Okay film-lovers, try this. Go stand close to a mirror, eight or nine inches away. Look steadily for a full second into one eye, then into the other eye.
Now move your gaze back and forth as quickly as you can.
Can you see your eyes moving? Or does your brain, like most people’s brains, actually edit out the movement and make it seem like your eyes remain perfectly still?
Film fascinates me, in part, because in one sense it’s like experiencing a waking dream. The thought was reaffirmed for me when I read the experiment described above, in an interview between Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient) and Walter Murch (editor of The English Patient film).
It’s a very simple thing that Murch asks people to try, but his point is clear: our brains are editing reality all the time, and film-making can be thought of as an extension of that ability – and desire – to edit.
The deadline for the Dawson City International Short Film Festival is December 17. I wanted to talk about multiple filmmakers’ creative processes in this piece, but as the emails and calls came in, I learned that it’s not something filmmakers want to talk about until they’re done.
Out of 11 people contacted in Whitehorse, Dawson and Old Crow, seven said they didn’t want to jinx the process by talking too soon, two didn’t respond and one was too busy. I respect all those points!
Luckily, one cinéaste, Chris Levett, agreed to chat about his process of editing and shooting what he thinks will be a 20-minute film when he’s done.
Levett’s first experience of the North was as a 13-year-old, when he and his family flew from Toronto to Inuvik and drove down the Dempster Highway. Later he began working summers in Dawson, which led to moving here long-term.
“I started making movies in grade 10, after my first job,” the 24-year-old recalls.
“I worked in a grocery store and the first thing I bought was a Canon ZR40, which is a tiny little mini-DVD camera. I’d just mess around and make little shorts, for friends.”
Many experiments later, he took the 15-month Film Production Program at the Toronto Film School.
“The cool thing about that is that the school was in the CBC building, so we had these enormous white cove studios that we could book for free whenever we wanted. Ordinarily that would cost $2,000 a day,” he says.
Levett took advantage of the access to multiple cameras, shooting areas, white coves (rooms with curved back walls that provide a depthless background without a horizontal line), professional lights – you get the idea.
With his brother Adam, Levett made several music videos, including We Are All Made of Stone for the Toronto pop lesbian band Dance Yourself to Death.
“We shot it at a bunch of different frame rates, and on different dollies – stuff you don’t normally get experience with until you’re actually working on a set,” he says.
“I just came across it on German TV, which was awesome,” he adds.
Fast forward to Levett’s long-term move to Dawson. For the 48-Hour Film Competition, Levett convinced the sole taxi driver in town to let him ride shotgun on several fares.
Editing that footage into a short film inspired Levett to apply for a Yukon Sound and Film Commission production grant. He’s excited and grateful that that grant came through.
Much of the grant has gone to paying crew, including local drummer Richard Halladay to record sound.
All Chris Levett will reveal of the plot is this: “The main character is basically trying to leave Dawson, and can’t.”
After a summer of managing the bar at the Pit (aka the Westminster Hotel), Levett shot the film there and along the Dempster Highway, with Ali Haydoc as the main actor.
“That building alone could be a character without any set dressing, it’s a movie in itself,” he says. “And in my film, there’s this shot of Ali sitting in the back on the deep freeze with this enormous moose head behind her, it just looks incredible. So with this grant I finally got to use all these locations I was so excited about.”
It’s important to point out here that the DCISFF doesn’t exclusively show Yukon-made or Yukon-centric films. Of the 116 films shown last year, 79 were Canadian, 17 were First Nations films and 22 came from the Yukon.
Unique to this festival is that the selection process is community-based.
Anyone who’s interested can come along for two hours, two evenings a week, to watch and rate submissions in the KIAC classroom.
If that sounds radical, it’s been the modus operandi of the DCISFF since it began in 2000.
“The goal has always been for the festival to reflect the values of the community,” says producer Dan Sokolowski. “A sure way to do that is to have the community make the choices.”
To submit your edited dreams for consideration, contact Dan Sokolowski at email@example.com.