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Avant-Garde Film and Video Showcased In Toronto’s Wavelengths Program

Avant-Garde Film and Video Showcased In Toronto's Wavelengths Program

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced the lineup for its Wavelengths program, a presentation of avant-garde film and video that runs September 11-14 at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario. Curated by TIFF Cinematheque programmer Andrea Picard, this year’s lineup is composed of six programs that feature 25 films and videos, including works by masters of experimental cinema such as Ernie Gehr, Michael Snow and Karl Kels; artists such as Harun Farocki, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Heinz Emigholz; world cinema giants such as Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub and Lisandro Alonso; and emerging artists such as Ben Russell, T. Marie and Tomonari Nishikawa.

“The works in this year’s Wavelengths display a confident, gutsy and personal engagement with the world” said Picard, in a statement. “This is a lineup of first rate filmmakers and artists, whose interrogations of history and our current socio-economic climate often include a daring form of self-portraiture – one that equally explores the mediums of film and video in the most provocative and profound ways.”

The announced programs are listed below with descriptions provided by the festival:

Wavelengths 1: Titans
George Melies’ playful and eccentric spirit hovers throughout Wavelengths’s opening programme. Klaus Lutz’s Titan (USA), is a charming, artisanal space odyssey during which the filmmaker doubles as an intrepid astronaut simultaneously creating and voyaging through space. Heinz Emigholz’s Two Projects by Frederick Kiesler (Austria/Germany) is the latest instalment of his internationally lauded Photography and Beyond series. The film renders homage to this visionary Viennese architect whose wild and wonderful genius was little understood during his lifetime. T. Marie’s 010101 (USA) is an incredibly meticulous digital painting, offering one minute, one second and one frame of shimmering and breathtaking beauty through its diaphanous and forever-changing palette. American avant-garde master Ernie Gehr’s stunning Waterfront Follies (USA) is a work of extended sublime that presents a view of the Brooklyn harbour as it is continuously interrupted by the flow of human interaction. The film’s structure and soundtrack work as a reminder of the constant intersections between life’s impulsiveness and beauty. Likewise, enigmatic human poetry in motion spills forth from Josef Dabernig’s Hotel Roccalba (Austria), a sonata of inactivity starring the filmmaker’s family whose gestures of leisure conspire to operatic heights. Puccini Conservato (Canada/Italy) by Michael Snow, to whom Wavelengths is dedicated, was commissioned by the Lucca Film Festival for the 150th anniversary of the famous Italian composer’s birth. In this delightful video, the Canadian master offers a witty visual and sonic commentary to Puccini’s La Boheme.

Wavelengths 2: Pro Agri
In a time of tampered food and farming, an appreciation for nature and its untold mysteries is as strong as ever. Tomonari Nishikawa’s Lumphini 2552 (Thailand) is an exhilarating chiaroscuro montage of still photographs taken in Bangkok’s inner-city oasis, Lumphini Park. Nicky Hamlyn’s Pro Agri (UK) is a time-lapse composition that bears a powerful and timely pro-land, pro-agriculture message. Cordao Verde (Portugal) by first-time filmmakers Hiroatsu Suzuki and Rossana Torres is part poem and part documentary that observes farmers in the greenbelt of Portugal as they work and rejoice off the land’s riches. Chris Kennedy’s serene and painterly Tamalpais (Canada) was filmed while perched high above San Francisco. The majesty of the landscape materializes in relation to an easel-mounted grid that not only recalls the tradition of plein air perspective painting but also reverses the spatio-temporal dynamics inherent to cinema. Bookending the programme in 35mm black and white is Karl Kels’s Kaefig (Germany), an incredible, archaic burlesque dance of rhinoceroses that uses high-contrast and positive-negative juxtapositions to blend notions of domesticity and wilderness.

Wavelengths 3: Let Each One Go Where He May
Let Each One Go Where He May (USA) is the stunning feature debut of celebrated Chicago-based filmmaker Ben Russell. Having its world premiere in Toronto, the film traces the extensive journey of two unidentified brothers who venture from the outskirts of Paramaribo, Suriname, on land and through rapids, past a Maroon village on the Upper Suriname River, tracing the voyage undertaken by their ancestors, who escaped from slavery at the hands of the Dutch 300 years prior. Shot almost entirely with a 16mm Steadicam rig in thirteen extended tracking shots, this cartographic portrayal of contemporary Saramaccan culture is a rigorous and exquisite work that partakes in and dismantles traditional ethnography, inviting anachronism and myth-making to participate in the film’s daring conflation of history.

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Wavelengths 4: Une Catastrophe
From agitprop to poetry, personal expressions of historical and collective memory confront spectres from the past throughout this programme. With The Secret School (Greece), Marina Gioti delves into one of the most contentious nationalist debates in Greece: the existence of illegal “secret schools” allegedly operating under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church during the Turkish Ottoman rule. While the world eagerly awaits his new feature, Jean-Luc Godard’s Une Catastrophe (Austria) has its Canadian premiere in Toronto. Returning to the essayistic style that has come to define his extensive post-Nouvelle Vague body of work, the film brings a flash of the director’s prosody, complete with the grunting sounds of a tennis match, a dash of German melodrama and his signature epigrammatic wordplay. Despite the loss of his filmmaking partner and wife, Daniele Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub has been steadfast in his filmmaking. The international premiere of Le Streghe, femmes entre elles (France/Italy), like last year’s heart-rending Le Genou d’Artemide, is based on Cesare Pavese’s Dialogues with Leuco. Nature’s splendour, as Straub has always filmed it, pulses with everlasting energy throughout this delicately profound chimerical intersection of im/mortality. The North American premiere of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s equally masterful A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (Thailand/UK/Germany) is a segment from his multi-platform project Primitive (see also his single-channel installation Phantoms of Nabua, presented as part of Future Projections). Filming in Nabua in northeastern Thailand, site of a bloody 1965 battle between communist farmers and the totalitarian government, Apichatpong employs a roving, floating camera and incantatory omniscient narration to simultaneously evoke the dangerous cycles of violence and repression, and the hope of perpetual rebirth and remembrance. David Gatten’s Abbreviation for Dead Winter (USA) from his Invisible Ink series, captures passages from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as they are lifted from the page, resulting in residual ink spots and fibres that evoke metaphors of migration and distances.

Wavelengths 5: In Comparison
Lisandro Alonso (Liverpool, Los Muertos) creates a face-to-face encounter with the wild in the beguiling and enigmatic S/T (Argentina), a moment observed in a seemingly floating abyss. Observation is also the main modus of Harun Farocki’s latest film, In Comparison (Austria/Germany), which revisits issues explored in the director’s 2007 two-channel installation Comparison Via a Third. This handsome 16mm colour film, which will have its North American premiere in Toronto, is a deceptively contemplative documentary about contemporary brick production. Spanning continents and cultures, the film focuses on the brick in its many contexts, from the collective efforts of a community building a clinic in Burkina Faso, through semi-industrialized mouldings in India, to industrial production lines in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. Through its notable structure and its captivating rhythms, In Comparison presents various methods of labour production, allowing for an assessment that changes with every layer and goes well beyond a simple binary divide.

Wavelengths 6: Flash Point Camera
Wavelengths 2009 concludes on a ruminative note, with art and experience partaking in time’s inevitable passage. Ute Aurand’s Snowing Chestnut Blossoms (Germany) is a gentle, generous and unsparing portrait of the filmmaker’s parents, whose passing is marked by remembrance and the loving recording of them. The idea of the “life portrait” is at the core of the photographic and film work of Friedl vom Groeller (Kubelka). Polterabend (Austria) is an atypical portrait of female aging, made just prior to the artist’s wedding. Six older women of various ages are filmed, first in static tableau, then in a panning camera individualizing each face in a series of uncontrolled and disarming reciprocal gazes. Passage Briare (Austria) is a tiny picaresque set in Paris chronicling Kubelka’s coy encounter with an unnamed man. Jim Jennings’s Greenpoint (USA) is a rapturous and observant portrait of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that pays tribute to a working-class neighbourhood on the verge of gentrification with a boogie-woogie collage of hot colours, pealing posters, graffiti art and neon signs. Coleen Fitzgibbon’s 1974 FM/TRCS (USA), recently preserved by filmmaker Sandra Gibson, is a masterful work of abstraction that explores the textures of the medium and dissolution of imagery to a woman’s undressing. After working on many Wavelengths films over the years at Niagara Custom Lab in Toronto, Sebastjan Henrickson presents Flash Camera Movie (Canada). For one year (2002-03), Henrickson stole moments from his hectic days to ritualistically record his surroundings with disposable flash cameras one frame at a time. Allowing for repose and reflection, the resulting imagery reveals the paradoxical precious and banal moments in life.

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