Flooded Memories: Making a Short Film on the Port City of Trieste

Afra Knaap, Augusta Fiseryte, Fons van de Ven, Niké te Brinke, Paula von Zeska de Toledo, Raf van Oosterhout, Sue Vern Lai and Winnie van de Sande

trieste video

The Urban Archipelago course of TU Delft reimagines the future of Trieste, a port city that is and will be heavily impacted by climate change. As such, the course went on a week-long trip to Trieste, and learnt from on-site experts about some pressing realities in the city: sea level rise and flooding, ageing population, abandoned port infrastructure, old industrial heritage, and the multicultural identities connected to it. During the trip, a film was shot, and after a few days of intense editing, it premiered at the exhibition Waterstad Rotterdam in Nieuwe Instituut on 13 May 2023.

The short film Flooded Memories consists of five acts of 90 seconds each, and centres around the Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste, exploring larger themes and relations between water, land and people. As the ‘movie group’ consisting of the eight students who co-authored this blog, we hope watching the film allows you to explore and rethink various meanings of water that are all around and in us. After your own reflection, we invite you to have a peek into our creative process.

Act 1: Talking Heads
This act reflects on the temporality of the flooding problem and its effects on Triest’s central square: for whom do we need to take action?

The statues are part of the city and have observed the Piazza in different spatial and social contexts. They will survive the water, not only because they are made of stone, but also because they are lifted high enough to stand above the future water level. Thus, they are not worried. This reflects the human view on the bigger problems of today's world. Most people around us will not witness the huge consequences of global warming, due to the luck of living in a wealthy country or because of their age. Just like the statues, they are unbothered. Most of us who are watching this film are living in the wealthier part of the world and will experience the effects of global warming least. We are placed on a pedestal just like these statues.

The last part of the act introduces the square. The silence at the end urges the viewer to formulate their own position on the worries around the topic.

Act 2: Solid Air
Solid air became an established concept for all the group members through the process of making this film. We challenged our understanding of water as a material: material as timeless, shapeless and invisible. Water is found in the air, it seeks and flows through unexpected ways and forms, and it appears. Therefore, we referred to this act not as the one about air or the flowing hair, but always as solid air. This chapter aims to expose this hidden structural element to the city. When brainstorming about what the film should contain, the specificity of Trieste was one of the crucial components. Expressing how air is as relevant to a port city as the type of stone the city facades are composed of, seemed to be a fitting way to pay tribute to the city. We interpreted the ability of air to determine the experience of physical spaces as laying in between tangible and intangible, being both measurable and much more than that. Moreover, in this act of the film, air and water are shown as a 'power duo', being able to support humans’ biggest dreams of travelling to far corners of the earth and connecting, through trade.

Aside from the air being different in every place, Trieste also deals with Bora, a wind so strong and determined it obtained its own name, and is alive in local songs and stories, building measures and on one's skin. For the film, we did not anticipate the presence of Bora, and did not expect that the cooperation of air and water would be so explicit and easy to show. This only proved to enrich our solid message. 

Act 3: My Future Neighbour
The title of this act hints to the future scenario of the square being flooded with water, which enables fish to enter areas that are now only inhabited by humans. The goal of the movie is to empathise with a fish and rethink the different ways in which the city is perceived. The act starts within the sea, showing the spaces below the surface, next to the quay and underneath the boats. When fished out of the water, the viewer is carried along a walk through the city, eventually entering the home of the fisherman. While looking up from out of a bucket, a whole chronological sequence is shown through the different spaces of the city, from the large no man's land of the sea through the open public square, ending in a small and private apartment. This is quite a different view from how humans see the city, but slightly different from that of the fish that will enter the city after the flood. The last scene contrasts the earlier scenes: the camera point leaves the body of the fish, as a soul leaving the body.

The sounds used in this act of the movie are just as important as the images shown. While the viewpoint offers a limited image of the city, the sounds generate a deeper dimension. The different areas that are crossed on the walk all offer their own unique sounds and intensities. When not seeing where the sounds are coming from, the brain of the viewer is stimulated to fill in the different scenes happening on the square. However, for the fish, all these sounds will be alienating. Can we ever understand the real perspective of a fish?

Act 4: Love
The title of this act may seem cryptic at first. The scenes in this part do not relate to romantic love or any performative notion of love. Rather, it is an attempt to make a brief manifesto for the passion one feels about the space one inhabits, a love carried underground.

Our initial wish was to use one of the five acts to express the somewhat melancholic tone to climate change in the urban setting, and how inhabitants of a city in danger experience this threat. However, the doom scenario of a flooded Piazza Unità d'Italia seems intangible when standing there, in the midst of a well-oiled everyday pace. The blood keeps pumping towards all the veins of the city, and although there are hidden weak spots, like a sewage system that struggles to keep up with extreme weather and a disappearing marine life at the waterfront, life in Trieste goes on, and forward. 

The planned method for this act was to talk to passersby, trying to not only choose tourists. From our team, only two people could understand Italian and from them only one could speak it, therefore we knew that this would be the act with the biggest improvisation component. For the interviews, we would keep it simple, reducing our intervention to two questions: (1) What do you use the piazza for? (2) What would it mean for you personally if the sea level would rise so much that you could not use the piazza anymore? 

Our cinematic vision for the act became secondary to recording interesting conversations during the filming process. Expressing the urgency and weight of the matter seemed impossible in just a few minutes of conversation and we ended up with a lot of reactions like: ''well, the pizza then would have to be delivered on speedboats instead of scooters'', which is maybe still quite a relevant point and possibly an accurate representation of people’s average priorities. In the end, we did hear some statements that related to the more socio-cultural themes we explore in the course: the struggle in transgenerational discussions about the future, additional to the fact that older generations will not experience the outcome anymore, and an ability of the average citizen to think creatively and innovatively, which was fascinating to hear.

It seems everyone experiences thoughts about future sea level rise at a different proximity. When going back to Delft, we naturally hoped that the little interaction we had with the inhabitants of Trieste would create some new awareness. Nevertheless, the most fruitful outcome of making this act was experiencing the human agency we often forget when projecting ideas into the future as planners and architects. Human agency is stubborn, powered by love and will not simply be washed away. 

Act 5: Chiara
Chiara started as the idea of not belonging. What if we could represent the fear of the future as a person who thinks about it? What if she is from the future? 

The character is the counterpoint of a possible alienation process that happens through climate change. In a world where everything looks normal, Chiara seems weird. Her questions do not intend to be negative. Like her name, she has a clear eye on the future, being the personification of it. When she appears standing on the post, for example, she is at the future level of the sea, a ‘new normal’. Chiara is simultaneously invisible and slightly removed from the world around her, yet also very much in touch, maybe more so than everyone else around, with present realities.

It can be hard to picture a doom scenario with blue skies, tourists and locals enjoying the Piazza. Chiara is the final call to reflect on different temporalities: the clips speed up, slow down, cut from scene to scene, and play with narration in order to create space for such a reflection. The film started with the statues talking about their lives and their past, and we end with Chiara inviting you to ponder the long-term future.

Maybe we are the weird ones living without questioning the status quo, and Chiara is someone we ought to listen to?

Because of the short timeframe we had to prepare for the exhibition video, we had to get creative. It was an interesting process to plan storyboards for a place none of us had been to before. Short research and Google Maps street views helped us foresee outcomes and we discussed how this research would, as a result, be framed within our positionality. However, we do not see this as inherently negative. On the contrary, understanding this allowed us to be open to uncertainty and change. For example, a marathon was being hosted in the Piazza and a lot of footage of it actually ended up in the film! 

The process of choosing what to film on the spot allowed us to see Trieste through an additional lens. We were able to see the square with new possibilities, exploring vastly different perspectives of water, from historical statues to fish to a “Chiara”. 

Visit the exhibition: https://nieuweinstituut.nl/en/projects/waterstad-rotterdam


This video has been developed in the course Urban Archipelago. This course is part of the master’s degree programme Architecture and the Built Environment at TU Delft. The video is made by Afra Knaap, Augusta Fiseryte, Fons van de Ven, Niké te Brinke, Paula von Zeska de Toledo, Raf van Oosterhout, Sue Vern Lai and Winnie van de Sande. A special thanks to the Urban Archipelago tutors for their support.
This blog was peer-reviewed by members of the PortCityFutures community, and edited by the PortCityFutures editorial team: Carola Hein and Vincent Baptist.


More information
Trieste exhibition Blog piece