Double Minds, Double Exposures

Something was different upstairs at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture that afternoon. The wood floors and high ceilings make the second-floor ballroom usable for everything from faux prom dances to blues concerts.

Now Angela Joosse was looping 100 feet of freshly developed 16 mm film around the wall sconces, while Marcia Connolly set up the video camera and mini-screen in the adjacent darkroom for transferring the film to video.

“It’s hand-processed film anyways so we don’t mind scratches,” Joosse laughs when I ask about this unusual method. “When we were at the Film Farm, it was even crazier – we hung it up outside.”

The spirit of improvisation is a large part of why Connolly and Joosse enjoy working collaboratively together, when they can.

The two are in the Yukon for six weeks as the filmmakers-in-residence for the Dawson City International Short Film Festival (DCISFF). They’re making a series of short films with a hand-held Bolex, editing in-camera only.

Each has her own independent film career – Connolly as a documentarian for CBC Toronto and for independent projects. Ghost Noise, her documentary on Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona, premiered at the DCISFF last year, and won the LodeStar Award.

Joosse is an experimental filmmaker who specializes in installation works. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation about the way that interactive artworks can shift our perceptions of movement and time.

Their joint projects become experimental documentaries. In conversation they often compare the process to a game.

One game is: how can a person’s internal metronome, their internal experiences of time and pacing, appear on film?

Using a matte to shoot the same roll of film repeatedly can express internal timing well, they find.

“Before the filming our discussions are more reflective and there’s more room to disagree, but when you’re filming, you have to shoot it or not,” says Joosse. “So we end up more in synch … one of us will see the other shooting something, and that will trigger us to respond. Sometimes even rhythmically, in the duration of shots.”

“Outwardly, Angela’s and my rhythms seem really different,” Connolly adds, “but when it comes to film, it works like a good palindrome.”

The experiment is heightened with 16 mm film, too, because it comes in short lengths. One hundred feet equals three minutes.

The week they arrived, the two made a short film on a drive up the Dempster Highway with local vet John Overell.

How could three minutes from a day-long drive amount to anything?

Partly by giving the three minutes double duty. Celluloid can be exposed multiple times. Shooting with part of the frame blocked with a matte means the film can be rewound and shot again.

The result is a sweep of images that have north-driving footage on one side, and south-driving footage on the other.

It might sound confusing, but it’s not, maybe in part because rhythms between the images appear. For example, trees shot with the horizon turned vertical appear several times.

“It’s how we play with our surroundings when we’re in a new place, looking at things sideways or upside down, isn’t it?” Connolly reflects.

The two camera handlers met at the Film Farm, a retreat-based workshop that Canadian filmmaker Philip Hoffman has been hosting on his rural Ontario property since 1994.

It was a spontaneous decision to work together, the day after they met.

“You have six days to make a film, and we were all looking at test footage that we had shot. I saw some stuff that Angela had done, and it was very close to ideas that I was interested in,” says Connolly.

Their first collaboration was to make a film in a day, based on the Surrealist game of “Exquisite Corpse”. In drawing, different artists would make the head, body and feet of a person without seeing what has been drawn before.

For Film-Landscape-People: An Exquisite Corpse, the artists made a three-part matte and shot a loose conceptual head, body and feet, relating everything to the other filmmakers there, the film-making methodology of the Film Farm (hand-processing and analog equipment), and the local landscape, which includes chickens and lakes.

Even with all the emphasis on older technology, though, celluloid moving pictures are usually seen in digital form these days.

As the interview goes on, Joosse and Connolly check to see if the 100 feet of film is dry. It is, so I’m lucky enough to watch the film transfer process.

Joosse threads the film and Connolly adjusts the video camera’s white balance. Then the mini-screen fills with images from the Quigley Landfill. The video camera records these negatives, which will then be turned “positive” in video processing software.

It’s another film “game” with two streams of images speaking poetically to each other. The concept is to show a Rorschach ink blot-type view of the dump.

The images are surprising and fluid. A lace bra fans toward the centre of the image, almost touching the wheels of a vertically-filmed truck. Broom bristles poke out from a milk carton swaying in the wind. A close-up of a bone contrasts with a distant shot of spruce-lined hilltop.

There are two very different sides to the image streams, but they depend on each other; the rhythm of seeing them together is what makes them work.

“It’s almost like we can skip stones with each other’s ideas,” Connolly says.

Connolly and Joosse present their Yukon-made collaborations the Sunday afternoon of the DCISFF (April 24; info 993-5005). Then it’s back to their individual careers and creative structures, refreshed and with new cinematic ideas to weave in.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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