Avanto Festival


The Phantom of the Operator stars American telephone switchboard operators ­– the anonymous ladies who connected telephone calls ­– from 1903 to 1989. The most important requirement for their work and professional identity was a pleasant voice – “the Voice with a Smile”. The work itself was monotonous, repetitive customer service, often performed at an inhuman pace. Seen from the high technology perspective of the mobile telephone era, the antics of these operators in an old-fashioned age form a surreal and critical portrait of the era, a fresco of slave labour. Wireless technology has undoubtedly made our lives easier, but are we any freer than the switchboard operators of the 1950s, working away mechanically? The Phantom of the Operator is the first feature film directed by the Montreal-based filmmaker Caroline Martel (1973–). She has collected her footage from 150 American films dealing with telecommunications, including footage from films produced for educational, commercial and scientific purposes. She continues along the trail blazed by masters like Emile de Antonio and Gustav Deutsch, but uses a completely unique, poetic style. Dreamlike montage sequences are accompanied by monologues in French performed by the actress Pascale Montpetit, while the soundtrack features the rare electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot. The award-winning film is currently touring the festival circuit around the world.

The Phantom of The Operator (2004, Canada, 65 min, French with English subtitles)

Kiasma Theatre on Saturday, 18 November at 6 pm. Contrary to the prior announcement Caroline Martel will unfortunately not be able to attend the festival.

Caroline Martel: The Phantom of The Operator (2004)