Mysteries of Light

Mysteries of Light: The Films and Videos of Heidi Phillips
Friday, July 29, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Heidi Phillips sifts and searches through old films and found footage, lifting imagery and sound to recycle into her own layered and loosely structured narrative works. Increasingly, she is using old technology such as radios and television sets as sculptural objects within the space. Her use of moving images has progressed into a more tactile approach with the physicality of the film medium itself. These found-footage and hand-processed films entice the viewer into an alternate reality where sailboats have character and disembodied arms have hope. The program will conclude with the premiere of Phillips’ latest film series based on 8mm found footage bought from “Klass ‘A’ Auctions” in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


Tribute to Scissors
Isolating Landscapes
Discovering Composition in Art
The Last Harvest


Examining the Luminous Mysteries in the Films of Heidi Phillips

It should seem fairly clear by now that there has been a growing trend amongst film and video artists to explore questions of spirituality (and pseudo-spirituality) in their work. At the same time, it seems that very few experimental filmmakers are exploring the relationship between film and Christianity despite the fact that many of these films stem from the feeling that there is something missing from their lives, a void that cannot be filled with blatant, unrelenting consumerism nor internet communication.

In many of the films presented in Mysteries of Light, Phillips articulates this feeling of spiritual emptiness while providing an antidote; a remedy that most of us are reluctant to hear. However, why should we be turned off by the idea of discovering and developing a personal relationship with G-d? The personal has always been an intrinsic part of experimental film and so it is in Phillips’ version, where images have a weight and sincerity that precludes ironic dismissal. In addition, Phillips` films aren’t dogmatic – they are full of mystery and they do not attempt to provide us with easy answers.

Although Phillips early work lacks the subtlety necessary to deliver the richness of the message – at least to this atheist viewer – her newer works leave the message ambiguous enough to make her themes more universal, and therefore, more appealing to a broader audience. After all, most of us will empathize with her feelings of isolation, loneliness and emptiness. After obsessively re-printing, the mostly found images in Phillips’ films begin to take on a new life. Through the juxtaposition of images, abstraction and repetition to the point of religious ritual, a new narrative dealing with intense spiritual struggle is formed.

On the other hand, not all of Phillips` films are doom and gloom or attempts at our Salvation. In fact, her works often have a subtle sense of humour. Consider Phillips` Silverscope film Compositions in Art (a film made for the 25th anniversary of the Cinematheque). This film uses a film of the same name as source material and leads us through her “good compositional” choices. The film itself is made through darkroom experimentation with the composition choices appearing to mimic (and seemingly mock) the instructions given in the original soundtrack.

Spin is another film that delicately balances content and form. The film can be seen as a reverse “Cinefuge” technique in many ways. The “Cinefuge” technique was developed by Toronto Super 8mm guru John Porter and the technique consists of Porter spinning the around himself in clever ways. Due to the nature of the techniques, Porter’s films are necessarily self portraits. In contrast, Phillips’ “Cinefuge” technique involves strapping a camera to herself and spinning her niece and nephew around providing us with a portrait of her niece and nephew, in addition to providing us with a glimpse into their relationship.

One of the things I have long admired about Heidi is her willingness to takes risks and chances with her work, both in terms of techniques and in terms of exploring a subject matter that is not considered in vogue at this time. These risks have led her to create a diverse and interesting body of work. This retrospective demonstrates the clear development of a promising filmmaker. There is no mystery as to why this show of work is well deserved.

– Clint Enns


From Uptown Magazine July 28, 2011

‘It’s not reality, it’s its own thing’
On the eve of her career retrospective, award-winning local filmmaker Heidi Phillips talks to Uptown about her otherworldly approach

Winnipeg experimental filmmaker Heidi Phillips’ short, Selection of Composition, indirectly but nicely encapsulates what makes artists artists: it’s about what choices make up their — in this case — pictures.

Take Phillips’ love of the grain, the jerkiness and the black-and-white or Kodachrome colour of old footage, evoked in her 2010 short, Spin.

“It just has a feeling of memory and of the past,” says the unassuming, bespectacled Phillips, struggling to articulate her very intuitive approach to her art.

Memory and its close cousins — dreams, the subconscious and the mysterious — are addressed directly in the program Mysteries of Light, a retrospective screening on Friday at 7 p.m. at Cinematheque. Premiering will be Phillips’ latest film series, based on old 8mm found footage from Saskatoon.

Phillips, 31, has had her work screened everywhere from Toronto to Germany. In June she won the Manitoba Film Hothouse Award for Creative Development, funded by the Province of Manitoba, and her ghostly horror short, The Last Harvest, was effusively praised earlier this year on leading underground film website Bad Lit .

The recognition notwithstanding, Phillips remains a shy figure of few words.

“I don’t like to be too specific about my films,” she says, wary of limiting their meaning and potential for interpretation.

But she agrees Cinematheque’s website is accurate to describe her work as creating “an alternate reality.” One example is the short, Revival, featuring the surreal image of what appears to be floating, disembodied arms.

“It’s not reality, it’s its own thing,” Phillips says of her characteristic aesthetic, which marries grainy, dreamy, sometimes almost ethereal B&W images with eerie, insinuating, even unsettling sound effects and pseudo-scores.

“As long as people don’t think that by ‘alternate reality’ it means aliens or something.”

Phillips is also notable for treating the topic of religion, as in the short, Direction, in which a woman speaks of seeing God in nature.

“I have a personal interest in faith but it’s not really intellectual,” Phillips explains. “I’m more interested in the kinds of feelings involved and I like to evoke those on film.”

The otherworldly subject dovetails with the filmmaker’s own aesthetic sensibilities, highlighting the very process and physical properties of film within her films.

“I think Hollywood movies are very funny in the way they try to pass off spectacles as ‘realistic.’ There’s so much behind the finished images we’re presented with, and it’s those processes and textures that I like,” she says.

The balance Phillips is attempting to strike in present work is between a more non-linear, surreal approach and creating some semblance of narrative framework; The Last Harvest, for instance, uses horror film tropes to tell a loose ghost story.

“We just sort of went out and shot that — I didn’t use scripts or shot lists, but now I can see why people do,” Phillips laughs. “My process can be a disaster when any planning is required.

“But ultimately, I’m more interested in seeing where things go.”

– Kenton Smith


From CBC July 30, 2011

Hothouse Flower: Cinematheque celebrates award-winning filmmaker Heidi Phillips

Heidi Phillips makes experimental films and videos. Take her 2010 short Spin. What in anyone else’s hands would look like a home movie – footage of toddlers playing in a backyard – becomes a kinetic whirl of youth, joy and curiosity. Or Revival (2009), in which weird found footage of helicopters becomes a metaphor for transcendent yearning.

Winner of the 2011 Manitoba Film Hothouse Award, the Winnipeg artist will be honoured at Cinematheque on July 29th with a retrospective showing of her work, ranging from a 1999 student piece to a premiere of her latest project. Like many avant-garde filmmakers, Phillips uses dark and light, sound and rhythm to examine the nature of her medium, but she also creates amazingly evocative spaces for feeling and thought.

Phillips has been gaining a national and international reputation lately (at Toronto’s Images Festival, Montreal’s International Festival of Films on Art, the European Media Arts Festival in Germany), but there’s something stubbornly Winnipeggy about her work. She favours low-fi technologies – her films are filled with images of old radios and televisions – and a DIY approach. Her three-minute short Tribute to Scissors is just that: a tribute to scissors and the cool things you can do with them (like making cut-out snowflakes or paper-doll chains).

Phillips also loves the bargain-hunting Value Village vibe that’s seen in so much of our city’s art. She makes use of scavenged footage that she finds at thrift stores, auction houses and people’s basements. Phillips then manipulates the footage, scratching, scuffing, burning, bleaching and otherwise roughing it up to give it a tough, gritty beauty.

The Last Harvest (2010), kind of an art-house ghost story, embodies the common Winnipeg fascination with the overlooked and the discarded. A young man walks through an abandoned prairie farmhouse, its once hardworking rooms silted up with grey decay and melancholy layers of memory.

One recurring and deeply personal strain in Phillips’s work is her examination of religious faith. In Directions (2005), interview subjects give street directions for the routes they take to church, at the same time suggesting the unexpected turnings of their spiritual paths. Skydive (2011) combines grainy footage of parachute drops with voiceover narratives describing leaps of faith.

Phillips herself continues to jump into the unknown, which is why it will be interesting to see what she does with her Hothouse creative development money.

– Alison Gillmor

~ by cineflyer on July 8, 2011.

3 Responses to “Mysteries of Light”

  1. horray!

  2. Compositions In Art is one of my favs…

  3. […] Heidi Phillips is a champion of found footage and filmic textures. For more about her, check out this Cineflyer Article. […]

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