So proud of my dear old friend Joyce Wong and our producing team Matt Greyson and Harry Cherniak for bringing our feature film WEXFORD PLAZA to Turin, Italy this week. We shot the film, which is Joyce’s first feature, in August 2015 in the suburbs of Toronto.

WEXFORD PLAZA follows Betty, a young woman with a new job as a strip mall security guard, as she navigates the plaza by night searching for solutions to her boredom. She meets Danny, a charming bartender who works at the bar on the strip. His own feelings of financial and emotional inertia have got him eager to make a change. The two become acquainted in the nebulous waters of flirtation and enterprising ambition as they try to better their situations.

Inspired by our youth loitering in pre-gentrified Scarborough, Ontario, Joyce and I had a ton of common ground and personal experiences to draw from when we were conceiving of the film’s style. Joyce wanted to highlight the strange serenity of a place in economic stasis using static compositions and minimal coverage. We carefully storyboarded every shot, 300 of them or so, which is a relatively tiny amount for a feature film. Stylistically, we drew from Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy  and our own documentary backgrounds to emphasize how the landscapes of the characters’ realities – their homes, their places of work, their unregulated shift schedules, their vehicles – generate both the energy and the apathy that shape this moment in their lives.

We shot the film with a small crew over the course of three weeks. Matt called it “family-style filmmaking” from the start, and that’s exactly what it felt like. Thank you and congratulations to my filmmaking family for this project.

The film will be coming to the U.S. soon – more on that later.

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The New York Times reviewed THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES the other day in advance of the film’s week-long run at Anthology Film Archives in New York City (Nov 4 -10). It just so happens the article highlights several concepts I’ve been trying to articulate in a draft here the past few days but for which I’ve had trouble finding the proper context.

Every now and then new filmmakers contact me and would like to know how to continue pursuing a life in cinematography. It’s difficult to give this type of advice since every path is very different. But I do firmly believe in one consistent truth: that the projects we choose to shoot directly shape the trajectories our lives will take as cinematographers. They will inform what we continue to shoot, where in the world we go, the creative soulmates we might encounter – broadly speaking, we further cement and refine what we align with through the work that we do, and in this way we can shape the life we give ourselves. More importantly though is the stuff we’re actually outputting. If consistently chosen with the heart, one’s body of work grows to eventually indicate a worldview and an overarching philosophy, as well as a collection of frustrations about and hopes for the world. If you are choosing your projects by identifying fiercely with them, you’re contributing something of yourself in sometimes enormous ways just by putting your energy there instead of some other place.

The Village Voice also did a piece on The Prison in Twelve Landscapes. It opens with the statement, “It’s rare that a film this outraged is also this calm.” This intersection of urgency and patience is what I’m getting at here. In my very first meeting with a director, it’s this sense of urgency that I’m looking for before anything else. Once that’s made clear we move on to the next step, which is figuring out whether or not we can contribute something to the world that we can both agree is essential and, in a small or sometimes massive way, shift a paradigm that needs shifting. Reverse a gaze. Inform hearts and minds by begging an audience to consider what it looks like from the other side of a situation, the side of the Other, or in some cases from a place less dichotomous than that – perhaps from an even tinier, quieted, underrepresented nook shoved elsewhere outside of society’s narrow sightlines. This is really important to me because I believe that well-told stories teach us about ourselves by virtue of their specificity. The more specific they are, the more universal their effects will be. We ask audiences to project themselves and their experiences onto the images we give them, and a hyperspecific story asks the viewer to offer back their own specifics and fill in their own blanks. This process makes a film personal to the viewer and, ideally, timeless. It asks them to investigate the minutae/details/circumstances of their own existence. A feedback loop is created. A story is successful if it can do that. In terms of representation, the more we ask an audience to identify with a traditionally unfamiliar archetype, the more audiences might find comfort in relating to unlikely heroes on a regular basis. This is the third level. And if, through art, we might create a more compassionate world by engaging with these specific but often unseen realities, why not at least attempt to not tell the same tales ad nauseam in order to fill seats? Urgency, reconsidering the paradigm, compassion. If there is an ounce of strategy in me it is this, and strategically-speaking this seems a simple enough model to follow.

When Jeanette Catsoulis for the NYT writes that Brett’s film “attempts to make the invisible visible”, it speaks to this urgent call for widespread compassion. And there is no reason why these stories should remain in the hands of documentary filmmakers alone. I’m lucky enough to also be working in fiction filmmaking and television that also strives to put veiled, often ignored people on the screen. To infiltrate the mainstream with these stories is to demand that they belong in plain sight – out of the fringes and onto larger platforms. This is the power we have when we decide where and to whom we give our tireless efforts and hard-earned skills. Until we as a culture reach a place where we can coexist, co-produce, cohabit (these are holistic concepts and you’ve gotta really live it) and co-create with real equality and respect for the experiences lived by all people and have those realities represented on screen, we are cheating ourselves out of a fuller, more nuanced picture and keeping ourselves deprived of a deeper relationship with empathy.  If we don’t at least make the attempt, we will always be fighting the battle for more diversity and we will always be going to extremes to be seen and heard in a climate oversaturated with the same stories told by the same people.

Extremes, though, are how some of the best art is made, so for now I’m grateful for the pushback. This is how we can achieve artistic and professional integrity of an elevated level. This is how we can achieve better art for more people.

If you’re interested in seeing THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES in New York City, it’s playing now until November 10th at Anthology Film Archives. Director Brett Story will be in attendance – to hear her speak about the film is life-changing.

This week Exclaim! launched Rae Spoon’s latest video, directed by Chelsea McMullan & shot by me in an all-genders washroom provided by the lovely folks at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto:

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For the video, Rae got a group of 23 LGBTQ and ally youth together to make costumes and party hard in protest of archaic bathroom bills.

Very special thanks to amazing gaffer/grip combo whiz Cait Lusk and to Craig Milne at SIM in Toronto for the Amira package that we shot the party with.

 

Very happy to announce that Brett Story’s feature documentary THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES will screen in New York as part of the Art of the Real showcase at the Lincoln Center on April 17th. Here are some of the reviews the film has gotten so far, following its world premiere at the True/False festival in Missouri last week – click the links for the full articles:

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes has a consistent formal beauty that sets it apart… With only seven-and-a-half minutes, on average, to make an impression, Story and her d.p., Maya Bankovic, make concise statements through carefully composed and often dreamily stylized images.”
– Scott Tobias for VARIETY
“…it’s an artfully made work, lyrically filmed (by Maya Bankovic) and scored (Olivier Alary), with Simon Gervais’ ambient sound design as crucial an element as Avril Jacobson’s elegant editing.”
– Sheri Linden for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

 

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Stereogum launched my new video for The Weather Station yesterday – it’s made up up of Tamara Lindeman’s own footage from her travels intercut with a portrait video I shot of her against winter in Canada. Nadia Tan edited the video, interspersing Tamara’s footage into nostalgic fragments that flash across the screen like random access memory moments. The track, FLOODPLAIN, is off of The Weather Station‘s latest album Loyalty.

Enjoy!

From Stereogum:  The accompanying video is a tribute to remembrance and the changing seasons. Lindeman stands in a wintery light as her memory flashes back to a companion, maybe a lover, swimming in the summertime. It’s an eerie, nostalgic piece. 

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SILENT SHOUT premiered the new Rae Spoon video this week – check it out! Rae and I co-directed the video and shot it in their 1907 home in Victoria, BC, lighting it as a 1970’s horror scene. Why? The song and video are about haunting.

In Rae’s words:

“Written Across The Sky” is about my own desire for legal recognition of my agender identity––right now, for example, I am still required to have my assigned sex on my identification. It is about my hunger for rights for trans people, especially those most vulnerable to systemic oppression, including sex workers, indigenous peoples and undocumented folks.”

The music video for Rae Spoon’s song “Written Across The Sky” from their new album Armour is an ode to 1970s’ horror film lighting and all things haunted. Spoon co-directed the video with Maya Bankovic, an award winning cinematographer whose work has screened at TIFF, Sundance, VIFF and many other festivals. The two previously worked together on the NFB documentary-musical My Prairie Home, a five-year project. Shot in Spoon’s 1907 Victoria home, the new video shows the ease of their working relationship through the intimacy of the close-up shots and moving portraits.

http://www.raespoon.com
http://www.coaxrecords.com

HIT HD!

SPECIAL THANKS to Nadia Tan for those lightning fingers, and to Kendra Marks for helping us make the video happen.