Stirring & Stylish: Distinctively Dark Imagery

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

The value of education

In Inspiration on September 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

My Alma Mater just got new digs.  http://sfuwoodwards.ca/

What is the value of education?  Why does one spend so much time and money trying to cram as much stuff into one’s brain as one can?  Sometimes I really don’t know.

One of my favourite paradoxes is that ignorance is bliss.  If you don’t know what to worry about, how can you worry about it?  The more education one has, the more one has to worry about.  If I didn’t know there were whales I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to save them.

SFU’s new facilities are very impressive.  Lavish.  Opulent.  But, will they lead to a better education for the students?  When I was at SFU our classroom was an old portable.  There had been a previous 20 years worth of film students using that same portable.  Does this new facility benefit the school?  Unquestionably, the school will reap the rewards of increased exposure, a jewel in its institutional crown, and generous rental fees from outside parties wanting to use the building.  But, if the school’s main focus is the student, none of these concerns matter.  All that matters is that an instructor who cares has the time to sit in the edit suite with an inquisitive student and help them learn to focus their creativity into a specific framework.  The location is of no real importance.

The ‘move downtown and become a satellite campus, or stay on the hill (SFU is located, for some arcane reason, on the top of a dark, cold mountain)’ was raging while I was a school.  The pro downtown side had good arguments.  There is more of an art scene downtown, downtown is cool, we’d be more connected to the arts in a downtown location, we could get some government money to build new facilities downtown, but not if we stayed on the hill, etc.  Yet, moving off the hill always seemed like a bad idea to me.  There is more to going to a University then just being connected to your niche vocational group.  There was a connection to a broader school life that includes studies in different disciplines, involvement in clubs and sports teams, the support of the library, the bad food.  All of this is lost by moving downtown, and I fear that the quality of one’s education diminishes as a result.

I hope I am wrong.  I hope that the students get everything I got from my education, and more.  I hope the school, in its ever feverish growth phase hasn’t given itself one more thing to worry about.  I hope that, perhaps, the portables were not bliss after all.

Stupid Chainsaw Tricks on the CBC

In Updates on September 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I know, you’ve just been dying to see more of my work, right?  I thought so (he said, his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek).

Stupid Chainsaw Tricks (Dir. Kellie Ann Benz)  is playing on the CBC (in BC) on Saturday Sept. 18 at 7 PM.

I shot this film as part of the Crazy 8’s film festival.  Something like 120 groups pitched, and 6 were chosen to make a film in 8 days for $800.  Then, there’s a big party.

Sorry for the shameless plug.  It might happen again, but not for a while.

Knowing is half the battle.

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I had a tough weekend.  Not ‘carry that boulder up that mountain,’ or ‘your puppy died’ tough, but creatively tough.

I am lucky enough to be one of the pre-screeners for the Vancouver Short Film Festival.  What’s tough about that?  Well, I sifted through many piles of films over the weekend.  The tough part wasn’t watching them, however, it was rating them.  No, I don’t have final say as to what will screen at the festival, but I am the first layer of adjudication that a film must survive in order to be considered for screening.

I work in film.  I have a trained eye and a particular sensibility.  I have seen a lot of films, and am very familiar with short films.  I also know what it takes to make a short film.  The hours writing, organizing, planning, shooting and editing.  I also know that most short films are financed out of people’s pockets and have no hope of making back any of that money.  Logically, making a short film a stupid thing to do.  Were you a regular person on the street and I came up to you and said, “Hey, do you want to spend the next year of your life investing all of your free time and money into something that won’t lead anywhere?” you’d probably say, “F%#& off!”  And rightly so!

And yet well over a century worth of people hopes and dreams sit on my desk, all that effort and money distilled down to a 4 5/8″ plastic disc.  And now I have to crush some people’s hopes and dreams.  For me it’s tough to do.

Quality in filmmaking is so ephemeral it can be maddening, so let’s not start there.  Instead, let’s judge a film first on its technical merits.  These are less subjective.  Is the sound audible, the image readable, the camera work decent, the disc’s compression noticeable (a tip to filmmakers, if the disc won’t play then you’re really up s*%# creek!).  Now, assuming that the sound and picture are acceptable you’re looking at a whole bag of creative choices, and this is where things get interesting.  A filmmaker can point a camera at anything in the whole world.  How does a screener, me, judge a filmmaker’s creative choice to point the camera at a house plant or an actor?  Only through experience, I guess.

For me, the choice comes down to the film’s impact.  Not ‘car chases or big explosions’ impact, but emotional resonance.  I noticed that watching most of the films my attention tended to wander, but several of the films captured me totally, and folded me into their worlds.  These films were effective.  For those people the film was well worth the year of investment.  It is impossible to say without sounding condescending and self-important, but for those that didn’t make the cut I hope the year was a good learning experience and that this small failure doesn’t dissuade you from making another film.  I hope I don’t have the power to hurt you.

I’m really glad I’m a pre-screener and not a judge.  That would be way too tough.

‘Hodd’ by Adam Thorpe

In Inspiration on September 3, 2010 at 2:10 am

It was a somewhat difficult read, but worth the effort.  ‘Hodd’ by Adam Thorpe chronicles the experience of a young man swept up into a whirlwind of violence, self importance and lust.  There is not one hint of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.  Instead, ‘Hodd’ presents what may be a more true to life account of the legendary life of Robin Hood.

One of the things that makes this account so interesting is the way the book is mediated through layers of interpretation that bring into question the authenticity of the text in particular, and on a grander scale the reliability of folk stories and historical texts in general.  The book is framed by an introduction by a World War I veteran who claims to have found the main body of the text (written in Latin) in the ruins of a medieval church during the war.  He then took it upon himself to translate the document into English.  He makes many footnotes explaining points of translation, medieval custom and personal observation.  The version of the manuscript that he is working from was itself copied by an unknown individual after it’s author penned the original.  And that original author is the aged man who, in his youth, was the chosen favourite pupil of Robert Hodd.  The layers of mediation – memory, translation, interpretation, and partial destruction of the legibility of the manuscript – lead the reader to question the authenticity of the text, which is one of the main themes of the book.

More than an academic exercise, Hodd is about a boys search for a father, the autocracy of the medieval church, and the power of lust.  These themes resonate with the reader, and are easily understandable by today’s reader.  Hodd denies the church, is a heretic, breaks from tradition and is a reclusive maverick in an uncertain world.  The author is a boy lost and confused in a world dominated by religion and superstition.  There are hits of Oedipus laced through the story, and a culture of violence that we in the west’s rule of law shelters us from.  The book is raw and uncompromising.  Life is cheap, and the cleverest survive.

It is beautifully written.  Thorpe skillfully speaks in the many voices of the author and translators of the text simultaneously, and the language used is exquisitely descriptive, sometimes to the point of annoyance to the reader.

Hodd is a book that makes you consider what you ‘know’ to be truth as you read it.  It is not an easy read, but the challenge is well worth the reward.