Closing Gala: Hidden Presences
129 Spadina Ave (down the alley)
The films within this category take a fastidious look at human gestures as another medium of communication, using facial movement as a narrative source as one would a painted canvas. Because a grimace or a smile can respectively convey more than opprobrium or approval, the filmmakers in this program playfully experiment with human expressions to underscore the inadequacies of the spoken word and the advantages of cinema as a visual medium.
HIDDEN PRESENCES: FILMS BY WILLIE VARELA
From his home in El Paso, Willie Varela has been making personal, experimental moving image work since 1971. The films and videos collected in this program are a sampling of Varela’s massive body of work, and include environmental portraits, experiments with abstract light forms. His work is informed by a disparate range of influences — including Chicano culture, Catholic iconography and ritual, and mass media. Varela’s work is thus a nexus of regional identity, faith, and technological experience. By this, Varela’s films transcend distinctions of formal and social investigation.His early super 8 films emphasized perception and gestural abstraction. Varela has described them as being “domestic in nature … concerned with the rhythm and the dailyness manifests, like in the films of his friend Stan Brakhage, as a record of a life of passionate visual exploration. In his early abstract films, such as Becky’s Eye, transforming coloured light suggests, at times, a gradient iris, or an inflamed sclera, and even when these rhythms are slowed, the film remains ambiguous in its content.
Year: 1977 Format: Super8mm-on-16mm Running time: 3’31’’ Sound: Silent
Synopsis: Becky’s Eye is also unique for its ambiguity, where the light abstraction remains indicative of a concrete thing — an iris, a lash — just barely escaping perception. Such lightplays announced one theme of Varela’s filmmaking, the expression of feeling, both spiritual and emotional, and of time, both mythic and present, through a transforming light. This theme carries forward into his diaries, for example, March 1979, in which elusive, silhouetted figures, refracted light forms, the leaves of houseplants, and the unrestrained bobbing of a caged bird, combine in what is shaped as a single morning, a waking of the world.
Year: 1974 Format: Super8mm-on-16mm Running time: 2’43’’ Sound: Silent
Synopsis: Ghost Town is a study of wrecked buildings, Varela’s camera panning across the strange beauty of the rusted metal, broken glass, and rotting wood of the structures, eventually discovering another symbol of time, a tree that Varela animates by his dynamic exploration.
RECUERDOS DE FLORES MUERTAS
Year: 1982 Format: Super8mm-on-16mm Running time: 6’58’’ Sound: Sound
Synopsis: Recuerdos de flores muertas continues this theme of finding beauty and terror in an unkept environment. It is filmed in an old cemetery, where Varela bears witness to the wounds, both sculpted and incidental, of Christ sculptures that are missing fingers and hands, in the shadow of a highway overpass and with the sounds of traffic and planes whirring in the distance.
Year: 1979 Format: Super8mm-on-16mm Running time: 3’27’’’ Sound: Silent
Synopsis: Elusive silhouetted figures, refracted light forms, the leaves of houseplants, and the unrestrained bobbing of a caged bird, combine in what is shaped as a single morning, a waking of the world.
Year: 1985 Format: Super8mm-on-16mm Running time: 12’30’’ Sound: Sound
Synopsis: In Progress, among the most haunting of Varela’s films, compiles scenes from medical films; observations of street life; scenes of protest in San Francisco, in the aftermath of Harvey Milk’s assassination; and images from mass media (break dancing, rocket launches, Reagan at the start of his second term), all with the characteristic skip of the television set’s signal. Varela’s camera captures street musicians and commuters cropped in the sharp and often mirrored surfaces of the San Francisco cityscape. The apocalyptic omens that Varela has gathered from television cast a grim shadow, and that shadow is already upon us in the fracturing, dehumanizing witness of Varela’s own protest march.
As Varela moved on from film, working with video from the 1990s to the present, the spiritual and autobiographic concerns of his work remained, evidenced in the longer works that conclude this programme, works in contemplation of sacred and profane experience.
HIS HIDDEN PRESENCE
Year: 1998 Format: Video Running time: 10’10’’ Sound: Sound
Synopsis:His Hidden Presence continues the multiform, ‘found’ image construction of In Progress, accommodating a collage soundtrack of electronic beats, a distorting, looping horn, and a loop of the Velvet Underground, to accompany surreal and horrific scenes of wrestling and crucifixions, as well as diaristic photography.
THIS BURNING WORLD
Year: 2002 Format: Video Running time: 32’ Sound: Sound - dual screen
Synopsis: This Burning World is a dual screen video work combining footage of earlier works, rephotographed televisions, images of the 9/11 terrorist attack, and iconic faces as diverse as those of Osama Bin Laden and the Sphinx. Repeating images of hands, in wild, infernal colour schemes, make for a visceral reminder of the wounds of Christ. But these wounds are not isolated as historical citation or distant spiritual doctrine, as the hand passes slowly over the glow of television, its signal disrupted, vibrating noise.
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Closing Gala + Festival Awards