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November 1995, Week 1


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Pip Chodorov <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 1 Nov 1995 20:32:00 -0500
text/plain (78 lines)
Public posting, to keep up the thread...
Dear Rolf,
I have just been to a media festival in Luzern called Viper where I saw many
interesting films and videos, of which two really stand out in my mind as
being interesting for a documentary class.
The first is a short available from Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution
(address follows) by Philip Hoffman called "?O Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction
Film)" (1986). Hoffman was invited onto the set of Peter Greenaway's "A Zed
and Two Naughts" to film a documentary. He proceeds to do so in the style of
a film journal, documenting his trip. However, some things just don't seem
right. Who shot those scenes of him winding his bolex? Why does he
nonchalantly abandon the film set to shoot seemingly random sights in
Holland? We see his shooting reports, but why is there someone else's name on
them? At one point, the screen goes black as he describes the following in
voice-over: an elephant fell over. As the zookeepers tried to help him up
using bails of hay, Hoffman wondered if he should film this. Finally he
films, the elephant stands up but falls over again. This time he rolls over
motionless. The zookeeper explains that the elephant has had a heart-attack.
Hoffman; shaken, decides not to develop what he has shot, and leaves it in
his freezer. End of black. However, after the final credits we see a silent
black and white shot of a fallen elephant; zookeepers stuff bails of hay
under the animal until it is able to stand, at which walks away
unharmed! We realize finally that this "fiction film" is "?O Zoo!". The film
works very well and questions in a very subtle way exactly what is
documentary, is it not the exact same construct as a fiction.
The other film, also Canadian, is called "Picture of Light" by Peter Mettler.
"Picture of Light" (1994) documents Mettler's trip to the arctic circle in
Manitoba, Canada, to film the Northern Lights in time lapse. The preparations
and voyage are filmed, but when the crew arrives, a blizzard prevents them
from filming the night sky. They wait, and they interview the inuit. The film
begins to talk about the desire to capture ephemeral light (such as is film),
about the need of media to record, to prove the existence, in the face of
such wilderness and nature. We also see scientific images explaining what the
Northern Lights are composed of.  Finally we see the haunting lights. At one
point, while panning across barren snowdrifts, Mettler's ironic monotone
(almost making fun of his country's film heritage) tells us that the first
film showed a train pulling into a station, "people jumped out of their seats
in fear of being hit by the train. Are you cold yet?". The film becomes a
crystal ball, a simple film, complexly depicting a complex subject. Mettler's
need to film is finally justified in face of the beauty of the events, and
the people, filmed with such sensitivity, for example a montage of people's
hand gestures as they describe the lights. The Croatian hotel owner has an
artificial fireplace glowing electric orange, and he sits sprawled on his
couch underneath dead animal skins pinned sprawling up on his wall. This film
is moving, interesting, cold and warm, tightly edited, and beautiful. It lies
halfway between a personal documentary and an experimental fiction. I was
very inspired by this kind of filmmaking.
Both films seem to be a reaction against the traditional Canadian Film Board
style of documentary, ironic parodies. They are both intensely personal, and
lead us to realize that all films are documents, to question constructed
veracity, to question media itself.
-Pip Chodorov, Light Cone, Paris
<[log in to unmask]>
The distributors:
Canadian Filmmakers Distribution
67-A Portland Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 2M9
tel: 416 593 1808
fax: 416 593 8661
Peter Mettler/Grimthorpe Film
91, Brunswick Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 2L8
tel: 416 923 4206
fax: 416 923 4043
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