Brent Hoff January 17 2017

Defiance Against Emotional Repression: The Cogit-Prop Films of Brent Hoff


Brent Hoff is a former director of programming at IFP New Media Centre in New York. But he is also co-founder of Wholphin DVD and a writer and filmmaker who films drunk bees, illegal trans-border volleyball matches and crying competitions. Before that he authored a book on pandemic disease transmission, made television at The Daily Show, and wrote articles about squid. His feature script “El Diablo Rojo” was awarded a Tribeca Sloan grant as well as the 2011 FIND film grant.

Tell us a bit more about the DocLab experience at IDFA and Machine Learning project. How did this opportunity come about?

Caspar Sonnen, the brilliant and criminally under-appreciated visionary who founded IDFA DocLab (the Art Basel of VR / Interactive / new media), met Alex at M.I.T., saw his work and thought that if he ever introduced us we would end up working together on projects he could program. He was right!

Machine Learning at IDFA DocLab / Installation Robots in Residence with Alexander Reben and Brent Hoff

In your films "Born Like Stars" and "Drunk Bees", animals appears as this heroic stars that take over the screen. Who are better actors - bees or squids? Why do you enjoy working with "non-human" actors?

Both have an almost Gene Hackmen-esque disdain for directors, but I love how effortlessly animals express themselves and force us simple monkeys to reconsider the hubris of our hominid-aggrandizement. Cognition is not consciousness.

"Born Like Stars" & *Drunk Bees"

What is The Emotional Arcade Project and how did The Love Competition film come about?

I think the answer for this is at:

This project started out as a silly satire on the way we overvalue competition in America, based on our lazy misreading of Darwin that has allowed generations of “free-market" Gordon Gekko libertarians to justify predatory business practices because "competition is the natural order of life," while failing to acknowledge the aeons of cooperative symbiosis observable in literally every organism that ever existed — from dogs to ants to flowers down to their own gut bacteria. And anyway, I was thinking how many Americans, myself included, tend to identify and value ourselves by how well we can control our emotions…And boom.

Contextualizing the expression of a deeply personal emotion as a measurable, quantifiable athletic goal seems not only ridiculous but also, in a way, seems like the perfect competition for the world we live in. And The Emotional Arcade, which has grown out of that, is a form of public protest and defiance against emotional repression. …Sorry, you didn’t ask for a pretentious artist statement but just made all that up sober so…It’s obviously been a tough year.

But people have responded to the Emotional Arcade with appreciation, which makes it worth continuing. It feels good to be given permission, even through a silly game, to feel. I feel honored to help facilitate that.

Neuroscientists Measure Brain Activity in "The Love Competition"

In your project, technology (MRI, Robot, Machine Learning) play a big role in the type of footage (observational, intrusive, invisible, medical machine) you get but also in how machines interact with people and nature. Tell us more about how you interweave technology with emotion in your films?

I use tech as a tool to try and reveal people in new ways and tell the stories I want to tell. I love learning about people, and when tech works and helps the process it’s exhilarating. Tech can also be a shiny shitty distraction that winds us away from the truth. 

Interview conducted by Alexis Gambis, Executive Director of Imagine Science Films