Self-portrait (2019), Monica Victoria
Monica and I have been online friends since November 2010; I just checked. We met in person sometime before that – she was one of those regulars at the bar that brighten up your work night. You could tell she appreciated the music, and she was always kind. Throughout the years I’ve come to respect her for more than her bar etiquette. She uses her voice to make sure others are heard, and when Monica posts something, I rarely feel the need to source it.
Godberd and le Manoir des Beaux-arts are hosting her first-ever workshop this Saturday, which gave me a great excuse to pick her brain on one of my favourite subjects – film! In keeping with our now sober and mostly online connection, we conversed through an internet messenger service.
How did filmmaking begin for you? Was there an emotional drive leading the way?
My emotional drive has always been a huge factor, if not the main fuel for my artistic drive, always wanting the work I make to cause some sort of social difference or at least reflection. I always believed cinema was probably the most powerful art form to create change as it pulls on so many emotions through both image and sound. I think it is very clear that my work has a lot of emotion, maybe at times too much and I would say I am a vicious sentimentalist (my friend made a shirt with this printed on it and it is one of my favourites).
Do you think that is why you made the switch from documentary filmmaking to experimental filmmaking? I've been told there is no place for emotion in a true documentary, that the narrative must be without bias – do you agree with that? On a sidenote, please let me know if they print some more of those tees!
The reason I made the switch from documentary to experimental was because I realized the mainstream documentary industry was a lot more similar to the big budget fiction industry. If you want to get funding to make documentary films, you have to follow some very specific rules and guidelines that often completely change your subject, just so you can get it made. In terms of emotion, it is true that you are often “supposed to” take an unbiased approach when making a documentary, but realistically that never happens. I simultaneously realized I prefer to work alone or within small collaborations, over huge sets of people. Which is another reason I made the switch. What is kind of wonderful about making more experimental or just non-fiction works is that I kind of can make whatever I want. Most of my films actually document real time subjects, so documenting people the way a documentary film would, but I project that to the viewer in a completely different way, which perhaps changes the meaning or how we react to the work and takes a new form all together. And of course for the shirts!
Thank you, I would treasure one! I also agree with you, inherently there will be bias; I think it's near impossible to remove the documentarian's perception of whatever they are shooting... It's my understanding that experimental films embrace the act of trying to manipulate the viewer to feel or think, but do so using sound and visuals free from plot and narrative. When I was at IFFR a few years ago, I saw a short film that was simply pulsating light accompanied by an absence of sound, it triggered frustration within me. I wondered if it was researched and constructed to affect the audience that way, or if I was alone in my reaction...maybe the intention was to have all viewers question the feelings it brought up. Do you find yourself purposefully trying to guide people to an emotion or thought process?
Usually yes, I feel that is probably one of the purposes of a filmmaker. Often when I am working with a political subject matter, I want it to affect the viewer in hopes of making them reflect on the subject matter. I also make work that reflects my personal experience and how I feel about it and usually that leaks through, but I think it’s supposed to!
I'm wondering if you see a boundary between experimental filmmaking and contemporary artists that use film as a medium – it seems that experimental filmmakers might feel more freedom to express emotion.
Experimental filmmaking fits more intimately with other contemporary artists. Our works are more suited to galleries or other spaces outside the traditional cinema. I feel pretty disconnected to my fiction counterparts that I studied alongside, and closer to other forms of artists. I do feel the most freedom within this form. It is easier to express myself in a more raw structure.
You're teaching an experimental film workshop at le Manoir des Beaux-arts in Montreal this weekend, are people that wish to attend expected to have studied beforehand in cinema or art?
It is open to people from all backgrounds. The workshop will be intro level and I hope people from many different experiences take part! I want to make filmmaking and art accessible to everyone, not only for formally trained filmmakers.
Can you share with us what you have planned for the hands-on component?
For the hands-on component, we will be exploring handmade film approaches. We will be manipulating films through scratching, painting, bleaching and more. Using 35 mm film leader, and found footage, we will create short moving images with our creations.
Stan Brakhage is known as one of the first to use paint on film, is he an inspiration of yours? What filmmakers do you recommend looking into if you're interested in experimental film?
Stan Brakhage is most definitely a huge inspiration of mine and one of my favourite film makers. I would recommend Maya Daren, she is amazing and another huge inspiration for me, though a little more on the avant-garde side of experimental film. Arthur Lipsett, a fantastic Montréal filmmaker working with found footage. Carolee Schneemann, an amazing feminist visual artist and filmmaker. A few local and current filmmakers whom are incredible on the experimental form are: Richard Kerr, Steven Wholoshen, Marielle Nitoslawska, Micaela Grill and Karl Lemieux. Just to name a few.
Thanks for sharing! Now I'll have some food for thought to hold me over until the workshop, which is one I really can't miss.
This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity. To sign up for the workshop follow http://tinyurl/514film
Experimental Film: Expanded, Hybrid and DIY Approaches to Filmmaking
4 Hour Lecture & Practice February 2nd, 2019 12pm - 4pm
In the first part of the workshop, attendees will view and discuss a selection of experimental works while exploring techniques, tools and meanings. They will view a few examples of Monica Victoria’s works and learn the process behind the production.
After a break, attendees will engage in handmade film techniques. They will learn how to manipulate film through a variety of procedures and present their work.
All materials will be supplied and participants will get to keep what they make.