Made in Canada: The Art of Moving Pictures in the Age of Digital Reproduction

May 1, 2008

The name “film industry” no longer describes what is currently being done in Canada in the name of moving pictures (with or without sound) and should be canned. Not the industry, just the name.

For my recent birthday I received a gift of the Cosco movie package. It was better than a dozen roses! My birthday fell on a week night so we had to go to whatever movie was showing after 9:30 pm in Calgary’s ciniplexes. Thanks to Rotten Tomatoes and the excellent advice of someone we love we chose the perfect film for us, one we wouldn’t have chosen if we hadn’t been able to check reviews and even see clips together beforehand on-line. But what made this experience so unique, surreal, magical, romantic and totally unexpected was the empty theatre. When we realized we were going to be alone we did what we have never dared to before . . . we spread coats, belongings, refreshments over a half a dozen seats or more. We put up our feet on the seats in front of us and sprawled over seats beside us and we talked and laughed out loud during the whole movie. [digg=http://digg.com/url_to/story_on_digg]

When we finally got up to leave we realized there was one other couple nowhere near out seats. In the entire complex there seemed to only be 3 or 4 couples!

Last evening I watched Amnesia on a public library rental DVD. But quite often I just open my Quick Time Player and watch a dozen of our home made .avi clips at random, most of them shaky and murderously boring for “anyone who hadn’t been there.” Even 60 seconds of our (almost invariably poor quality) images with the sounds of wind blowing through cedars or a grain field, rain drops falling on a secluded lake in a BC provincial park, rushing spring waterfalls roaring below us as we leaned over a trestle might seem like an eternity for anyone else but us. For us those 60 seconds bring us back to an exact time and place with an added intensity that photos alone might not.

The video room at the National Gallery of Canada was one of the most people-free spaces in a huge building of people-free spaces. For high-intensity user like myself this was fine. I would take the time that so much contemporary video and interactive multimedia required. It was discouraging when the technology failed to work, as it often did, example …. installation piece entitled . It made me wonder how often the hype surrounding a particular very-well funded visual artist with enormous cultural capital and his/her work had given a life to something that may not have ever existed in the embodied world at all except in exclusive art journals and the fertile mind of the artist. (I am not referring to Conceptual Art which is clearly framed as art that exists first and primarily as concept). I was enthralled when some new technology was subverted into a totally unintended way to create brilliant works by a bricoleur/bricoleuse.

It was in these dark solitary rooms of the contemporary video section, some like Stan Douglas’ hauntingly beautiful, and culturally important travail de memoire (Spanish, British, First Nations) – Nutka series and others as small as a garden shed, (Did Wong do the cinammon on a stove element?) that some of the most memorable gallery moments occurred for me. There was one I was trying to put into words the other day that had left me breathless. It was filmed by someone with a handheld camera who simply ran after an empty paper chip bag as he was carried by gusts of wind. The primary sound that we could hear was the artist’s breathing which seemed to get louder as he got out of breath. He followed the chip bag and let the camera rest on it for long pauses between wind gusts. When the bag was picked up by the breeze and carried off over the waters the video obviously ended and there was a moment of silence that was ridiculously poignant. Which Vancouver-based video artist did that amazing loop film Paradise Island of the coconut falling then floating for infinity? Who did the one that focused on her father’s hand gestures as he spoke, not on his face and then let the camera reveal that his gestures had been inherited by her and were as clearly an indicator of their family ties as DNA? Whenever I could I would draw attention to these works to others, sometimes in a more formal role as contract art educator but even more often in conversation with others even years later . . .

Unfortunately to get to those gems I lost literally hours (of precious time I can never get back) of painfully long videos about which much ink had been spilt and that had obviously made it through the careful scrutiny of teams of experts at local, regional, national and international levels including juries of their peers and film curators at the top of their profession. Perhaps if I saw them again today with a remote control in my hand so I could fast forward, rewind, eliminate sections, turn off the sound in a large comfortable ciniplex eating buttered popcorn . . . Maybe not. But I would really love to see the paper chip bag again even if someone else did a derivative of the original . . Perhaps on Youtube or Google video?

Everyone that matters in the Canadian film industy is together in Banff preparing a portrait of what is being done in the name of the film industry.

Adina Lebo, Executive Director of ShowCanada wrote in her news release, entitled “Rollin’ in the Rockies” that the cinema of the future will be based in digital projection technology (Lebo 2008-04 filmjournal.com).

Robert Cuffley who is director of Walk All Over Me in Calgary claimed in an interview with Calgary Herald journalist Stephen Hunt that “digital film-making is changing the way movies look, and the way in which they need to be made. [It will also] put the medium into the hands of more creative people. Technological change has put more inexpensive technology in the hands of those who, 10 years ago, couldn’t dream of being able to afford to make a film. That’s no longer an excuse. [. . .] I always cite a film like Celebration, the Danish film that was so good. I think it was shot on a $1,200 camcorder (Cuffley in Hunt 2008-04-30 CH C:1,5). ”

Adina Lebo, Executive Director of the Motion Picture Theatre Association of Canada, predicted that multiplexes as we know them will gradually be replaced with a variety of cultural productions with limitless possibilities. The Motion Picture Theatre Association of Canada are hosting ShowCanada, the 22nd annual film industry of Canada’s convention currently taking place at the Banff Springs Hotel (Lebo in Hunt 2008-04-30 CH C:1,5). [This event and themes surrounding it are astonishingly not Search Engine Optimized].

Lebo argued that the future “film-less” society however will not elimate movies for those movie-lovers who have grown up with movies. The majority of what will be projected in the ciniplex-entertainment centre of the future, will be on huge digital screens. Eventually audiences won’t be watching projections of fragile physical film in cans. The shift to digital screens albeit very costly items is already well under way in Canada with 5000 digital screens installed aa of spring 2008 and a predicted increase in their use to 150% in 2009 (Lebo in Hunt 2008-04-30 CH C:1,5).

There will always be purists who prefer film and vinyl for their sight and sound enjoyment. They will be like the slow food, slow world protagonists, who maintain archives of productions from the pre-digital era.

This afternoon I will hang out my laundry on a clothes line and then I will get my gloved hands deep in dirt again, digging holes, trimming back, sawing branches, playing with white stones, buckets and planters and at the end of the day it will still look like a 1950s house with not much changed in 60 years. The flax bread in the breadmaker beeped at me awhile ago. I will probably bake something from Fanny Farmer before they arrive. That’s the really slow world. But I’m ready for Stan Douglas at Calgary’s future digital multiplexes . . .

Webliography and Bibliography

Douglas, Stan. 1996. “Nut-ka”. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON.

Hunt, Stephen. 2008. “Cinema Variety: Will Digital Technology Change the Way You Think about Yout Local Multiplex?” Calgary Herald. 2008-04-30. C:1, 5. url svp anyone?

Lebo, Adina. 2008. Rollin’ in the Rockies.” Film Journal online. http://snurl.com/26i1s [www_filmjournal_com]

Watson, Scott. 1998. Stan Douglas. London, UK: Phaidon Press.

CC 3.0 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2008. “Made in Canada: The Art of Moving Pictures in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Speechless. 2008-04-30. https://oceanflynn.wordpress.com/2008/04/30/made-in-canada http://snurl.com/26ixa

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