tarm, Associated Press

Chicago prosecutor dropping R. Kelly sex-abuse charges

A Chicago prosecutor said Monday that she's dropping sex-abuse charges against singer R. Kelly following federal convictions in two courts that should guarantee the disgraced R&B star will be locked up for decades.
6 days ago
Amy Robach and TJ Holmes attend the 2022 ABC Disney Upfront at Basketball City - Pier 36 - South St...
Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Sundance: ‘Fantastic Machine’ entertains while examining relationship between humans and camera