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The X-films 

AFCOOP hosts the inaugural Cinema X festival, spotlighting experimental animation. Carsten Knox talks to the players.

It isn’t a wild generalization to say that most people who get into filmmaking want to make a living doing it. It’s the result of a pervasive and populist medium of entertainment. This means understanding how to tell a story in projected light, but there are those who are able to look at unique elements of film, separate from narrative, and doing so, risk making art.

Cinema X, a festival aimed at “exploring film as a form of expression and experimentation,” is being put on by the Atlantic Filmmakers’ Cooperative in partnership with The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, The Centre for Art Tapes, The National Film Board and Vancouver’s Cineworks.

Among the planned workshops, screenings and seminars will be a survey of the history of experimental film and an animation clinic. Among the attendees will be Toronto-based animator Roberto Arignanello, who will be giving a talk and screening some of his work.

Organizer Chris Spencer-Lowe says it was a discussion with former AFCOOP chair Amanda Dawn Christie that started the ball rolling. “We thought it was a great idea to get her to curate an evening,” he says. “Then we decided, let’s make it a whole week.”

A Moncton native, Christie lived in Halifax from 1999 to 2004, working at the now-defunct Nova Scotia Arts Council, attending classes at the Nova Scotia Community College and becoming very involved in AFCOOP. Her creative expression is rooted in an interest in photography, which appealed to her as a perfect marriage of art and science. That led her to film.

“It’s funny, I didn’t come to film wanting to tell stories,” she says down the line from Vancouver, where she’s doing an MFA in interdisciplinary studies. “I came because as a photographer I got bored and I wanted to make my photographs move. Film for me is just a bunch of photos in a row, moving fast.”

For her, the art of projecting the film is as much a part of the artistic expression as shooting or editing. “I love experimental film, and it’s really an underground thing that a lot of people aren’t aware of.” In Halifax and Vancouver, the film programs, even in the art schools, are very much script- and narrative-driven. “It’s really hard to get out and see this stuff, as it’s not the sort of thing that video stores carry. You can’t go out and rent this.”

Christie is excited to be bringing almost exclusively film prints to the screening, all handmade—that is, they were hand-processed, usually by a single individual. “Not only is it a chance to see this stuff, but usually, when you see it in class you’re watching it on video. The quality is just so different, watching it . It’s so wonderful to have the chance to watch it and show these films to other people. They often see and say, ‘Wow that was so much cooler than I thought.’ It’s inspiring.”

She has chosen films of limited running time to show how even a short non-narrative picture can be powerful and effective. “You can move someone in three minutes. Most of the films I’ve picked are under five minutes, so if there’s something you really hate, it’ll be over soon,” she says, laughing. “And if there’s something you really love, then savour it, because it’ll also be over soon.”

Roberto Arignanello works at the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto, a counterpart organization to AFCOOP. He is scheduled to screen two of his seven films, Contrafacta and Non-Zymase Pentathlon, at the festival.

“I like to work in different genres, animation, documentary and found footage as well,” he says on the phone from Toronto. “The two films I’m showing are cut-out animation, with imagery appropriated from other print sources, books and magazines. We create new images by collaging these images together. In both cases the films were improvisational. We spent a lot of time accumulating the imagery, and we would decide on the spot what we would use. It’s a very different way of working.”

Arignanello believes narrative is something ingrained in all filmmakers, despite overt efforts to not tell a story. “Even in experimental film, narrative tends to imply story, but more often it just means there’s a structure. Just in terms of it being explicit, it’s not.”

Cinema X, August 14 - 20, various locations, free-$15. See Events, page 41, for more info.


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