Breath/Light/Birth curated by Heidi Phillips

Breath/Light/Birth: Spirituality In Experimental Cinema (curated by Heidi Phillips)
Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque
(+ panel discussion to follow with Heidi Phillips, Jenny Western, Clint Enns and Amanda Dawn Christie)

The climate of contemporary film has grown comfortable in its absence of religious themes. However, when a film appears that asks any sort of question about God or even alludes to the possibility of a great power, it stands out. Dealing with these concepts of religion and spirituality in an artistic manner becomes daring in its infrequency. The films in the program were selected both from their use of content and their form. Not only is their thematic content important but also how they were made. They would all be described as experimental as the artist pays particular attention to how he/she uses their medium of choice, balancing both form and concept.

untitled 2 (the last jew of edenbridge) by Sol Nagler
Breath/Light/Birth by Bruce Elder
We are experiencing… by John Kneller
Path by Elvira Finnigan
Quiero Ver by Adele Horne
The Architect by Rick Fisher and Don Rice
Fair Trade by Leslie Supnet
King of the Jews by Jay Rosenblatt
Playing Jacob by Amanda Dawn Christie


From Uptown Magazine October 14, 2010

God on film
Never mind polite company: experimental short film program Breath/Light/Birth expressly tackles the subject of religion

Is religion a topic that’s out of fashion amongst artists today?

Discussion of religion in public discourse is unavoidable these days, it seems, whether it’s the latest headline or the latest (and sometimes iconoclastic) bestseller. Here in Canada, it’s The Armageddon Factor by journalist Marci McDonald that’s prompting debate.

Yet when it comes to the arts, “I’m not really sure how out there religion is as a subject these days,” says Heidi Phillips, local experimental filmmaker and curator of Breath/Light/Birth: Spirituality in Experimental Cinema.

The program of short films screens tonight at Cinematheque.

It was hard, Phillips says, to find even the films that make up the final slate, which includes work by Winnipeg filmmakers Sol Nagler, Rick Fisher, Don Rice and Leslie Supnet.

(Also featured is one short by Amanda Dawn Christie, whose own films will be screened in a separate program this weekend.)

For that matter, Phillips continues, it was even harder to find texts related to the programme’s focus. “That’s interesting when you consider Western art history is perhaps predominantly Christian religious art.”

There are exceptions. Consider Adele Horne’s Quiero Ver, filmed in the Mojave Desert and chronicling some Christian true believers’ insistence that the Virgin Mary can be seen in the harsh light of the sun.

“The people you see in the film really believe, or really want to believe, that they’re seeing something,” Phillips says.

“What’s interesting is how they’re trying to prove their faith – which, if you think about it, is really the opposite of faith.”

That film is perhaps an exception in the programme’s more experimental fare. Phillips’ larger goal, however, is to try and bring together faith and art.

“Art and religion can certainly be united in purpose,” she agrees. “Both can be about trying to look at the world and find meaning in it.”

Yet what meaning can be discerned from the films themselves? Where does Horne stand on her subject, for instance?

“I can’t speak for everyone, but most of the filmmakers seem not to be religious,” Phillips says. “One says he was raised Catholic, anyway. And I don’t know about Amanda — I think I’ll ask her this weekend.

“The upshot is, you can’t always put your finger on what the filmmakers are saying, exactly. The films are elusive that way.”

And that, Phillips continues, is the exact opposite of how faith is usually presented as a theme in film. Take Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for instance.

“That movie is very in your face and hard to take. And it’s definitely trying to sell you on something,” she says. “Most films on faith usually take a side. These filmmakers, by contrast, are asking more questions that providing answers.”

The question inevitably arises: Is Phillips religious?

“I believe in God, and I self-identify as Christian — although in a kind of funny, non-denominational way.

“But that starts getting a bit complicated.”

Where the program is concerned, she’s perhaps more interested in the films as films.

“For one thing, I’m interested in more hand-crafted, processed-based films, where the filmmakers are experimenting with technique and with the medium. That’s one reason I selected what I selected.”

But the program was also borne out of Phillips’s personal frustration with trying to deal with the same themes.

“What should be absolute? What should be abstract?” she asks. “It can be difficult to express these ideas without becoming heavy-handed.”

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on October 5, 2010.

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