Codes For North – Foundations of the Canadian Avant-Garde Film
by Stephen Broomer
Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, 2017
Perhaps because the avant-garde cinema is of a highly personal and fluid nature and the slightest rigidity risks betraying its multiplicity of forms and aims, critical endeavors addressing the avant-garde cinema through the lens of national identity have not flourished to the extent of national cinema studies. While we have great tomes such as Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (P. Sitney), Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema (P. Tscherkassky, ed.), and Jeune, dure et pure! Une histoire du cinéma d’avant-garde et experimental en France (N. Brenez, ed.), more often than not, geography is taken as the point of departure instead of the point of arrival for conclusions and perspectives hinged upon cultural identity. Coming out of the intellectual tradition that gave birth to the tremendous wisdom of Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture (B. Elder), Stephen Broomer shares the impulse to contemplate Canadian cinema within the framework of national history and cultural identity and in turn to locate and enunciate Canadian culture’s philosophical underpinnings through its cinematic vision. He addresses himself to this task in his recent book Codes for North: Foundations of the Canadian Avant-Garde Film.
To identify ancestors of Canadian avant-garde cinema, one might immediately think of Norman McLaren and his famed animation department at the National Film Board (NFB). While the NFB housed many talents, including Arthur Lipsett whose found footage collage films pushed the boundaries of experimental filmmaking in Canada at the time, neither the institutional culture of NFB nor the singular vision of Lipsett was able to foster a wider and sustained interest among filmmakers to pursue the subversive innovativeness of the avant-garde. Meanwhile, the rise of abstract painting in Québec in the ‘50s and ‘60s could have been a driving force of parallel experimentations in cinema, except the young Québecois cineastes followed the example of the French nouvelle vague and chose to pursue new modes of narrative. What is later to be called the Canadian avant-garde film would find its creator in visual artists instead.
Enter the three pairs of protagonists: Jack Chambers and The Hart of London (1970), Michael Snow and La Région Centrale (1971), and Joyce Wieland and Reason Over Passion (1969). Different from the niche subject of his first book Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board, these canonical figures demand revelations beyond existent literature. Broomer’s approach is unique in itself. He keenly recognizes that “the difficult aesthetics of the foundational, major works of the Canadian avant-garde film have been an implicit theme in the critical discourse surrounding them” and a focused study of this under-developed theme would reveal some of the underlying tenents of the Canadian avant-garde film. The aesthetics of difficulty is not unique to art of any specific form or period, and the experience of difficulty is especially not unfamiliar even to the most sophisticated aficionados of avant-garde cinema. What Codes for North aims and achieves to do, though, is capture the moment in history where Chambers, Snow and Wieland confronted the perceptual paradoxes and pursued difficult forms and philosophy in their own art which later prove to have set the stage for Canadian avant-garde filmmaking.
Before delving into the variety and depth of difficulty, Broomer is first and foremost concerned with the formation and evolution of the creative mind. The films and the filmmaking practice of the three artists are never presented as stand-alone incidents but continuation, culmination, or deviation within the context of their personal history and artistic trajectory. For example, he observes:
“Snow wrote poems and text sparingly, but one early text, ‘Title or Heading’ (1961), served as a free form statement of his ideas about art that included aphorisms, descriptive expressions and lists of influences from Gustave Flaubert to Art Blakey. It was an inventory, a mode of speech, rife with enclosures and allusions, a declaration of art as ‘Difficult Entertainment’”
“Chambers had known terror in Spain, embodied in the predators that stalked the suffering Picasso-like figures of his paintings of the late 1950s. They were the specters of illness, poverty and indifference. Such beasts gave form to the stalking menace of modern convenience and the complacency that Chambers had seen first in provincial London’s resigned imitation of life.”
Broomer’s thorough attention to the creative genesis and process ensure his interpretation of the specifics to be exact and balanced. With the exception of Snow who is still actively making art today, the works of Chambers and Wieland are rarely being exhibited or discussed, especially outside Canada, suffering from a certain parochialism resulted from the materiality of experimental films. Like Bart Testa said, they have “settled in as a classic, but in the most inert sense.” (The Films of Jack Chambers, K. Elder, ed.). Codes for North is thus a much needed revival. As it awakens film scholarship to re-examine its unfinished thoughts on the difficult aesthetics, maybe it will also rekindle the curatorial curiosity in showing these films more.
In deciphering the making of difficulty, Broomer’s solution is two-fold. On one hand, he finds measured assistance in the typology George Steiner theorized in his 1978 essay “On Difficulty,” which locates four kinds of difficulty in allusions to uncommon knowledge (contingent difficulty), disagreement between form and content (modal difficulty), textual encodement (tactical difficulty), and ultimate unknowability (ontological difficulty). The typology introduces a productive structure to our appreciation of the difficult aesthetics, and Broomer utilizes its intelligence with much precision:
“The primary difficulty is that of its modal incongruity, as a work determinedly about the scale and glory of the landscape that yet endorses vision and experience on an intimate scale. …This modal incongruity serves the purpose of communicating even converting an audience to, patriotic ideals, by turning away from picture postcard visions of the Canadian landscape, turning instead toward a representational mode that de-familiarizes, that forces the viewer into a direct perceptual relation not only to the shapes of mountains and lakes but to the experience of passing to sea and to sea. In hand with this, Wieland’s tactical difficulties encoded Reason Over Passion with patriotic sentiment, enhancing her propagandistic intent.” (p. 226)
On the other hand, he avoids overriding the films’ complexity with a theoretical framework and commits himself to painstaking research of source materials, comprehensive analysis of techniques, and eloquent reading of plastic expressions. Instead of prescribing the visceral experience of cinema to abstract terms, Broomer’s telling preserves the films in an intimacy that belongs to the artist’s hand as well as the spectator’s eye. Whether it is Chambers’ mystifying superimposition, Wieland’s encoded heterogeneity, or Snow’s mechanized choreography, Broomer’s tireless account of details can sometimes out-smart the reader’s familiarity with the films. He knows them so well I suspect he has every image memorized. This requires and almost forces the reader to revisit the films with the same vigor, which makes the text an unprecedented and invaluable reading companion to these difficult viewings.
One protagonist that Broomer faithfully returns to throughout the book is Canada. Oscillating between the British origin and American attraction, between English conditioning and French influence, Broomer’s Canada is a difficult notion that undergoes constant transformation, thus calling for endless rumination. In Chambers, Snow and Wieland, Broomer sees an unintended embodiment of Canada. They let the North fully inhabit the political, psychological, and pictorial sphere of their works, and it is in this that they bring the avant-garde cinema of Canadian identity into existence. While I wish Broomer elaborated a little more on how the films and thinking of Chambers, Snow, and Wieland influenced the artists that came after, I also wish more scholars would take on the delicate exercise of contemplating the connection between formal matters of avant-garde cinema and cultural identity, because when it is done properly, like Broomer’s Codes for North, it is truly enlightening.
Premio CAMIRA — Caerán lóstregos do ceo (Adrián Canoura)
Por saber aunar en sus imágenes la esencia de lo lo real y sobrenatural de la tradición en una propuesta sensorial tan armónica como lúgubre.
Mención especial — Fugue, A Light’s Travelogue (Els van Riel)
Una secuencia sinfín de hallazgos visuales y texturas en cuya búsqueda encuentra el sentido de su fuerte compromiso conceptual.
The Moroccan association of images and medias is organising the fifth film festival of Cap Spartel in Tangier under the name of Khalid Michbal. The topic of this term will be about Identities and minorities. The festival will be held between 4th – 7th April 2018.
This year, Cap Spartel International film festival will mainly focus on the relationship between cinema and minorities taking into consideration the organising side that selects films with cultural and educational dimensions. The selected films will deal with the phenomena of identities and minorities. In addition to this, the festival is organising various workshops and seminars for students and researchers.
The opening ceremony of the festival will give the floor to three shows. The first one is going to be about the projection of some photos (taken by Nafss Zakia Ibn Soubaih) of Porto, Portugal. The second one is going to deal with the history of FADO music in collaboration with the Portuguese Embassy. The last show will also focus on the cultural exchange between Tangier and Dan hang, where large minorities live and coexist.
Two important things will be added to the festival. Youth’s prize under the name of the artist Larbi Yaacoubi. This will pave the road for Youth of the region to share their experiences in cinema and discuss them with the audience. The selection of the winers will be decided by a Jury (press and critics) that contains critics and journalists from different countries.
The association will honor the deceased of national press, Khalid Michbal and Ami Driss. So, honoring someone each year will be a tradition for Cap Spartel film festival.
Cap Spartel film festival will thus honnour the portuguese cinema and the finnish one by screening aki kaurismaki films too.
The first-round table of the festival will be about Identities and Minorities in cinema. This latter will be animated by academics and researchers. Also, during the festival there will be a meeting session with directors from different countries such as: Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Belgium. Another meeting will be with the representatives of some foreign festivals in which they will present and discuss the important things about their festivals.
Two workshops are scheduled. The first one will be about the techniques of writing a scenario animated by Youssef Karami and two others will be about the techniques of animation animated by Ibrahim Nawajha from Palestine and Fernado Galrito from Portugal.
Besides this, there will be some reading of poems from Morocco, Spain and Portugal,and Morocco. This term will also honor the great poet Fernando Pessoa by screening audio films on him curated by Sofia Saldanha from Portugal.
With the advent of new technologies, there are clearly more and more artists who are experimenting with the emergent possibilities. TENT is relatively a new open-space in Calcutta, the city of joy, that came into being in December 2012 and since then is calling out to artists willing to plunge into this new prospect and expand the meaning of existing art practices by transgressing the boundaries, where perhaps the dilettante and even the foolhardy will produce the new drift of art. Clearly, the digital turn and the omnipresence of new media in our quotidianess have transformed the ways in which art may be produced, received, and understood. In this regard, Little Cinema International Festival which had its 4th edition during December 08-10, 2017 have already created a mark on the national and international scene by showcasing a collection of experimental shorts, as well as some staggering videos and new media art works from all across the globe, from Europe, from far east Asia, selected shorts from Berlinale, KASSELER DOK FEST, from South America namely Argentina and Brazil among many other works that challenged the prevalent structure of narrative cinema erasing the limits between genres, styles and formats. The festival is jointly hosted by TENT, Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan in Kolkata and Studio 21 and is supported by India Foundation for the Arts in Bangalore, Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art, Berlin, artvideo KOELN, and Short Film Festival, Oberhausen.
Mallarmé once said that everything in the world exists to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a film. The film series “Ventos de Rio” musters works by Brazilian artists Katia Maciel and André Parente for their maiden exhibition in India. The couple live and work in Rio de Janeiro and teach at the Federal University. Their research has ushered them to the passage of film history, new media and the visual arts, almost en passant.
André Parente´s works concern with the substantial questions of the visible. His familiarity with the moving image dates back to the 1970s when he appeared as a young performer in the videos of his mother Letícia Parente, a pioneer of electronic media in Brazil. Later on, he started deconstructing cinematic conventions with his original insights and discernment that led to a modus operandi that is playful, direct, and apparently simple in its range of graphic devices and technologies of recording and projection, yet, having the potential to place its viewers at the abyss, by engaging not so simple dimension of the visible namely those intrinsic to stereoscopy, parallax, anamorphosis, fractal geometry, and topology. According to the artist, “every photomechanical image, whether analogical or digital, raises the question of its relation to the referent.” And his images, routinely and repeatedly recorded in real time, slow down meaning, proposition and essence when they tend to skedaddle, as they are circumnavigated more than once until they start to look perplexing, paradoxical and perhaps unaccountable. “Estereoscopia” entirely consists of an infinite zoom wrapping the images of the couple photographed in shot/reverse shot conceptually reproducing fractal image in which one part contains the whole. The rotation motif unfolds as the images in “Circuladô” show bodies continuously performing circular movements and are taken from modern post-war film archives, namely Rossellini’s “Flowers of St. Francis” (1950), Rocha’s “Black God, White Devil” (1964) and Pasolini’s “Oedipus Rex” (1967), often referring to a reflective way to the loop technique in modern media. The confabulated images of “Dona Raimunda”, the legendary story teller in “Canoa Quebrada” recorded over more than 35 years subverts the subservient condition by understanding the phenomenon of artistic creation as an outcome and essence of the feminine reminding us of the celebrated Japanese film “Woman in the dunes” (1964) by Teshigahara as an antithesis. And finally it is the Bressonian hands that possess the physical and spiritual world of ”The wind blows wherever it wants”, destined to be a homage to the great French Master.
Katia Maciel´s oeuvre, on the other hand, emphasizes repetition and variation, a structural principle that is imposed upon many of her films and carried together based on a standard and formal motion, a visual motif that configures experience as kind of “theme-and-variations” game. She is attracted by the assessments and inductions of reiteration, working almost towards the use of contemplation as a mechanism akin to hypnosis – in the sense that it involves the spectator in the loop composed of the small gesture, the mechanical restatement of cognizance, the perceived passivity of the populace that could be deceptive. In “Uma árvore”, the binary rhythm of expansion and contraction of the branches of a tree evokes the hypnotic rhythm of slow breathing. A woman keeps on feeding necklaces around her neck up to disfigurement in “Colar”. Whereas “Via” and “Autobiography” are more of a gesture for reading books and being read by them, In her own words the artist states “I think that is my structure of reading and writing. Being hanged among them is a gesture. My library is my state of mind, my impulse to connect things between them and me, my form and my breathing. Being hung among them is a way of life. “Suspension” is also the feeling of displacements in space and time. It is the body state of language. Being suspended is a gesture and a way of living”. “Vulto” repeats the same motif but this time we see a woman who swings being suspended from a tree. In “Casa-construção”, the observer is excluded from the construction of the narrative, it is both the dialogue and the non-dialogue at the same time. The work defines itself as a film in three parts, and the decision about the montage corresponds exclusively to the author. In the first part, a female character is alone in an empty house. In a series of scenes, she expresses in short phrases her doubts about the impossibility and emptiness of a relationship between two people. In the second part, a lonely male enters the house and acts in an identical fashion. The encounter between them takes place in the third part, when the dialogue which has barely been hinted at to begin with, takes shape and the pieces of the game fit together, thus giving rise to the disappearance of the dichotomy between construction-reconstruction.
The collaborative works they produce, contemporary par excellence, are built upon a hybrid practice blending art with theory, either produced in tandem or individually, takes its cue from the evolution of film and video, convergence of philosophy and literature, and revolves around the relationship between space and landscape, performance, identity and difference, and extended temporality, among others. Relationships that intermittently add and multiply; ofttimes, they even subtract and divide, in a nutshell the relationship as the subject and the mathematics as its form. These kind of processes are accumulated through time and are juxtaposed to create an alternative vision. The collection of works gathered here expresses some of these operations. The recurrence of gestures and movements makes up a tender vocabulary that has a distinguishing feature implying construction and deconstruction, conflict and affection in every possible ways. “Contorno”, the first collaborative installation is more of a performance than anything else. A man encircles a woman’s body with a graphite pencil. Then, the woman encircles the man’s body, and thus the drawing continues until it reaches the end of the wall. The artists Katia Maciel and André Parente make the outline of themselves producing a continuous drawing, reproducing their movement as a live cinema. This work approaches the idea of multiplicity within the couple. Far from being something which unifies everything, their archive filmmaking distinguishes discourse, highlighting its unique qualities of multiple existence. In the final film of the series “+2”, the couple lie down, one after the other, along a deck that advances over the sea. The bodies disappear when they are horizontal but only appear when they are vertical thus challenging the very idea of Plato’s perspectivism of vision. In these set of works by the artists, every action indicates the use of the concept of measure and time on the body projected into architectures and landscapes, the body is not the measure of everything, the body merely expresses the meaning of being a couple and all problematic between one and two together. These works place us squarely before some of the crucial debates and tensions namely whether art can be considered as a viable space for expression for freedom and whether this can be understood as a game or duel (like a capoeira) so that there can be as many pieces as can fit into the round like in a game of micro-narratives which hark back to our childhood offering a cornucopia of pleasure, fugitive and invigorating, where the idea of complementarity is nothing but a cursory comfort.
DAWAWINE BEIRUT presents LAND(E)SCAPES, a program of ten films first proposed by Toni D’Angela for FRONTEIRA, the international documentary and experimental film festival that takes place annually in the city of Goiânia, Goiás in Brazil; and that we have the pleasure of hosting at Dawawine. This program gathers films that cast unusual gazes on usual landscapes, presenting the filmic medium as a space where these sceneries can become a getaway, a movement of flight, a fugue, through which one can free themselves and the landscape from its habitual image.
Short text about the program here.
STILL WATERS by Robert Todd
USA | 2016 | 9′ | Color | Sound | 16 mm presented in digital format
PHYSICAL RESPONSES by Robert Todd
USA | 2016 | 7′ | B&W | Silent | 16 mm presented in digital format
THE BOW AND THE CLOUD by Stephen Broomer
Canada | 2016 | 8′ | Color | Silent | 16 mm presented in digital format
FACING THE WAVES by Eva Kolcze
Canada | 2016 | 5′ | Color | Silent | 16 mm and 8 mm presented in digital format
THE GREEN RAY by Scott Barley
UK | 2017 | 12′ | Color | Sound | Digital
TEN MORNINGS, TEN EVENINGS, ONE HORIZON by Tomonari Nichikawa
Japan | 2016 | 10′ | Color | Sound | 16 mm presented in digital
HÁ TERRA by Ana Vaz
Brasil/France | 2016 | 13′ | Color | Sound | 16 mm presented in digital format with English subtitles
IN THE VICINITY by Kelly Sears
USA | 2016 | 9′ | Color and B&W | Sound | Digital
THE WATCHMEN by Fern Silva
USA | 2017 | 10′ | Color | Sound | 35 mm presented in digital format
CIRCUMSTANTIAL PLEASURES by Lewis Klahr
USA | 2017 | 15′ | Color | Sound | Digital
Entrevues Belfort est le festival international du jeune cinéma indépendant et novateur : compétition internationale de premières œuvres (1er, 2eet 3e film), rétrospectives…
BINISAYA is a festival made in Cebu in the Bisaya language.
Since 2009, it has been pushing bounderies of Philippine Regional Cinema
Entre os dias 20 e 22 de março de 2017 acontece em Goiânia o Ver Cinema – Encontro Internacional de Programadores de Cinema. O evento acontece de forma paralela ao III Fronteira Festival Internacional do Filme Documentário e Experimental.
Com o objetivo de reunir profissionais e pesquisadores que pensam a programação brasileira de filmes e obras audiovisuais, o Ver Cinema abre a todos os interessados a oportunidade de debater e repensar a relação do público com as criações audiovisuais produzidas e exibidas em todo o mundo. O evento é gratuito, aberto a toda a população e ocorre no formato de 3 (três) mesas temáticas, que reúnem convidados brasileiros e estrangeiros, que participam do encontro como colaboradores propositivos.
Em cada debate é possível discutir desde a programação e curadoria de festivais e mostras, passando pela exibição de conteúdos por cineclubes, cinematecas, museus, centros culturais, pontos de cultura, salas não comerciais de cinema, chegando até itinerâncias e projetos de exibições especiais.