Cineworks Program Manager Jem Noble on Gathering Rhythms at Vancity
By Adam Cook
This Sunday at 7:45pm, Vancity Theatre is hosting a very special free screening featuring locally produced short films, live music, and the world premiere of a 26-minute short film, The Sound We See: A Vancouver City Symphony, made by 10 young people on 16mm black and white film, with musical accompaniment by Martin Reisle in collaboration with invited street performers. Co-presented by The Gathering Festival (More info: https://gatheringfestival.wordpress.com/) & Cineworks, we were able to catch up with Jem Noble, Programs Manager for Cineworks, to talk about this unique event and experimental filmmaking in Vancouver.
VIFF: For those who don’t know, could you tell us a little bit about Cineworks?
Jem Noble: Cineworks is an non-profit Artist-Run Centre established in Vancouver in 1980 and in discussing our work, we pay respect to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil–Waututh First Nations on whose unceded traditional territories we’re based. We support independent filmmakers, media artist and audiences for arts and culture in a range of ways. We’re a membership-based society offering discounted access to media production equipment and facilities, and we run public screenings talks and workshops in our two venues and off-site, often in partnership with other organizations. We support work in digital and analogue film formats and in addition to our venue in the Pacific Ciné Centre, which we share with The Cinematheque, we have a film lab and studio in the Ironworks building at Main and Alexander, run by volunteer technicians and members, providing hand, tank and machine film processing facilities, analogue editing, and optical and contact printing, across 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film formats.
VIFF: Could you tell me about Gathering Rhythms and this collaboration with The Gathering Festival?
JN: Gathering Rhythms is the conclusion to a film commission Cineworks has created with The Gathering Place Community Centre, which organizes Gathering Festival. The event also takes place in partnership with Vancity Theatre and includes a number of locally made short films and music performances. Each of the films deals with reflections on place, community and selfhood in some way, offering responses from Indigenous and non-indigenous perspectives.
The headline work is called The Sound We See: A Vancouver City Symphony, which is a 28-minute piece by 10 Metro Vancouver youth, made on hand-processed black and white 16mm film, featuring a live soundtrack which will be performed at the screening. Participants were mentored by Canadian artists Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo who run Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. Also supporting the creative process were locally based composer and musician Martin Reisle, and Vancouver-based outreach worker Tristan Reuser. The socially engaged project was commissioned by Cineworks and The Gathering Place with the support of British Columbia Arts Council, with the aim of re-engaging youth with the important services that the Gathering Place Community Centre offers. These include cheap, nutritious meals, health services, library facilities, overnight shelter in extreme weather, artistic workshops, heavily subsidized gym facilities, laundry, haircuts –– important stuff for people who might find themselves short on support with some of life’s essentials.
VIFF: One of the films playing, The Gathering Place, was commissioned by the Play It Forward program. Could you talk about that?
JN: Cineworks runs an annual filmmaking initiative called Play It Forward, in which we invite Metro Vancouver nonprofits and charities to meet local filmmakers. We hold a meet-and-greet event at The Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre each December, after which we invite proposals for collaboration between organizations and filmmakers, towards the production of a 3 to 5-minute film about the organization and its work. We select up to 8 proposals and provide equipment and facilities for the production of 8 videos, supported with a small cash contribution from organizations towards production expenses and artists’ honorariums. The finished works are premiered in a free public screening at The Cinematheque each March, before being released online and used by the organizations as promotional tools. One of the works commissioned in the 2015/2016 round of productions is a collaboration between The Gathering Place Community Centre and local filmmaker Neil Vokey. All films can be seen via Cineworks online Screening Room at http://cineworks.ca/see#screening-room and Neil’s film will be featured as part of the Gathering Rhythms program.
VIFF: What connects these films and filmmakers together? Are there common themes or approaches? What are the highlights?
JN: The films and music performances include Indigenous and non-indigenous reflections on issues of place, community, selfhood and their interconnections. These include portrait-style meditations, dream-like journeys and dramatic renditions of important cultural and historic issues, each using imagery and sound in unique ways, either in combination or in isolation. These include works by internationally exhibiting filmmakers such as Lisa Jackson and Lisa G Nielsen; animations facilitated by Intersections Media Opportunities for Youth, and the Our World project, which assists First Nations communities in BC and Yukon in the production of films in First Languages; and live music performances by Martin Reisle, working with sound recordings to create tapestries of place reimagined through the weaving of sonic documentation.
VIFF: The Sound We See: A Vancouver City Symphony sounds ambitious. A major issue in Vancouver’s place in the film world, is that, as Tony Zhou’s remarkable video essay tells us, it “Never Plays Itself”. We see our city masquerade as other cities in mainstream films and TV shows. I think this city is starving for articulate images of itself. Could you talk about this issue and The Sound We See: A Vancouver City Symphony?
JN: The Sound We See is an international, socially engaged film project created by Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo, based on the early film format of the City Symphony, in which the composition and montage of moving images is edited to create a sense of place through materials and rhythms exposed to and drawn out of celluloid film. Marr and Davanzo are filmmakers, writers, musicians and educators who travel the world as facilitators, working with youth groups in cities and towns as diverse as Hanoi, Berlin and Old Crow, using this format as a framework for enabling people to create stories of place from their own unique perspectives. The 24-hour day becomes 24 minutes of film, which is then scored by musicians who are local to each place that hosts the project, with the help of the youth participants.
Vancouver’s position as a film industry location indeed means that it is used as generic backdrop for any place (including the beautiful mountainscape of the Bronx!) in mainstream movies, but there are lots of independent films and media arts projects that take Vancouver or the unceded Coast Salish territories on which it is growing, as a focus. They’re just not as visible as work that circulates through the machinery of mainstream movie distribution. Moving Images is an independent distributor based in Vancouver that represents lots of artist whose moving-image work is rooted here, from the groundbreaking experimental celluloid works of David Rimmer to the innovative dramatic shorts of Lisa Jackson, addressing indigeneity and the ongoing effects of colonialism by mixing pop-cultural languages of image and sound. Video Out, the distribution arm of VIVO Media Arts is another great resource for diverse work rooted in this locality, among other places. Work managed by both of these organizations is being digitized and made available via VUCAVU – a new online streaming and research platform for Canadian independent film, video and media art, launched two weeks ago (vucavu.com).
VIFF: A lot of people accuse Vancouver of lacking cultural vitality. How do you see the city’s art scene? Where does experimental cinema fit in?
JN: Vancouver is a small city in the midst of a diverse cultural region, in an increasingly networked world. It has its share of regulations that can be seen to impede creative vitality, like zoning laws, property prices, licensing requirements, public curfews, but these also offer points of response and resistance for creative inquiry and expression. In my experience, this place has a hungry creative culture that thrives beyond the mainstream, comprising a mixture of organizations, collectives and collaborations, including a strong artist-run scene entangled with critically incisive public institutions and a busy arts higher education sector. Many DIY arts organizations in this environment have developed since the 70s and 80s, like Cineworks, into small institutions in their own right, with the purpose of supporting artistic risk and dialogue, while less formal projects bring a flow of new voices, directing emergent energies into pop-up exhibitions and gigs, DIY project-spaces, and collective learning initiatives.
Experimental cinema has been a part of this scene since the 1960s, and the methods and ideas it explores have always been entangled with visual arts and music practices in different ways. DIM Cinema is a brilliant monthly screening event at The Cinematheque that situates locally made artists’ film and video work, historic and emerging, in conversation with international moving-image practices. Western Front and VIVO have great programs intersecting with this vein, too, while Iris Film Collective is a particularly interesting force in production and exhibition of experimental cinema. They assist with bringing international artists to the city to show works on celluloid, as well as creating initiatives to engage the public in creative experimentation using 8mm and 16mm film, and programming compelling experimental works and talks through events in informal neighbourhood spaces and arts centres. Most public galleries and artist-run centres in Vancouver (too many to mention) have exhibition components encompassing artists film and video, including experimental film screenings, installations and performances, or work that derives inspiration from experimental film. The weekly Instant Coffee mailout is a great guide to the spectrum of activities taking place throughout the Lower Mainland – it’s easy to subscribe to receive weekly listings, and to post information if you have an event happening, at http://lists.instantcoffee.org.
VIFF: For those interested in seeing, or maybe even creating, experimental film, but don’t know where to go, where should they start?
JN: Well, in addition to the places, projects and facilities mentioned above, Cineworks has a busy program of screenings, talks, workshops and open events, through which audiences can engage with independent film and media art. Our Annex facility at 235 Alexander Street, in the bottom of the Ironworks Building, has regular open days between 10am and 2.00pm on Odd Sundays (Sundays with an odd number for a date, such as Sunday 19th!). Members of the public can drop in and find out about our film lab and studio facilities, workshops and the benefits of a Cineworks membership. These events are also open to people who wish to come and work on small projects, whether its processing small batches of film in the lab, editing or projecting work, or to ask advice on arranging more in-depth activities on our equipment. These events are free, with donations accepted for any materials used, and more information can be found at cineworks.ca.
VIFF: Lastly, could you tell me about the newly launched State of the Art: Understanding, Appreciating and Promoting Analogue Film Practices in the 21st Century?
This is study that Cineworks has led in partnership with five other film societies and cooperatives across Canada: Liaison of Filmmakers Toronto (LIFT), Film and Video society of Alberta (FAVA), New Brunswick Film Cooperative, Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP), and Independent Filmmakers Cooperative Ottawa (IFCO). There is a strong resurgence of interest in celluloid and analogue/digital hybrid filmmaking happening across the world, as analogue equipment from former industrial facilities finds its way into artists’ hands. There is a growing global base of knowledge being exchanged and circulated about how to use this equipment and how to work with film more broadly, as a distinct material or in combination with digital processes. There are currently around 40 artist-run film labs active in over 23 countries on every continent except Antarctica. The study gathers together information on resources for working with film, through production, exhibition and education, in Canada and beyond. It’s a great resource for anyone working in or interested in the arts who wants to engage with materially-focused moving image-production, to support artists with information resources, or to find out more about trends in contemporary art. It can be downloaded from http://cineworks.ca/see#sectoral-study and we encourage anyone who grabs it to pass it on!