“Daring, visionary and autonomous voices. Films that expand our notions of cinema.” Such is the promise held out by the Wavelengths program at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (September 6 through 16). The lineup, with extensive descriptions directly from the festival (previously announced lineups: Galas and Special Presentations, Contemporary World Cinema, and Future Projections).
SHORT FILM PROGRAMS
Wavelengths 1: Under a Pacific Sun
Bookended by Thomas Demand’s astonishing 100-second animation Pacific Sun and legendary experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr’s no-holds-barred trip into painterly abstraction, this program traverses fabricated worlds marked by shifting weather patterns, stylized mythic backdrops, paper folds and cross-cultural magic carpet rides.
In the fall of 2010, a YouTube video of an Australian Pacific Sun cruise ship that was struck by tempestuous waters in the Tasman Sea, causing its furniture and passengers to sway back and forth in an eerie, otherworldly cadence, went viral. In one of his most ambitious works yet, internationally celebrated German visual artist Thomas Demand (known for his trompe l’oeil photographs of three-dimensional paper models of real spaces and settings) has recreated the Pacific Sun video using a full-scale set constructed completely out of paper. The 100-second video comprises 2,400 frames, shot frame-by-frame with a team of animators who retraced the vacillations of each item several millimeters at a time. Fifteen months in the making, Pacific Sun is as meticulous as it is bewitching, an ode to the forces that lie outside of our comprehension but seduce our imagination.
Equally uncanny and visually enthralling is Shambvani Kaul’s 21 Chitrakoot, which exhumes a mystical land composed of 1980s chroma-key backdrops from a famous Indian television series. With barely tempered chaos, melancholia replaces nostalgia, while abstraction and narrative duel for eminence in a fractured, abandoned utopia.
Dedicated to Akira Yoshizawa, the grandmaster of origami, Blake Williams’s Many a Swan collapses fifteen years of Grand Canyon history and 65 years of 3D cinema by way of curious folding anaglyphic video planes that, not unlike Demand’s work, suggest paper worlds.
From folding to flying, Fern Silva’s globe-trotting, 16mm Concrete Parlay uses a green-screened magic carpet against footage shot in Egypt, Turkey, France and the US to reflect upon cross-cultural ideas of travel, immigration and geographic displacement—doing so with a disjunctive and disarming vigor that redefines casual “sightseeing.”
From a train trip home, legendary experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr creates a triptych cum structural trajectory in which composition and perception convene into a “phantom ride.” While Departure sharpens the senses as it penetrates a recognizable yet reframed landscape, Gehr’s Auto-Collider XV, from his ongoing series devoted to vehicular form and movement, is a no-holds-barred trip into painterly abstraction—where an Agnes Martin painting meets a rapid-fire back-and-forth Gerhard Richter squeegee and the world is swiftly sent asunder.
Wavelengths 2: Documenta
A diverse grouping of resuscitated materials and curios simultaneously partakes in today’s pervasive archive fever and points to forever changing contexts and attendant shifts in meaning.
One of the major discoveries of this year’s Whitney Biennial, Luther Price’s handmade 35mm glass slides are individual miniature collages that incorporate battered or decaying 8mm found footage with assorted detritus (glitter, candy, strands of hair, insects), creating miniature worlds that transcend their thrifty materials with an intense, sombre beauty. A selection of Price’s original slides from his ongoing Sorry series (starring Jesus Christ) will be shown alongside a set that radically recycles the artist’s fascinating collection of movie trailers.
Evoking the still photographs that mysteriously punctuate his feature Two Years at Sea, Ben Rivers’s Phantoms of a Libertine is an enigmatic portrait (channeling Marcel Broodthaers as much as Raymond Depardon) of a lost friend, told through two sets of photographs—professional and private—and the objects that remain.
Shot on Super 8mm using a multi-plane camera setup (much like early Fleisher or Disney animations), Jean-Paul Kelly’s A Minimal Difference presents receding-depth images—both metaphorical and factual (political protests in Bangkok, bodies piled after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, destruction in Gaza)—with each tableau separated into planes that mimic the perception of optical distance based on a parallax error.
A master of ironic archival recovery, William E. Jones in Shoot Don’t Shoot adapts a law enforcement instructional film that trains officers to decide whether or not to fire their guns at “a black man wearing a pinkish shirt and yellow pants.”
Luther Price’s 16mm Sorry-Horns bookends a found footage scene with abstract inkblots, creating an odd sensation in disjunction.
Using footage from Cocteau’s Orphée, Mary Helena Clark’s outtakes (Orpheus) optically prints an interstitial space where the ghosts of cinema lurk beyond and within the frames.
The all-seeing, omniscient late Syrian president Hafez El Assad is the subject of Ali Cherri’s cunning docu-collage Pipe Dreams, which unearths a historic phone call between the eternal leader and Syrian astronaut Mohammad Fares, at a time when statues of El Assad were being dismantled as a precaution during recent upheavals.
Blasting off into cosmic visual abstraction, pioneering computer artist Lillian Schwartz’s recently restored UFOs (shown here in eye-popping 3D) is a kinetic tour-de-force whose innovative pixel pigmentation predated advances in stereoscopic technology by decades.
Wavelengths 3: I am micro
Rendered in raw, intimiste strokes, these portraits participate in the paradoxical experience of being an artist with aspirations belonging to this world, as much as beyond.
An exquisite essay on independent filmmaking in India, Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia’s shot-on-16mm I Am Micro has finally been blown up to 35mm—after languishing for far too long on video, as the closures of labs temporarily consigned its fate to a sad irony—allowing us to relish the astonishing beauty of its sulfurous images.
In Class Picture, Filipino artist collective and “photography film” aficionados Tito & Tito converts a single 16mm colour strip into a washed-out 35mm; the sea—like history—swallows but also spawns.
Known for the signature mix of classical-surreal in her startlingly precocious self-portraits, the late Francesca Woodman also created a series of recently revealed videos during her brief but prolific career. This compilation—generously made available thanks to George and Betty Woodman—attests to Woodman’s playful and performative tendencies, which have too often been overlooked by critical mythologizing.
Photographer-filmmaker Friedl vom Gröller has long been documenting her intimate life, including serial self-portraits and those of her family members. Startling in its use of sound (a rarity for this artist), Me too, too, me too (Ich auch, auch, ich auch) is a phantasmal encounter with vom Gröller’s frail, aging mother.
Vincent Grenier’s Waiting Room transforms a dolphin-adorned pediatric ward into pulsating, hot, disembodied yellow rhythms; the disjunction between the fluorescents and the video image resulting in small-scale transcendence.
Nicky Hamlyn’s celestial overture Transit of Venus is one of eleven diptych documents of this astronomical phenomenon, one shot in black in white in the U.K., the other capturing a stunning Italian blush sunset.
Nathaniel Dorsky’s August and After is dedicated to two recently departed friends: legendary filmmaker George Kuchar and actress Carla Liss. The film shows them vibrantly, resiliently alive, shortly before their passing, and then sets off in search of soothing beauty—yielding searing 16mm images awash in colors both belonging to and transcending our natural world. Well into the twilight years of 16mm filmmaking, Dorsky continues to present textures and hues that are indispensible to the art of cinema. We will be poorer without them.
Wavelengths 4: From the Inside Out
Influential intermedia artist Aldo Tambellini’s 1960s revolutionary Black films (currently being restored and archived by the Harvard Film Archive) have lost none of their acuity. Through its suggestion of a cosmological beginning via pulsing abstraction and a series of non-camera techniques, and its use of television as a subversive artistic force, Tambellini’s pioneering work sought to represent “the expansion of consciousness in all directions.” A dual 16mm split screen projection of one of Tambellini’s greatest works, his prescient and intense Black TV, sets the tempo for a program exploring contours through holes, legacies through sustained viewing, and dynamic force fields from the inside out.
Named for the taboo-breaking film by Kenji Onishi, Josh Solondz’s Burning Star is an entrancing colorful implo/explosion of a twelve-sided star.
Paolo Gioli’s When Bodies Touch (Quando I Corpi Si Toccano) uses footage from an old porn film to transform copulating bodies into a mesmerizing, competitive dance with celluloid.
With Ritournelle, Peter Miller and Christopher Becks have fashioned a miniature gem from a 16mm corps exquis exercise; an experiment in inside-out filmmaking, which began with a surreptitiously pre-struck soundtrack.
Marking a bifurcation in the program from abstraction to figuration, Jim Jennings’ first (spectral) video work Watch the Closing Doors—a continuation, yet striking variant upon the filmmaker’s unique city symphonies, this time with synch sound—partakes in the august photographic tradition of capturing commuters unaware on the New York subway.
Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebran de Haan’s glorious 35mm View from the Acropolis extends the Dutch artists’ interest in Europe’s shifting power dynamics by offering a monumental meditation on the original Turkish site of the Pergamon Altar, now stowed in the famous Berlin museum.
Anna Marziano’s intelligent, quietly moving The mutability of all things and the possibility of changing some (De la mutabilité de toute chose et de la possibilité d’en changer certaines) explores our human adaptability in light of catastrophe (the earthquake in Aquila) by way of seminal literature passages implying a transitory social body (from Marguerite Yourcenar, Hannah Arendt, et al.).
In his first film made outside of his native Austria, Johann Lurf spent several months documenting the Morris Reservoir near Asuza, California, which functioned for decades as a military torpedo-testing site. Now decommissioned and rife with resulting infrastructural oddities, the oft-documented site is here transformed in Reconnaissance through subtle movements by Lurf’s sly investment in visual perception play. The world is anything but static…
The Capsule, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece, 37’
A bevy of gorgeous Gothic goddesses vie for the attention of their headmistress on the Greek island of Hydra, in this fetishistic fashion-film fantasy by Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg).
Walker, Tsai-Ming Liang, China/Hong Kong, 26’
A metaphor for mourning and spiritual searching as much as it is a reminder to slow down, Tsai Ming-liang’s stunningly beautiful Walker features his acteur fétiche Lee Kang-sheng as a red-robed monk barely locomoting through the bustling streets of Hong Kong.
Viola, Matías Piñeiro, Argentina, 65’
Young Argentine auteur Matías Piñeiro continues his fascination with Shakespeare in this dazzling riff on Twelfth Night, which launches a host of intersecting characters into a roundelay of dalliances, intrigues and burgeoning revelations.
Birds, Gabriel Abrantes, Portugal, 17’
Gabriel Abrantes inventively transposes Aristophanes’ Ὄρνιθες (The Birds, from 414 B.C.) to a mournful, present-day Haiti shot in luminous 16mm.
Mekong Hotel, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 57’
The new film from Thai master and Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul is at once a soothing lullaby, a film à clef, fragments from an unrealized project, and a fascinating experiment in collaboration.
Big in Vietnam, Mati Diop, France, 27’
Up-and-coming French actress-filmmaker Mati Diop’s Tiger-award winning film is a strange and sensual short about a fraught adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses, where disappearances yield new beginnings.
The Last Time I Saw Macao (A Última Vez Que Vi Macau) João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rul Guerra da Mata, Portugal/France, 85’, North American Premiere. Part memoir, part city symphony, part noir-ish B-movie adventure, the new feature from critically acclaimed Portuguese filmmaking duo João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata (To Die Like a Man) is a sensual, shape-shifting ode to one of the world’s most mythic, alluring and exoticized cities.
Molussia (autrement, la Molussie) Nicolas Rey, France, 81’, Canadian Premiere. Differently autrement, la Molussie is an award-winning philosophical fable that draws on Günthers Anders’s amazingly prescient anti-fascist novel The Molussian Catacomb and is presented on nine reels of dreamy 16mm film shown in random order.
Bestiaire, Denis Côté, Canada/France, 72’, Canadian Premiere. Visionary filmmaker Denis Côté (Curling) offers a strikingly beautiful contemplation of the caged denizens of a zoo in this intriguing cinematic inquiry into the mysterious rapport and insuperable gulf between animals and humans.
Far From Afghanistan, John Gianvito, Jon Jost, Minda Martin, Soon-Mi Yoo, Travis Wilkerson, USA, 129’, North American Premiere. Taking inspiration from the collaborative 1967 militant anthology film Far from Vietnam (screening for free as part of our new TIFF Cinematheque programme), five of the boldest and most prominent American militant filmmakers unite to create this searing (and seething) omnibus work, employing a variety of approaches to reveal the hidden costs of the United States’ most expensive and longest-running war.
The Fifth Season, Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth, Belgium/The Netherlands/France, 94’, North American Premiere. In their follow-up to the remarkable Altiplano, co-directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth create a mystifying, surrealistic tale of a mountain village where spring refuses to come, inspiring the villagers to ever more desperate and bizarre measures to save their land and their lives.
The Lebanese Rocket Society, Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, Qatar, 93’, World Premiere. Lebanon’s brief flirtation with space travel in the 1960s becomes a poignant metaphor for the Arab world’s utopian dreams in this riveting documentary by internationally acclaimed artist duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.
Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, France/United Kingdom/USA, 87’, North American Premiere. In the very waters where Melville’s Pequod gave chase to Moby Dick, Leviathan captures the collaborative clash of man, nature, and machine on a dozen cameras—tossed and tethered from fisherman to filmmaker. A cosmic portrait of commercial fishing as it’s never been seen and heard.
Perret in France and Algeria, Heinz Emigholz, Germany, 110’, North American Premiere. Lauded artist-filmmaker Heinz Emigholz (Schindler’s Houses) offers an exquisite visual study of the work of pioneering French architect Auguste Perret, including privileged views of his innovative concrete structures in Algeria and such magnificent landmarks as Paris’ Art Deco Théâtre des Champs Elysées.
Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/The Netherlands/Germany, 120’, North American Premiere. Maverick director Carlos Reygadas presents his most ambitious, personal and controversial work yet with this disorienting, kaleidoscopic vision of a family torn between tenderness and violence.
Three Sisters, Wang Bing, China, 153’, North American Premiere. The masterful new documentary from Wang Bing (West of the Tracks) is an intimate, observational portrait of a peasant family who ekes out a humble existence in a small village set against the stunning mountain landscapes of China’s Yunnan province.
When Night Falls (Wo hai you hua yao shuo), Ying Liang, South Korea/China, 70’, North American Premiere. Inspired by the notorious case of a young man’s 2008 murder of six Shanghai police officers, the remarkable new film from independent Chinese auteur Ying Liang focuses on the killer’s mother, as she both struggles to comprehend her son’s heinous act and is persecuted by a state that willfully ignores its own laws. Winner of the Best Director and Actress awards at the Locarno Film Festival.