Since switching from celluloid to digital, noted avant-gardist James Benning has been as prolific as ever, and Stemple Pass may mark his highest achievement as of yet with the medium. Composed of four identical static shots of a cabin nestled in the forest that are distinguishable only by which season they were shot in, the film’s compelling power may surprise. Accompanying these lengthy takes are narrated diary entries and letters written by Ted Kaczynski (otherwise known as the “Unabomber”) while he lived in isolation in the woods—in fact, the aforementioned cabin is a replica of Kaczynski’s own, built by Benning. What ensues is a complex meditation on a disturbed yet brilliant man’s state of mind while living a life completely alienated from other people. The texts are all spoken aloud by Benning himself, who imbues his voice with calm, allowing the words to breathe without judgment. Kaczynski’s thoughts are alternately confounding and insightful, and both of these sides are allowed to come through without bias.
More provocative and stimulating than any sort of conventional approach to portraying Kaczynski could be, Stemple Pass looks to the spaces in between drama, trapping the viewer in a simulated state of this isolation, suspended and left to confront ideas that may have more relevance to how we live our own lives than we’d like to admit.