Videos screening in Latin America

Latin America currently has strong culture of experimental video and video art. These festivals feature a wide range of challenging and innovative work. They also actively create an engaged community of artists. So I’ve been delighted to have several videos screened recently in film festivals in Latin America:
floodtide – official selection 7th Concepción Independent Film Awards (Chile, August, 2021);
Warranty and Conditions of Use – official selection, 6th Canal de Panama International Film Festival (Panama, August, 2021);
Epithelium; The Life We Live is Not Life Itself; and Isolation Procedures – official selections, Nahui Ollin Film Festival 2021 (Durango, Mexico, August – September, 2021).

Isolation Procedures has previously been an official selection for Fotogenia, International Festival of Film Poetry and Divergent Narratives (Mexico, November, 2020) and Helios Sun Poetry Film Festival (Mexico, December, 2020). future perfect and unvoiced were official selections at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020).

Most festivals request subtitles in English, which is not an issue for my video poems, since the text is an integral part the video design itself. However, some of these festivals have asked for subtitles in Spanish. The challenge here has been, first, to come up with a good translation into Spanish, and, second, to fully integrate the Spanish text into the video.

I don’t know Spanish, although I can read French reasonably well and I studied Latin for 6 years at school. I’m also familiar enough with Italian to grasp the general idea of what is being said or written. So Spanish didn’t seem totally out of reach.

However, the translation for The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma was a special challenge, since the original text and the spoken word here is in Greek, which I can more or less read but not understand well. I did have an English translation that I worked on with the author, Tasos Sagris, and this provided the link for a good Spanish translation.

I used two machine translation systems for this: the well-known Google Translate, and a recently released AI system, DeepL Translator. The first trick here is to generate sentence-by-sentence multi-way translations: Greek to Spanish; English to Spanish, along with their back-translations: eg Spanish to English to Greek compared with Spanish to Greek. The results were compared until they converged on a common set of phrases. Luckily this usually occurred, indicating the underlying accuracy of the machine translation systems.

The second trick is to thoroughly investigate other variant translations that are suggested in order to pick up subtle, but important shades of meaning. Again back and forward translations are critical here. But even more important is to use native language dictionaries to check the meaning of words or phrases: what do native speakers think this word or phrase means, at least as recorded in their dictionaries. Of course, this also required several iterations of translation – back-translation.

The final thing is to get the translated text checked by a native speaker if possible. In this case, I was lucky to have someone do this and they found only a couple of things to change, both of which I’d flagged, which was a great relief!

I made a new version of The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma only with Spanish subtitles, using the same font as the original and matching the cadences of the Greek spoken word to the Spanish text as closely as possible. For Isolation Procedures – PROCEDIMIENTOS DE AISLAMIENTO, I used overlays in the same fonts to present the Spanish and English text simultaneously. This worked so well, I actually prefer the look of this version better than the original!

Translation is a fabulous yet fraught exercise, about which much has been written. Two very fine books on the matter are Is that a Fish in your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos (2011), and Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto by Mark Polizzotti (2018).