Filmed in a forest high up in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nightfall is a real-time study of changing light, from daytime to complete darkness. It’s a portrait of solitude. Nothing happens – no wind, no movement, just changing light. (James Benning)
“Benning noted that he actually shot the film twice. First time round, he thought his chosen scene was affected too much by the wind and, distracted by a particular branch blowing throughout, decided to shoot it again on a day still enough to ensure as little moved within the frame as possible.
With light as the only visual variable ensured, the film’s extreme minimalism facilitates a strangely intimate communal experience in the confined discipline of the cinema. Its virtual absence of incident allows for one’s mind to wander (and perhaps even one’s eyes, to the surrounding physical space): because of the severity of the film’s set-up – its static framing, its real-time unfolding – one might legitimately find oneself wondering about that outside and beyond the on-screen space, particularly when primed by a new, unseen sound, such as an overhead plane or a distant car, the aural presence of which take on suggestive meanings in the absence of direct visual signification.
The field recording's importance here is clear: as well as ineluctably documenting the rich sound textures of this natural place, the film signifies through its soundtrack its own kind of three-act structure, beginning with a cacophony of birds before settling into a middle third, whose tranquillity is interrupted by the crescendo of crickets that denote the film’s final phase. Their incessant high-pitched drone intensifies as the image darkens and our eyes search the image for the remaining pockets of light that, at the film’s opening, seemed innocuously placed within the composition.”