ON (experimental) FILM


CONGRATULATIONS to Brenda Longfellow whose film OUR MARILYN (colour sound 16mm 24minutes) shared top prize at this year's prestigious Oberhausen Short Film Festival. She shares the International Jury Award with a Soviet film. OUR MARILYN was pre-selected for submission to the festival by the Goethe Institute's Doina Popescu and once there was selected for competition , as was Gary Popovich's film IMMORAL MEMORIES. Brenda was at the festival, (although she had left before the awards were announced! ) and noted that this year a large section of the program was from Eastern European countries; that films tended to have a strong  political slant, reflecting, perhaps, the involvement in the festival of the trade unions and, in general, that Oberhausen is a huge festival with marathon screenings covering a broad spectrum of films.


OUR MARILYN refers to Canadian Marilyn Bell and the film contrasts her public persona with that of the American Marilyn—Monroe. The viewer is  presented with stock newsreel footage of both Marilyns while a voice-over personalizes the place these two imagings had/have in a growing girl's experience/memory. Brenda explained that she had started out interested in the way women's bodies have been mythologized and the national differences in this myth-making between Canada and the U.S. At first , Brenda had approached the swim from an ironic perspective, the typical nationalistic hurray-for-us treatment of the press. But as she researched the topic, she turned towards wanting to recreate the swim. The extant media footage and newspaper photos reflect the way the swim was represented in history: they document only the beginning and the end of the swim (CBC didn't cover it at all until well towards the end)—Brenda concentrates on the middle. By optically printing certain phrases of the existing footage, repeating it, slowing it down, Brenda creates a sensing of the swim -hours upon hours, the endurance, the hallucinatory states, the breathing, the water—these recall something for everyone—water, breath... In this long middle section of the film Brenda feels she went beyond the theoretical premise of the film. Which is as well, she realized, as our bodies are beyond theory and mythology ; in their movement, power, struggle there is resistance to the containment of mythologizing.


Philip Hoffman was invited for the second year in a row to the Salso (Italy) Film and Television Festival, this year to screen his new film PASSING THROUGH/TORN FORMATIONS. Phil reports that although this is not a huge festival—one can actually see all the films screened - and although the competition is only amongst feature films, they always programme some experimental work. This year there was a Godard retrospective and, in past years they've invited Syberberg amongst others. The largest audience turn out is for the mainstream feature films, yet, Philip feels, a lot is to be gained from the networking that takes place. This has been a good thing personally for Philip, and he notes its use for distribution purposes. Film and video work from various coops is shown, usually on video; the festival acting as a meeting place for distribution, touring, contacts. Phil is planning to put together a package of Canadian films to be screened, hopefully on film, during next year's festival.

Hey! I think we have a 'school' in film happening right here- the "escarpment group" as they're being called - Rick Hancox, Richard Kerr, and now Phil Hoffman all teachers at Oakville's Sheridan College have created a recognizeable style of experimental filmmaking. Mike Hoolboom, experimental film officer at Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre instituted a prize to be awarded from the Centre for the best Sheridan student experimental film. Mike and I juried this first year. Best experimental film was awarded to Hugh Bissett's film MANTRA, an ambitious fifteen minute film, complex, sensitive, well-structured and orchestrated—and showing definite signs of the Hancox/Kerr sharp blue, blue skies, the gently panning camera caressing landscape, the Kerr/Hoffman on-the-road- autobiographical motif, and the Hoffmanesque introspective voice-over!


An update on the state of experimental film (and film in general) at the major public galleries: Meetings of the film committee at the Art Gallery of Ontario continue with the result, thus far, of the creation of a FILM DEPARTMENT headed and staffed by Cathy Jonasson and Norma. Policy and funding for this department are still in the talking stage.

The National Gallery of Canada opens its new building with a gala event which includes screenings of recently acquired videotapes—five regional programs (39 videos) which will be screened daily in the gallery throughout May and June. Films, on the other hand, rented for one screening each, will be shown Sunday and Monday evenings in a  programme of new works by independent Canadian filmmakers, EMERGING IMAGES. And this after filmmakers such as Michael Snow, David Rimmer, Joyce Wieland, Blaine Allen, Lorne Marin, Peter Dudar, Peter Lipskis, Mike Hoolboom, Chris Gallagher, Annette Mangaard, Gary Popovich, Steve Sanguadolce, myself and groups such as the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, Atlantic Filmmakers Coop, and the Film and Video Alliance ALL WROTE letters protesting the inexplicable exclusion of film acquisitions from the mandate of the FILM and video officer. What now?!


Who said that summer is down time for experimental screens? This May/June/July/August sees the light flickering at the National Gallery(see above), at Pitt International Gallery in Vancouver, in Toronto with the NORTHERN VISIONS FESTIVAL and at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The SUMMER SCREEN series at Pitt International, Sunday evenings, June through August,is being organized, gratis, by Peter Lipskis and he hopes that the gate will cover the rentals/artist fees. The programme will include films by Larry Kardish, James Benning, Carl Brown, Betty Ferguson and Ed Emshwiller.


NORTHERN VISIONS plans on becoming an annual festival of Canadian independent "films with integrity". The Board of NORTHERN VISIONS, Kim Tomczak, Paulette Phillips, Ross Turnbull, Marc Glassman, Annette Mangaard, Richard Fung, and Jeanine Marchessault, have decided to screen film and video (front screen) together in the same programmes - that is, considering time-based media as a whole of which film and video are two formats—programs which will be organized thematically, two per night during the last week in June. They are using Factory Theatre Lab as the venue in an effort to expand the number and type of venue available to film and capitalize on the common ground (and audience) between film and theatre. They plan to show mainly current work, but will also show work that, though older, is interesting and has not been screened a lot. They will try for a strong representation from Quebec, if not this year, then next . Also wanted is a strong representation of experimental film. How this event will shape up, what contribution it can make to our awareness of Canadian films and their availability to the public, how this festival will complement or compete with existing festivals all remains to be seen.


The Art Gallery of Ontario and Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre are presenting a series of four three dollar Thursdays in May: James Benning's AMERICAN DREAMS and LANDSCAPE SUICIDE; an evening of Pete Rose's short films; New works presented in person by Australian filmmaker Paul Winkler; and Yvonne Rainer's JOURNEYS FROM BERLIN and LIVES OF PERFORMERS.


Also in May are two events of interest to students of film (in the broadest sense of the term) : the Canadian Film Studies Association holds its annual meeting in Kingston, May 26-9 and The Learned Society meets immediately following in London. Papers on many topics will be given. Jim Shedden, Innis College Film Society programmer, will give a follow up on  his investigation into the teaching (or not) of experimental film in Canadian university and college film departments, and Kate Russell, newly appointed to the Queen's film department, will speak on David Rimmer's recent films.


So, all in all good and busy; busy and good!


This article was originally published in Cinema Canada, May 1989.