Keeper of Time, directed by director Michael Culyba in 2022 with the masters of haute horlogerie, opens a cinematic door to the world of watchmaking and turns its camera on the physical and philosophical aspects of time.
Is it possible to film time?
Maybe it is not entirely possible, or no mechanism can grasp and measure time like watches. However, it is possible to look at the world of watches and time from the perspective of cinema with Keeper of Time. The movie, directed by director Michael Culyba with the masters of haute horlogerie, opens a cinematic door to the world of watchmaking and turns its camera on the physical and philosophical aspects of time. We talked about this rare film about haute horlogerie with its director, Michael Culyba.
Can you tell us about the production process of Keeper of Time?
About five years ago, I decided to buy myself a nice, high-quality watch. To be honest, at that time I didn’t really know the difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch. I bought the Tudor Black Bay 36, which I still use very much. This allowed me to discover mechanical watches and step into the world of watches, which I did not know existed before. At the same time that I was discovering horology and watches, I was looking for the right subject to shoot my own documentary film, and it came across very nicely. I wanted to make a film about the world of watches for millions of people who don’t know anything about watches.
How did you decide on the names to appear in the film?
I discovered the Horological Society of New York and met with its then-president, Nicholas Manousos. He was very supportive of the film idea and immediately introduced me to François-Paul Journe. Journe was the first watchmaker to be involved in the film. All the watchmakers and watchmakers in the film are people who push the limits of mechanical watchmaking, both aesthetically and technically. So are Roger W. Smith and Maximilian Büsser, for example, who devoted their lives to watches. As soon as I saw Büsser’s watches, I thought they should be a part of this movie.
What’s the rarest thing you saw while filming the movie?
I think it was one of the watches; Simplicity 000, one of the first examples of Philippe Dufour Simplicity. It is not a watch that everyone will have the chance to see. Moreover, I saw the watch in the workshop of its master, Philippe Dufour. It was one of the moments I will never forget in my life.
Keeper of Time is not just about watches, it also pushes the audience to think about time. What are the various faces of time in your opinion?
What’s actually interesting to me is that while clocks observe and measure time objectively, time is extremely subjective. Because we experience time from a very internal and subjective place. We touch upon this aspect of time in the film as well.
What fascinates you about watches and watchmaking?
I was very surprised and impressed that the watches worked without a battery and that such archaic technology was still used. The micro-level parts used in the mechanisms were also very impressive. On the other hand, the logic and functioning of mechanical watches with perpetual calendars and leap years and days still fascinate me. The existence of such complicated mechanisms, which do not have a computer or battery behind them, and the lives devoted to this world are incredibly impressive. In fact, I wanted to show the stories, passions and determination of these people in the film.
Do you remember the first watch you owned?
I’ve always worn a watch, I think my first watch was a Casio I received as a gift when I was five or six. In my early adult years, I bought a TAG Heuer. I still have many of the watches I have worn to this day, and I can say that I have an emotional bond with all of them. TAG Heuer reminds me of my high school and university years. Tudor Black Bay 36, which I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, takes me back to the time when I started making this movie. When we look at the clocks, remembering what we once experienced allows us to establish an emotional bond with the clocks. Another thing I love about mechanical watches is that these watches will be passed down to my children.
Do you wear a watch in your daily life?
Yes, I always wear a watch. I don’t look at my phone to check the time like the younger generation, I usually look at my wrist instinctively. In fact, I can say that I wouldn’t direct a movie without a watch on my wrist.
You say that you shot Keeper of Time to explain watches to people who do not know the world of watches. Can you describe watches in three words for people who have no connection with this world?
A beautiful watch; it combines history, engineering and a beautiful work of art. I don’t think there is any other object that can bring these three features together other than watches.
Can you share an anecdote you remember from the movie?
Indeed, I will tell an anecdote outside the watches: After the shooting for the movie was finished, Roger Smith took us to his garage and showed us his vintage Mini Cooper. It was great to see such a cool car.
You worked with two different mechanisms throughout the film: the camera and watches. What do you think about the compatibility of camera and watches?
I definitely think there are similarities between mechanical watches and the cameras we shoot movies with, because they work with similar mechanisms. While cameras capture certain moments of time in frames, we hear the clocks capture the time with the ticking sounds coming from the dial.
I have another question that relates watches and movies: Do you think there are similarities between watching a movie and watching a clock ticking?
I’m not sure if this counts as a similarity, but I can say this: Mechanical watches with their working mechanisms look cinematic to me. I think the tourbillon in particular is very cinematic. It is a pleasure to capture these wonderful mechanisms on camera.
What did you learn about watches from the movie?
I really learned a lot. Shooting this movie was like studying horology for me. For example, I personally learned the finishing techniques from Philippe Dufour, and I also learned a lot from Maximilian Büsser and Roger W. Smith. I learned the history and philosophy behind mechanical watches from Britanny Nicole Cox. All these names I have mentioned are united by their determination and passion for watches. Their passion for watches and their efforts to do their job as best as possible inspire me as a director.