Helen Hill’s Recipes for Fiercely Independent Experimentation

I first came across Helen Hill’s work in print, after taking the 16mm experimental film class offered at the Winnipeg Film Group, an artist-run workshop centered on hand processing and handcrafted filmmaking. Our reference book was compiled by Sol Nagler, John Kapitany and Mike Maryniuk with many of it’s pages lifted from a specific LIFT newsletter, collected memories and instructions from Phil Hoffman’s independent Imaging retreat, and Recipes for Disaster: A handcrafted film cookbooklet by Helen Hill.

With Recipes for Disaster, Helen brought together the scattered community of artist making handmade films. She compiled and edited many DIY recipes for filmmaking, with notes from artists such as Richard Reeves, Amy Lockhart, Naomi Uman, Phil Hoffman and Alex Mackenzie and many others. The book itself is a testament to Helen’s aesthetic, filled with quirky illustrations, hand drawn diagrams, and typewritten sheets, and most significantly – recipes for fiercely independent experimentation.

Helen Hill was an experimental filmmaker. The Uniter’s review on this collection that screened on Saturday stated that “Hill’s work gives the sense of a film student playing around. The films are rough, experimental and sometimes fail to work as a cohesive piece”, which I feel is an ironic reading of her work, since this is exactly what experimental filmmakers do, that is, they play with conventional modes of storytelling and processes, and test the boundaries of the medium itself. In the words of Amanda Dawn in an essay for the Atlantic Filmmaker’s Co-operative, she states Hill “disrupted the flow of linear filmmaking” through her projects and filmmaking, and left an indelible mark on the Halifax film community.

Hill incorporated many animation techniques in her work, such as silhouette animation using paper cut outs, three-dimensional stop motion, three-dimensional puppets, cel cycles, drawing-on-film and pixellation. She also tinted, toned and drew images onto film by hand. These techniques are central in Hill’s self-reflexive Madame Winger Makes A Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century, a fun meta-referencing instructional; a visual parallel to Recipes for Disaster.

This film, along with nine of her other works, were preserved by the Harvard Film Archive and Colorlab, with Rain Dance preserved under the direction of Bill Brand as an NYU Moving Image and Archiving Program project. Hill’s was also interested in archiving, and gave several lectures at CalArts and other schools promoting do-it-yourself techniques for archiving and restoring motion picture film. Archivist Kara Van Malssen worked with Hill as part of her New York University master’s thesis, Disaster Planning and Recovery: Post-Katrina Lessons for Mixed Media Collections.

The spirit of Helen Hill’s commitment to community and self-empowerment, and her love of cinema lives on through The Helen Hill Collection, which includes a repository of films, drawings, photographs, art works, writings, music, and ephemera.

If you are an animator working on an animated film or video that exhibits the playful, hand-on, DIY spirit that inspired Helen Hill and her art, consider applying for the Helen Hill Film Fund.

A DVD of Helen’s work is available through Peripheral Produce.

– Leslie Supnet

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~ by cineflyer on December 7, 2009.

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