Review of six new films from the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative
Written by Gerald Saul

On March 16 the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative celebrated its 20th anniversary. For two decades, this organization has acted as a 16mm equipment access centre, a funder and a network base for hundreds of innovative filmmakers. To mark the event, screenings were held at the Regina Public Library on March 20th and 21st. Veteran experimental filmmaker Richard Kerr replayed his first dramatic feature, The Willing Voyeur..., on both nights. A program made up of a selection of older Filmpool films by such artists as Don List, Stephen Surjik, Spyro Egarhos and Mark Wihak was curated by Iain MacLean and Dianne Ouellette. However, the focal point of the festivities was the premiere of six new Saskatchewan films. Nocturne by Michael Crochetiere was a mesmerizing display of light and colour which captured the romance of a not-quite-sleeping city. During its six minutes, Nocturne carries the viewer through tunnels and alleyways, grasping at each moment of light and holding it like a champagne on the palate, an intense pleasure which slips away as quickly as it began. Crochetiere made the film by selecting brief moments from footage he shot ten years ago and through the use of an optical printer he slowed them down or even froze the action completely. His carefully controlled rhythm was echoed by the haunting classical music composed by Robert Rosen. Although the majority of the screen remained shrouded in darkness, this film shines as the gem amongst this evenings new works.

First time filmmaker Dianne Ouellette created a disturbing little film Srassha. Ouellette does not explore the formal film elements as Crochetiere does but rather uses film to capture a series of visual metaphors. The images seem gripped in a dream-like calm. A young girl skips rope in slow motion, alone in a desolate alley. Two other figures, an ominous man with angel's wings and a woman covered with clay lying in a blood red bathtub seem to watch over the girl. The girl picks up the feathers of the angel, joining him in the realm of the dead. However, there is no fear and no regret; the girl continues to skip as before, frozen in time and on celluloid. Aside from the naive and rather grating soundtrack, Srassha is a gripping and thought provoking film. By remaining short (six minutes) it is able to weave powerful symbols without being burdened with a didactic narrative.

Long time Filmpool member Brian Stockton premiered TV Stories, a one-room structural film reminiscent of Michael Snow's Wavelength (1967). Stockton replaces Snow's zoom with mathematical editing, cut to the rhythm of a clock. Although having high production values, being beautifully shot by cinematographer Barry Parrel and backed by a large crew and by the Toronto-based Canadian Film Centre, Stockton fails to expand in any way upon the outdated art of structural filmmaking. TV Stories appears to be only a trite mimicry of an art film. The minimal action in which a man listens to his answering machine and makes a phone call reveals Stockton's belief that discussing old episodes of The Bionic Woman constitutes a meaningful conversation. As has been my experience with numerous works from the Film Centre, money cannot replace soul.

It's A Conscious Thing is an ambitious half-hour documentary by Gordon Pepper about pianist John Robertson. Pepper captures his subject not only through interview, but films Robertson while he is teaching a student, performing publicly and even away from the piano, cycling down busy Calgary streets. The focus of the film strays from the pianist and the music to "passion" and the act of expression. The advice Roberson gives his student about the music, about how one must inject passion into every moment, can be taken as advice to anyone, in any walk of life. These are not just words. Roberson demonstrates his philosophy in every action from playing to teaching to riding. Pepper's film tries to keep up to the energy level of this musician and often, especially on the busy streets, succeeds. It's A Conscious Thing is a better than ordinary film about an extraordinary man.

Another newcomer, Tobi Lampard, presented two new films this evening. The first was a precious little glimpse at memory and anxiety encapsulated in a three minute film One... Two... Along with Nocturne, this is one of the most enjoyable films of the program. While the images only occasionally correspond to the voice-over soundtrack, all elements of the film were filled with whimsy. The picture was made up of two main elements, images of a girl with band-aids stuck onto various parts of her body are intercut with segments of a woman, a dancer, with textured images super-imposed on top of her. These two figures represent two sides of the filmmaker/narrator, the hurt girl full of fear and the confident, multi-layered adult. The soundtrack of the film also consists of two elements, a voice and the constant dull thumping of a heartbeat, a rhythm that one full of fear always hears. The voice is that of an adult, the filmmaker, reminiscing about the anticipation of having a band-aid pulled off. I believe everyone could relate to the tension of the words "One, Two" as they are repeated over and over. We can all feel the pain that comes with "three". This act of counting draws out the fearful child still that remains within all of us.

Lampard's other film, the multiple Saskatchewan Showcase award-winning Remember In Between The Forget, is a ten minute study of her mother, post-modern visual artist Eileen Lampard. Posed among various tableau vivant, the artist is interviewed and tells us about her life and how she came from urban Britain to rural Saskatchewan. The imagery in intense and lush making direct reference to classical paintings by such artists as Botticelli, The Birth of Venus and Manet's Olympia and more than a nod to Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, 1991. However, the practised reading of the words gave them a stinted sound. Performers stood and posed in the scenes, forming the film into a lush spectacle but disrupting any intimacy that might have existed. Unlike another Greenaway video feature, Death in the Seine, 1989, Lampard fails to merge form and content into a cohesive, informative documentary. Because of this, the film remains only a study of an artist's studio and not of the woman who lives and breaths and works within such a space.

While the Saskatchewan Filmpool does not lack members who are dedicated to narrative filmmaking, the works which have gained this twenty year old co-op its reputation continue to be non-narrative documentaries and experimental films such as those shown this week.

 

Gerald Saul 2005