I was walking down a well-travelled path at the Film Farm earlier this summer, when I thought to myself that I’d been there before.
I had been to the Film Farm before, but the feeling I experienced then was of déjà vu, and a rather comforting version of it. I felt as though I had just stepped into a future that was the exact place I needed to be, and that everything (possibly in my entire life) had led me to be in that spot in the very moment I needed to be there.
When I walked into that feeling, I knew I’d found the title, at least, of the film I was in the process of finding.
At the Film Farm, to honour the process, you should try not to go with a pre-conceived notion of what you will be working on. This can be a bit unnerving, especially when the participants often come with a lot riding on the process. The Film Farm is a legendary experience that really can change the soul of a filmmaker. And it has for me: I’ve made my very best films through this process.
This summer was my third time participating, though, and experience had taught me not to worry. I felt certain that whatever was about to happen, was what was meant to happen. I would find the film I needed to find, because I always had before. Both What Comes Between and Presque Vu were conceived of as ideas in the working process itself, and so I trusted it would work out again, in spite of having no idea what I would shoot or how to even start.
Finnish filmmaker Sami van Ingen drove me from Toronto to the Farm, and when I noticed he had boxes full of found footage in his car trunk, I was convinced the process had given that to me. But I soon came to realize all that footage was part of a different process – not mine – and that the reason why I had found myself sharing a car with him for hours book-ending my experience to and from the Farm this year, was for my process as an artist and as a human being, and not my process of production.
I didn’t think I’d shot anything of significance when I ventured out on that first grey morning at the Farm and started testing a borrowed macro lens. I was convinced they were just tests for what I might shoot on a sunnier day, when the nicer insects would come out. I’d been hoping to find some butterflies or maybe a nice cobweb, but instead found only flies and slugs.
After processing this test footage, I did what has become second nature to me in my film practice: I applied various toners to the footage until the original image was near oblivion. The toner bar, as it was dubbed by video artist Gary Kibbins, to me is the highlight of the Film Farm experience. Magic resides there. But you have to be willing to lose the film you thought you’d found in the process, and so it definitely isn’t the right place to put anything you consider precious. At that point, though, all I had just a fly on a flower on a grey day…
After teasing in every possible iteration of split-toning possible into my film, I headed over to the “new” piece of equipment: a hand-cranked projector that had been set up as a type of optical printer. Then, as the Film Farm support team was helping me set up on the printer, something amazing happened: the image in my frame started reticulating, as fast and dramatic as fireworks. The heat from the projector bulb proceeded to burn out every frame I put in front of it in the act of re-photography.
After hand-processing this footage, I then went on to do the only thing that seemed logical to me at the time: I repeated the exact same process again, with rather surprisingly (if you appreciate how integrally random my working process can be, and at times needs to be) the exact same results. And so, the bulk of the images I found at the Farm this year are magical and mysterious iterations of a fly on a flower on a grey day…
You’re given a nickname at the Farm. The first time I went in 2008, I was given the name Gleaner (after the Agnès Varda film). I spent a lot of time sifting through the Farm’s found footage collection and printed my way to finding What Comes Between. For the life of me, I cannot remember my nick name from 2010. Perhaps it was destined to be forgotten…? Finding the film that would become Presque Vu was much more difficult and the process less clear to me than the first time. This year, I was given the nick name Salamander, because of my tendency to physically be in unusual places and for my love of intense saturated colour.
I’ve handed off my film to the lab to digitize, hoping the image might have stabilized enough away from the heat to be captured before what is certain to be its inevitable full vanishing.
There are lines you cross in life that delineate a version of before and after – lines that, once crossed, you can never cross back again. You are never the same again after you’ve crossed one of these lines, but you don’t know you’re about cross one until it’s done. There is before and there is after, and the two cannot co-exist.
My travel to the Film Farm was made possible with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.