Interview With Brett Kashmere Regarding The “Escarpment School”

Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan Simmons inquires about Pittsburgh-based filmmaker, curator and writer Brett Kashmere’s new curatorial program The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends: Parsing the “Escarpment School” which is playing at the Winnipeg Cinematheque on Saturday, November 6 at 7PM.

Ryan Simmons: You say the Escarpment School can, or has, been seen “as a legitimate art-historical movement or a PR strategy concocted from within.” Can you expound on that?

Brett Kashmere: The source of the term “Escarpment School” remains something of a mystery, one which I’m still investigating. I suspect that it was likely coined by someone associated with the group. This isn’t totally uncommon: take the New American Cinema, for example. But typically these types of groups or movements are named by someone on the outside, such as a critic or an art historian. Further, each individual involved/implicated has a different connection to or level investment in the idea of the “Escarpment School,” which is why I prefer to leave it in quotation marks. It’s also why I’ve chosen the title “The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends: Parsing the ‘Escarpment School.'” Some of the filmmakers identify as being “members” of this group, while others do not.

This project is very much about my own interpretation of the “Escarpment School,” and is informed by my relationship to Richard Kerr, who was one of my first film teachers, and who I later worked with; as well as Rick Hancox, who I got to know while living in Montreal. Hancox, incidentally, was Kerr’s first teacher, so I’ve always been interested in this lineage of influence. Along the way, I have tried to seek out as many different perspectives as possible.

I understand the “Escarpment School” as a unique chapter in the history of Sheridan College’s Media Arts Program and its surrounding film community, one of the first of its kind in Canada. Its significance stems from the fact that an amazing percentage of the students who passed through this program in the late-70s and early-80s have gone on to have long and remarkable careers, and who have influenced a second generation of Canadian film artists through their films and/or their teaching. There is nothing that really compares to the “Escarpment School” in Canadian cinema, yet it remains an under-reported and under-appreciated phenomenon. That’s why I think this film series is an important curatorial endeavor.

RS: What are the aspects of the Escarpment School, outside of its historical importance, that you truly champion and maybe aspire towards?

BK: Now that I make my living as a college professor, teaching film/video production, I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for the non-hierarchical approach to genre that was a cornerstone of Jeff Paull and Rick Hancox’s classroom practice. I think a lot of my teaching philosophy, particularly its emphasis on individual expression, has been influenced by the Escarpment School / Sheridan College Media Arts of the 70s and 80s. I also think the confluence of documentary subject matter, personal subjectivity, and formal experimentation, which was one of the unique aspects of Escarpment School films, has had an impact on my own filmmaking.

RS: What are the highlights of the event for you? Do you see any influence that the Escarpment School has had on Winnipeg?

BK: One of the highlights for me has been discovering films that I either didn’t know about, or had never seen. Learning about Lorne Marin’s work, for instance. Viewing Jeff Paull’s single-reel Super 8 films from the early-80s. Seeing George Semsel’s films, and so on. Some of this stuff will be included in the series, which I’m very excited about. In general, a lot of the films in the series have not been screened very much in the past couple of decades. This has nothing to do with the quality of the films, and more to do with the declining status of experimental film / celluloid-based practice within the Canadian art scene.

I’m not sure that the Escarpment School had any direct influence on Winnipeg; however, I do know that the former Winnipeg filmmaker and current NSCAD professor Sol Nagler attended Phil Hoffman’s Independent Imaging Retreat many years ago, and later taught hand-processing workshops in Winnipeg. Phil was first introduced to hand-processing techniques in Jeff Paull’s classes at Sheridan College. So there’s those types of connections. I also think that Richard Kerr was instrumental in the development of a first person cinema aesthetic/ethos in the prairies, through his time at the University of Regina, and which has surely been felt in Winnipeg.

RS: You have also had your hands in cultivating underground film scenes and collectives – for instance, The Antechamber and Syracuse Experimental. How did you go about doing this?

Nothing has really been done quickly, or effortlessly. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Regina, I started a storefront gallery and microcinema with three classmates (Alex Rogalski, Robert Pytlyk, and Jason Cawood) which was called The Antechamber. We renovated and custom tailored the space ourselves. It took a lot of work, and we paid all of the bills out of our pockets. We did it because we believed in its importance, and it led to many different and productive things. For instance, it was at The Antechamber where Alex started his One Take Super 8 Event, which continues to this day, and which was born out of the same spirit — to provide a vehicle for creative activity and collective viewing.

As someone interested in alternative media practices, I quickly came to understand the importance of cultivating a community of like-minded individuals. Most of the time this type of film/video production is done in solitude, often in the dark, and with little critical recognition. Belonging to a community means having support for what you’re doing, whether that support is social or material. It makes a difference to know that you belong to something that’s larger than yourself.

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Brett Kashmere will be providing a seminar that focuses on the role and responsibility of the curator in contemporary life, providing an overview of curatorial practice within the stricter context of moving images. This will include a consideration of the methods, procedures, and decision-making processes of media art exhibition; the shifting relationship between artists, institutions, programmers, and curators; critical and conceptual aspects of curating; curating for different spaces; and writing about artists’ work. This free lecture takes place on November 6 at 2PM at the Winnipeg Film Group. Please register in advance by contacting Darcy Fehr at 925-3450 or darcy@winnipegfilmgroup.com.

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~ by cineflyer on October 31, 2010.

3 Responses to “Interview With Brett Kashmere Regarding The “Escarpment School””

  1. good…..

  2. […] more about the escarpment school, check out this Cineflyer interview by Ryan Simmons with the editor of Incite: Journal of Experimental Media, Brett […]

  3. […] Cineflyer I had on the site earlier in the week, but I want to make sure they get read. One is an interview with film curator Brett Cashmere about his new series investigating Canada’s little-known Escarpment School movement. And the […]

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