An evening with Saskatchewan filmmaker Gerald Saul
Experimental film screening and talk, Tuesday August 3, 2010, 7:00 pm
Presented by Heather Harkins and AFCOOP
Screening at Roberts Street Social Centre, 5684 Roberts St., Halifax, NS
PART ONE: On the road with Gerald Saul
PART TWO: At home with Gerald Saul
I am, by nature, a person who likes to be at home. Traveling is either an impulsive/ unplanned/disastrous event, an overly-planned/stressful one, or some combination. However, the nature of Saskatchewan is that it is a place to travel through or out of. Our primary exports are grain, potash, oil, uranium, and ourselves. The cities and towns are small but we all have cars, as if we are all on call for an imminent exodus. As I discuss in my film “Grain: I Can’t See the Forest Through My Dreams”, I compulsively make work while I travel, in part to distract me from the discomfort of not being at home. The first films in this package all reflect either my memories or the direct activity of travel. Ironically, while these each contain some element that were created while “away”, they were all assembled upon my return home; that is where the editing and soundtrack are generally constructed. My obsession with working close to home is reflected in the second half of the program.
Each of the “on the road” films contains a varying mixture of truth and fiction. Furthermore, although not universal to all of my work, these each contain a distinctive incarnation of myself. The first work, a super-8 film from my “Mr. Saul’s Utopia” cycle, is narrated by a fictitious “Mr. Saul”, my vision of a 1950s dad who has the enviable character trait of being certain. As he shares with his audience his love of filmmaking, his family, and order, I find myself conflicted about whether he is a complete fool or my ideal. I fear he is both. His film is a classic home movie which is shot, as in their heyday, only on vacations or on special events. The camera clearly separates the filmmaker from the events and locations he is immersed in. The narration shows the aforementioned pattern of shaping the work upon the return home just as such a home movie would be contextualized to friends or neighbours at a living room screening. Professor Delusia, one chapter of a series of Melies-influenced web videos, contains background video compulsively shot out of the rooftop of a friend’s convertible in Seattle, composited into studio footage shot in Regina. During my trip here to Maritime Canada I have compiled a number of similar video clips, 30 to 60 seconds long, to use as background plates for yet to be conceived projects. The travelling aspect of “The Thin Letter” is not as apparent. The story about the cashier took place during a trip to Saskatoon and, in an unusual burst of traveling creativity, I wrote the entire text on the bus ride home. “Untutored I” is an exploration of the Saskatchewan landscape and the colour green. I used the creation of the film as a tool to attempt to re-connect with the prairie after two years away but the camera continues to act as barrier, deflecting any true engagement with non-home. “She Said, episode 13”, from another web video series, gained an unusually high number of Youtube hits from interested vacationers. With my “Grain” series, the first of which is presented here, I am finally addressing my contradicting relationship with travel and home. It presents ideas written while traveling combined with footage shot while on supposed vacations but which acted as a means to avoid personal engagement with my holiday destinations. “How to be an Experimental Filmmaker”, yet another web video series, mined my raw travel footage from the previous film to mix sarcasm with a grain of truth to reflect upon my love/hate commitment to this art form and the role that travel can have within it. The last travel-influenced film is not a travel film at all but a piece of fiction and appropriation. “Memories of Uncle’s House” contains lens-distorted images skewing photographic slides purchased at a garage sale. The location in the story is a real place written on one of the slides. Otherwise the story reflects my own twisted memories of childhood travel with a romanticised notion of exotic discoveries that only happen in fiction.
It is through travel that I most clearly understand my desire to be home. It is in the comfort of a favourite chair, during familiar drive to a favourite store, or during a conversation with an old friend that creativity comes into focus. The chaos of travel leaves my mind confused and desperate for clarity. Much of my work is created either in my own house, my own yard, my own office, or in rooms at my workplace. Much of this work explores formalism using film chemistry, optical printing, computer manipulation, animation, or kinescoping. The element of self portraiture or my personal taking of fictitious roles in my own films has also proliferated in recent years to the point that it is a dominant characteristic. Other people to appear in these films are invariably friends and are rarely professional actors. The “How to be an Experimental Filmmaker” and “She Says…” videos all feature mine as the only voice on the soundtrack and in “is it come to this”, a video shot at my kitchen table, I even play an additional two roles on screen. After having made numerous super-8 films as a child, “Dance” was my second super-8 film as a professional. It came together magically through both its formal approach and its engagement with the Regina settings. I play characters in “Springtime for Zombies” (lead zombie), “Bonnie’s Indescribable Predicament” (Professor Delusia and the postman) and “Heart Break” (Dr. Splice) and narrate as fictitious personas or satirized versions of myself in “Memories of Uncle’s House”, “She Said”, “How to be and Experimental Filmmaker”, and “Mr. Saul”. I appear (or voice) as myself in all six “Toxic” films, “Grain” and “Modern” as I become more able to present myself to an audience without a mask. The ultimate at-home project tonight is the final “Heart Break” in which I worked closely with my son to help him shape his largely improvised script into a video with some entertainment and cohesion using a number of digital and editing tricks. While arguably just an amateur or self indulgent home movie, I was highly satisfied when William presented it as a show-and-tell item to his grade 3 class. Multiple viewings were immediately requested; how much more successful could I hope my work to ever be than that?
Gerald Saul is an associate professor of film and video production in the Department of Media Production and Studies at the University of Regina and serves on the Board of the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative where he has been a member for over 25 years. He would also like to acknowledge the Saskatchewan Arts Board and the Canada Council for their support of his work.