Interview With Phil Hoffman Regarding The “Escarpment School”

Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan Simmons inquires about Phil Hoffman’s involvement with the “Escarpment School”. Phil Hoffman will be introducing The Films of Rick Hancox and has films showing in The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends: Parsing the “Escarpment School” which is playing at the Winnipeg Cinematheque on Friday, November 5 at 7PM and on Saturday, November 6 at 7PM respectively.

Ryan Simmons: What motivated you and the other filmmakers in the school to work together more? What did it enable you to do?

Phil Hoffman: There was not really an official, formal creation of the group, the “escarpment school”. Mike Cartmell, coined the term in the early 80s after the first wave of the group went through the Sheridan course. Mike Hoolboom, Gary Popovich, Carl Brown and Steve Sanguedolce were part of the 2nd wave that came in between 1979 and the early 80s. We were a group of students that hung out together, fueled by our interest in alternative film and by our other interests like art and music. We were all lucky enough to be together at the right place, at the right time. In the 70s, people went to College to hang out and to find themselves. Many of them had other degrees – for instance, in English and philosophy – or they had kicked around in other jobs. In addition, we were older than the College students now and we were not under the same pressures to find a career as students today…we were more keen to find a means of expression.

The Dean, Peter Mallett, was kind of an ex-beatnick if Canada ever had one and he had hand-picked a stable of young progressive media teachers, like Rick Hancox and Jeffrey Paull who were passionate about personal and experimental film. The Media Arts Department in the 70s was sort of an experiment in film and media education. It was dealing with the intersection of film, video, sound, multi-image, practice and theory. I think it was the first film department in Canada that used Media Arts rather than Film Studies as its masthead. It was probably influenced by McLuhan and the 60s.

RS: How common was it for filmmakers to work together cooperatively when the Escarpment School arose? Was collaboration something you, and others, were actively looking for or did it arise more organically. Did it feel as though you were taking part in something new?

PH: No, not at all. There was no sense that we were some kind of special group. There was no outside recognition for what we were doing, and most of our classmates were making conventional film. We just hung out together and made films. We partied hard like most film students did and were influenced by what our teachers were putting up on the screen. There was a sense at that time at Sheridan, that it was okay to have an open mind to different things. However, we were in the shadows. Most of the other film schools promoted conventional film and the studio system, so this meant we were more underground.

RS: What do you see as the lasting legacy of the Escarpment School, are there any moments you’re particularly proud of?

PH: I am proud that we found a form that’s uniquely Canadian in the sense that it is a blending of New American Cinema (American Avant-Garde) and the Canadian passion to document. Also, about the development of a “personal cinema” in Canada.

Many of us still hang out, have mutual respect, do projects together, look at each others rough cuts. I think that is really kind of incredible. It is interesting to see how we’ve developed into different areas.

In addition, it is amazing that so many of us have found careers as teachers, interested in film & media education – myself, Richard Kerr, Steve Sanguedolce, Janis Cole, and others who came along, likely influenced by the original group and this kind of filmmaking – who Brett Kashmere has included in these programs – like Sarah Abbott, Josh Bonnetta, Mike Rollo among others who do shorter teaching gigs and workshops.

RS: What are the highlights of the event for you?

PH: I am looking forward to seeing these films on 16mm since they do not screen that often in celluloid. I am also looking forward to seeing Rick and Brett and I like Winnipeg a lot so I’m looking forward to seeing the whole Winnipeg gang. I came to Winnipeg last year and had a blast.

Oh yeah, my dad was born in Winnipeg and my grandfather settled there when he first arrived in Canada. I am hoping to continue my research in finding the many homes they moved through.

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~ by cineflyer on October 31, 2010.

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