Still from Corrie Francis Parks' Foreign Exchange, featuring a collage of images from international paper money

The visuals in Corrie Francis Parks’ Foreign Exchange are exclusively made from two materials: grains of sand manipulated one frame at a time and filmed through microscopic closeups, and fragments of international currency; brought to life through After Effects wizardry. Each of the two elements contains a world of possible metaphors, and Parks herself expounds on some of the potential meanings of sand in her director’s statement. As for the connection between the two, that’s up for the viewer to uncover.

A metronomic ticking in the sections of the film’s score underlines one of those connections—time is money, and sand represents time, flowing through an hourglass, or just the eons taken by the natural processes that produce each grain. But watching and re-watching Parks’ film, you it’s clear there’s more thought behind it than just that visual pun. Some images conjure connections between sand and technology, or visual echoes the extractive economies underpinning the images on different currencies. The swirling sands at the end coupled with the images of world leaders and historical figures on the bills evoke the “half sunk… shattered visage” spotted in Shelley’s Ozymandias, surrounded by nothing but “lone and level sands.” The more you look, the more the metaphors suggest themselves.

Even without its poetic underpinnings, Foreign Exchange would be a visual pleasure. It’s easy to overlook just how beautiful the artwork is on international currency, despite their representing some of the most direct attempts at national myth-making still being done today. The intricate line art that’s standard to most bank notes may be a byproduct of printing techniques and anti-counterfeiting efforts, but blown up to the scale of a cinema screen, it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. Background patterns evoke gothic architecture or Islamic tiles, while the natural fraying and wearing of the bills add organic intricacy to each composition.

While her patience and knack for composition serve the film well, it’s Parks’ ability to bring fresh eyes to her materials that makes Foreign Exchange stand out. Zoomed in, cropped, collaged and recombined, they force new perspectives as the most familiar elements become, well, foreign.

Foreign Exchange

dir: Corrie Francis Parks
syn: Using a collection of banknotes and sand gathered from over 50 countries, “Foreign Exchange” looks like nothing you have seen before, taking you into a tiny world of dazzling details. What you observe there, and the meaning you derive from that observation depends on where you start your journey. Look closely, it’s all in the details…

“Foreign Exchange” explores the tenuous connections and reinventions that keep the global economic tides flowing. The film is made with a unique micro-sand animation stopmotion technique in which the individual grains of sand take on a life of their own.

Bonus: Parks shared a behind-the-scenes tour of her home studio, which really shows off the intricacy of her approach. And for a more in-depth conversation with Parks, the Denver’s Supernova Digital Animation Festival festival hosted a 45-minute Q&A to discuss Foreign Exchange.

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