Just days into the Covid-19 lockdown, I learned that I was fortunate to receive Canada Council for the Arts funding to support the post-production phase of my digital film project, Borderland Memories, a work in progress since 2015. I began working with my sound and picture editing collaborators via Zoom and other online platforms, and the process of editing and audio production became a slow meditation in the restructured perception of time generated by social distancing. Online work time is both more compacted and more fragmented, producing a continual reassessment of the themes I am expressing for the future screen. What will the stories I’ve been exploring in this film for the past five years mean in the larger post-pandemic histories to come? Two years ago, I was in Berlin at this time, doing archival research at the German Historical Museum, filming in the city and in places along the German/Polish border, meeting with colleagues in the Silesian countryside and in the city of Wroclaw. Although I had gathered enough material to construct my film when travel options ended, I was hoping to return to Europe this spring for some final research and image production. Now I wonder what film festivals and screenings will be like in times ahead, and what are the ethics of future travel – for work, for time with loved ones abroad, to reach into a wider world.
Views From Home: Facing North (2019) records changing views from the filmmaker’s Toronto home over two decades and multiple seasons, moving from analogue film photographic studies to digital media practices as years of construction and redevelopment of the visible landscapes unfold. Key historical moments are cited to sound effects and ambient music. A part of this work was previously shown at Gallery 44 Members Space, Toronto. Below is the trailer. The short film is distributed by Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC).
Since 2015 I have travelled three times to Lower Silesia, Poland, where my father’s family lived for centuries under Bohemian, Prussian, and German rule. Their homes were in regional villages south of Wroclaw, a thousand-year old city. The earliest Silesians were migratory tribes. Traces of Stone Age habitation were found on the city’s riverbanks and Celtic populations passed through and moved on. Silesia was claimed by the kingdom of Poland shortly before the year 1000, followed by various competing rulerships and kingdoms as the land was bought, sold, seized in battles and traded in marriages between revolving political, social, and religious controls, becoming finally a province of the Republic of Germany until it was annexed to Poland after WW2. My relations, along with most ethnic Germans, were expelled to the west, leaving their homes behind. While in Silesia I filmed sites, visited archives, and recorded interviews for my media project, Borderland Memories. I was a visiting researcher on a team from Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, and my project research and creation was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Here is a link to a new visual essay, Among the Ruins, published in the online journal The Goose (2018). An early version of this work was presented at the 2011 Green Words/Green Worlds conference in Toronto. The images were shown as part of the 2013 exhibition, Abject Transformations, at Arcadia Art Gallery, Toronto.
In June I attended a conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Rust/Resistance: Works of Recovery, at Wayne State University in Detroit. I presented media and writing from my project in progress, Borderland Memories in Lower Silesia. It was my first time back to Detroit in many years and my only previous encounter with the city was at the Greyhound bus depot, en route to Ann Arbor Film Festival. As I walked among the ruins and some wonderful old architectures, I found myself in a city of hidden stories with much heart. Filmmaker Patrick Keiller wrote, “The present day flâneur carries a camera” and travels in some kind of vehicle (The View From the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes, 2013).
The research I cited for this project ten years ago, in part for my doctorate in Environmental Studies, was recently connected to new media stories. In the film, I interview a number of experts on the issue of aluminum prophylaxis. You can hear some of their comments in the film’s trailer, and read some 2017 news stories online at these links:
A traveling film festival goes to some interesting places that a big metropolitan festival does not. There’s culture in the rural, and expanded landscapes inform regional communities. Conversations on the Lake, an environmental documentary about the rural places of my childhood in towns bordering Lake Superior, has screened in several Northern Ontario venues and festivals, traveled through parts of India in Voices From the Waters, and in rural southern USA locations in the Ozark Shorts Film Festival, Ozark Mountains regional festival, USA.
These rural communities are participants in helping to shape critical environmental discourses around water, land, and community, within multi-vocal themes and expressions.
Conversations on the Lake is selected for the 10th Edition of the Voices from the Waters, International Travelling Film Festival on the 23rd to the 26th November 2016 in Bangalore, India. This festival is in association with the Bangalore Film Society, Christ University, Gandhi Bhavan, Chalanchitra Academy, FLEFF.
Distance is measured differently in places where the land is wide with many spaces mostly populated by more than human others. In Northern Ontario where I grew up, we could visit our neighbours two hundred kilometers away for lunch and be home later that day for supper. Now I live in Toronto where driving a mere ninety kilometers north constitutes a road trip. Recently I was north again, to participate as a mentor on workshops about knowledge mobilization and multi-media, produced by Docs North in Thunder Bay, home of the Bay Street Film Festival, and some of us there had a conversation about how distance is embodied in the north for those who live there, and still for those of us who went south …
“Red Motel” (2005) from the series Northland.