Wednesday, August 04, 2010

TIFF 10 Preview: Hot Wavelengths and Lacklustre Real to Reel

Gee, just a month til opening night (okay five weeks), and most of the programming yet to be announced. To last week's line-up of Galas, Special Presentations and some Masters, today TIFF released Wavelengths and the lion's share of Real to Reel. Readers of this blog (and apparently you exist) know that Wavelengths is one of my favourite programs. The ingenuity, diversity and creativity of programmer Andréa Picard continues with this year's announced films.

The genre 'experimental film' is so murky and undefined that it can allow for a wonderfully wide range of thematic groupings, as Picard testifies to year after year. Her instinct is such that the programs inevitably do what programs should: allow the works to inform each other. It is such an interesting thing for me how programming like this actually achieves what many omnibus films (like Paris Je T'Aime) built around a common theme, try to do and fail.

Here then is a profile of the six Wavelengths programmes, taken from Picard's Press Release notes:
"Wavelengths 1: Soul of the City: As the pace of the contemporary urban experience grows faster and the world becomes increasingly fractured, artists are documenting the vestiges and layers revealed in flux; global updates on the city symphony." This collection of seven shorts set to open the series includes Nishikawa's Tokyo-Ebisu, "a 16mm in-camera patchwork constructed from multiple viewpoints from the platforms of Tokyo’s busiest railway line, Yamanote, and a masking technique which exposes 1/30th of a frame 30 times in order to capture an image of spectral apparitions." So... that's Kabuki/Noh meets Tom Tykwer...?

Wavelengths 2 is themed 'Plein Air': "As with painting, natural light and colour are inexhaustible sources of inspiration for film and video artists, whose plein-air shooting radically transforms our scenic views, offering a stirring ephemerality and, in some cases, a poignant intimacy." This program looks so good that I couldn't pick one to feature and so I'm including the whole write-up.
"In Vincent Grenier’s Burning Bush (Canada/U.S.A.), a virtuosic use of video sets a burning bush alight with crimson colour and spiritual flight. Kaleidoscopic colour, parenting and art-making coalesce in John Price’s domestic life frieze Home Movie (домашнее кино) (Canada), an extended portrait of his children captured with an old Russian 35mm camera and a variety of expired film stock. Ouverture (Canada/France) [pictured at top] by Christopher Becks is a serene, yet kinetic in-camera meditation on an old barn in Normandy. Philipp Fleischmann’s Cinematographie (Austria) reinvents the filmstrip by way of an astonishing 360 degree camera obscura construction, which allows for a continuous image to emerge like a scroll. Recently blown-up to 16mm from its original super 8mm, Helga Fanderl’s intimate triptych, Blow-Ups: Portrait, Tea Time, Red Curtain (Germany) is a tender depiction of a love affair. Anne Truitt, Working (U.S.A.) is a portrait of the Minimalist painter and sculptor elegantly observed by Jem Cohen. Madison Brookshire’s Color Films 1 & 2 (U.S.A.) close the programme with winsome wavelength compositions of light."

Wavelengths 3: Ruhr is devoted entirely James Benning's environmental chronicle of the Ruhr Valley in Germany and includes a 1 hour single shot!

Wavelengths 4: Pastourelle will be a must for me, focussing on the gorgeous images of Nathaniel Dorsky. This series has a slightly spiritual bent, featuring the trio Compline, Aubade and Pastourelle. "Compline is the final film Dorsky was able to shoot on Kodachrome, his preferred and longtime-used film stock. Aubade, which is a poem evoking daybreak, signals a new beginning, with his shooting on colour negative. Glimpses of Paris – the abstraction of its flickering neon signs, the elegance of its views - appear in both Aubade and Pastourelle, the latter presented here as a World Premiere." T. Marie's Water Lilies is a perfect way to end this program.

Wavelengths 5 is called Blue Mantle and will speak in a strange way to my acadenic interests, as it is focussed on oceans and seas as a 'mythic source of life' and 'legendary call to death'. Here is a brilliant example of how subtle and sublime Picard's programming is. These three shorts wind up this programme: "Rebecca Meyers’ blue mantle (U.S.A.) is an ode to the ocean, intercutting between the mesmeric sea with its glistening, beckoning waters and various representations of the deep. Meyers crafts an ambitious treatise buoyed by the breadth of its cast. The apocalyptic sublime of J. M. W. Turner’s 1840 masterpiece The Slave Ship, with its fiery conflagration and strewn debris amid wild waters, is the source for T. Marie’s time-based pixel painting-film Slaveship (U.S.A.). A languorous, searing abstraction with a hot palette updates the classic scene in reference to today’s skewed social hierarchy and the selling of human life. Hell Roaring Creek (U.S.A.) is the latest film by experimental anthropologist Lucien Castaign-Taylor, co-director of Sweetgrass. A static camera records the coming of day as a shepherd leads his flock of sheep across the titular stream in a prismatic, painterly pastoral."

Finally, Wavelengths 6: Coming Attractions is perhaps the most exciting and plays into one of the early classes I will be teaching in my new course at Humber this fall. Looking comparatively at early silent era films and contemporary experimental shorts, here again we have an example of sophisticated programming: "Peter Tscherkassky's Coming Attractions (Austria) is a sly, sartorial comedy masterfully mining the relationship between early cinema and the avant-garde, by way of fifties era advertising. With references to Méliès, Lumières, Cocteau, Léger, Chomette, the film playfully explores cinema's subliminal possibilities using an impressive arsenal of techniques like solarization, optical printing and multiple exposures. Completing the evening’s attractions is a selection from EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ Bits and Pieces project (Netherlands), which restores and compiles “anonymous, unidentified or otherwise interesting fragments”, saving them from oblivion for our viewing pleasure. The archival prints will be presented with live piano accompaniment by William O’Meara."

Cannot wait!!!

Meanwhile, in the same day, TIFF announced the bulk of Real to Reel, and as excited as I was by Wavelengths, I am disappointed in this slate. Of these, the only one that caught my eye turned out not to be Real to Reel, but a late announced Masters entry (but still a documentary): Patricio Guzman's Nostalgia for the Light. "In Chile's Atacama Desert, astronomers peer deep into the cosmos in search for answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby, a group of women sift through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Pinochet’s regime. Master filmmaker Patricio Guzmán contemplates the paradox of their quests." I think that sounds fantastic.

I will say that I am intrigued by Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's look at the Chauvet caves in Southern France, where no one has ever shot. This could be absolutely enchanting, or tedious, depending on which version of Herzog is in play. Naomi Kawase's Genpin, a look at a birthing clinic in Japan and the bond between mother and child with a gynecologist who has been practicing for 40 years, could also be fine.

Otherwise, the R to R line-up is mostly an unappealing fare of stuff including boxers and the man who brought down the Governor of New York in a sex scandal. And who knows what to make of the Indian film The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical (Sarah McCarthy), documenting a production of the Sound of Music among Mumbai street children. This is one of those times when you have to trust the Festival that there will be more going on here than the late-night child sponsorship infomercial spoof that springs to mind. (Is there such a thing? I have no idea. But there could be!)

More to come.... (TIFF also announced one more Gala a profile of Bruce Springsteen with a title too long to copy in here and another Masters add-in, Jorgen Leth's Erotic Man.)

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