Report from Rotterdam:
January was cold, windy, and rainy in Rotterdam this year. This was never more evident than when cycling home over the Erasmus Bridge after a long day of working in the film lab. But the harsh weather outside only made it more ‘gezellig’ (Dutch for ‘cozy’) to be working inside the darkrooms of WORM.
Myself, and two other artists (Masha Godovannaya from Russia and Annuradha Chandra from India) were invited by the 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam to be artists in residence and to each create a 16mm handprocessed film that would premiere at the end of the festival. We arrived at the end of December and were given an apartment to live in, keys to the WORM.filmwerkplaats, film stock, chemistry, and a deadline.
The WORM building stands all alone and tilting to one side in the middle of a construction site. It has been declared a historical monument, so it will remain standing askew in the midst of a shiny new condo project. Inside of the WORM, there is a do-it-yourself film lab (with darkrooms, optical printers, contact printers and more), a creative electronic sound studio (with analogue synthesizers, patch bays, computers, and reams of software), a bar (that serves organic and African beers), a music venue (that programs international, experimental, and hard core acts), a screening venue (with old Volvo car seats), and a shop that specializes in cutting edge and experimental music, film, and books.
For the three weeks leading up to the beginning of the festival, Masha, Annuradha and I worked on our films at the filmwerkplaats for about ten to fifteen hours each day. There were only two optical printers, and three artists. Now, I have become quite addicted to optical printing over the past few years, so I took this as an opportunity to step away from that safe place and to explore other techniques that I had never tried before. The filmwerkplaats has a flatbed set up as a contact printer, as well as an actual lab contact printer, an optical sound printer, and loads of print stocks that I had never worked with before. So for my new film, v=d/t (velocity = distance/time), I worked with various forms of contact printing and colour chemistry techniques.
The official opening of the festival was on January 23, and while I did make it out for a few free drinks at the opening party, I zipped right back to the filmwerkplaats for another all-nighter as I rushed to have my film ready to premiere at the festival. Since I was madly working to finish my film, I hardly had any time to attend screenings, parties, or events in that first week, but I did notice that all of a sudden there were a lot more people around.
By Saturday morning, I had finished my film and dropped it off at the Cineco lab in Amsterdam. I arrived back in Rotterdam just in time for the “lab lunch” which was an informal gathering at WORM of DIY film labs from around the world. There were representatives from DIY labs in France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Korea. From Canada, Phil Hoffman came to represent the Film Farm, and Sebastjan Henrickson came to represent Niagara Custom Lab: they had each curated a screening for the festival of films made at the Film Farm, and films made at Niagara Custom Lab. I was thrilled to see such a large contingent of fellow Canadians such as Alex MacKenzie, Philip Hoffman, Sebastjan Henrickson, Sarah MacLean, John Price, James Gillespie, and many others.
In addition to the film that I was making as a part of the residency (v=d/t), another one of my films, Fallen Flags, was also playing at the film festival, in a program called ‘Let’s Make a Film’. The first film in this screening was a newly restored print of Helen Hill’s Madame Winger Makes a Film. I was honoured to be included in the same program as Helen, because it was Helen who helped me to process my first roll of super8 film in her bathtub during the Ladies’ Film Bee. It was wonderful to see Madame Winger playing to a sold out audience of people in Rotterdam who were not familiar with her work; the audience response was incredibly positive and enthusiastic.
There were programs of experimental films and film performances taking place every night in various venues across the city as a part of the Starting From Scratch program. Every night at WORM there was even a dinner served, so you could eat a meal, and stay for two full programs of experimental film and live performances. It was great to see so many people make the trek out from the more central locations to WORM (which was located in the Delftshaven port of Rotterdam) for these experimental and live performance programs.
Speaking of live performance, I also participated in a workshop, during the second week of the festival, that was put on by a film performance group called Metamkine, who came from Grenoble, France. Over the course of three days, twelve participants worked with a set of modified 16mm film projectors with dimmer switches to adjust lamp brightness, adjustable fans to cool or burn the film at will, frequency converters to change the speed, and footswitches to turn them on and off when hands were otherwise occupied. We worked with film loops, a variety of lenses, flash lights, contact microphones, digital loop boxes, delay pedals, and a tape player to create improvised combinations of light, image, and sound. We would break into groups of five or six people, improvise for ten to twenty minutes, and then discuss the results. On the last night of the workshop, a free improvised performance was given to the public.
Then, on Friday, February 1, as the festival began to draw to a close, our new films from the artist residency came back from the lab and premiered at WORM as an additional section to the second screening of the ‘Let’s Make a Film’ program. The three new films from the residency also played the next day at the sold out Shorts Marathon; a screening of selected shorts from the festival that ran from 11:00am Saturday morning until 1:00am Sunday morning, Feb. 3. As the Shorts Marathon began to draw to a close, I cycled over to the film control office to pick up my two prints, and stopped by the closing gala party for a few drinks. But by the time I arrived at the party, I was completely exhausted and barely managed to drink half a beer before I said an early good night to everyone and went back to sleep in the apartment for one last night.
Now, that the film is finished, and the festival is over, I have fallen completely in love with the country and the culture here. So the only logical thing left for me to do, was to secure a temporary work permit for a few months, and to live and work as a projectionist in Amsterdam.