Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Interview w/ filmmaker, Allan Brown (Canada)

 "A man from outer space sets out to free his father from a hospital. In the course of his journey, he becomes bathed in his own inner space of emotional closed circuits, alienation, rings, halos, loops, orbits, cycles, echoes and dream logic."  

In 2016 we watched  Silver, a Lo-Fi and experimental feature-length Super 8 science fiction film, at the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival by the Canadian filmmaker, Allan Brown. It intrigued us and fired our little brains up. Afterwards, we bumped into Allan and his partner in the queue for another film. They were both really laid back and friendly and so pleased to hear that we liked Silver. We found ourselves discussing the Scottish independence referendum, comparing and contrasting this with the campaign for independence for their own Québécois people. Something about the film and our brief conversation got us thinking that it was finally time for us to try this out for ourselves. So we did a lot of research and got hold of some Super 8 equiptment and stock on eBay and started experimenting with analogue filmmaking.

Later, in March 2017, we screened a short by Allan Brown, Uncle Cluck, as part of the Avant Kinema / Film Panic Moon Moths event in the Scottish Borders.


AK - Who are you? Where did you grow up and where are you now based?

AB - I'm a Canadian, Quebecois, who was born in Shawinigan and has been based in Montreal for 30 plus years.

AK - Could you tell us about the various films you've premiered at Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival over the last few years?

AB - I've had 3 films screen at Alchemy (2016, 17, 18). Silver, Re-mesmerizing from Ormstown to parc Lafontaine and most recently Wishful Thinking. Silver was the most significant and memorable since it was the world premiere of my one and only feature film. Alchemy has become an important festival to me. I felt very welcomed and comfortable when I was there.

AK - Could you give us a brief history of your involvement with creating moving image works?

AB - It's a bit of a rocky road but basically I was in CEGEP (junior college) and was a disheartened science student that needed a fresh start. I switched to a creative arts program and discovered filmmaking. A year later I was at University studying film production and becoming disheartened again by the politics of the program so I switched to literature then anthropology and in a long roundabout way found myself in film studies to complete my BA as a part time student. During my studies in literature and anthropology, I continued to make films; working with a group of friends in a similar position. We relied somewhat on NFB (National Film Board of Canada) grant programs for emerging artists for services like processing and mixes. This being the late 80s early 90s, any sort of moving image production was prohibitively expensive, so I came to a crossroads. Thus after completing a few films with NFB grants, I switched my artistic creation to woodworking where I built furniture. I returned to film work in 2004 during the 'digital' revolution. I continued to shoot in film but I was able to edit and finish digitally and most importantly I could work the sound without having to go into a crazy expensive mixing studio for a 6 track mix. Thus, since 2004, I've been producing work on a consistent basis.

AK - What were the major influences in the arts and in life which encouraged you to become involved with this field?

AB - Foundational influences are primarily a couple of amazing teachers in college, a couple of friends from the same era of my early twenties and various jobs in oil refineries and a steel foundry and my birth town of Shawinigan which was the most industrialized town for its size in Canada and continues to this day to be a huge influence in how I see the landscapes of the world.  As for influences from the art world, there are many many but foundational influences are the New German Cinema of the 70s, eastern European writers like Gombrowicz and Schulz, expressionistic painting, musique actuelle, industrial anything and brutalist architecture.

AK - What does the word 'experimental' mean to you?

AB - For me, it's like saying 'independent'. It’s just a way to categorize films for the viewer.

AK - At Avant Kinema we have a particular interest in low budget, DIY or LoFi forms of creativity. What are your thoughts on films, music, zines or other artworks created in this way? Is this a way that you personally like working? If yes, would that be for aesthetic reasons or more because of budgetary constraints?

AB - DIY or Lofi are definitely a choice. I think of my films as artisanal. I have no interest in working in any other way. Budgetary constraints are always an issue no matter the size of the production. The more money you have the more you spend. Things can be pretty upside down now as people can spend loads of $$ trying to make something look LoFi. In the end, it's a choice of control. I don't have anyone telling me how to make my films. If someone gives me a whack of money, maybe I'll change my mind.

AK - What technology or processes do you favour in your work? In what ways do you make use of digital and/or analogue equipment or methods of working? Do you work exclusively with one or the other or do you like to experiment with a combination of both digital and analogue?

AB - I'm not a film purist, so I make use of both. My shooting format is almost exclusively film (S8 or 16mm). My editing is done entirely in digital and my screening format is pretty much always digital except for one off S8 reel projections (in camera editing). For the moment, it works for me.

AK - Do you think that analogue photography / filmmaking still has a place in the 21st Century? 

AB - As long as film stock is being produced, filmmakers will use it. If labs start disappearing, there's a problem. Not everyone wants to process their own stock.

AK - Could you talk us through the whole process of how you generally go about creating a work, from the initial concepts through to the finishing touches?

AB - I don't have a set method because every project has its own way of developing. It will start with a bit image as much as it starts with a sound bite that's interesting. I just try not to force a project. I usually know when it's not working so I leave it be. It'll resurface at some point if it's meant to. I do like to randomly shoot 'events' (horse races, county fairs, demolition derby etc) without any purpose at the moment but could become something.

I jump back and forth between working the image or sound. There's always one that leads the other. Most of my editing is very laborious, so I know what I want to do, it just takes time to get there and lots of trial and error. When it's time to shut it down, I don't labour over that. I think it good to let go without too much trouble.

AK - What methods do you use to generate ideas and stimulate your creativity?

AB - My mind tends to wander and be over stimulated so it's more about focusing down... putting some headphones on, listen to Zoviet France, and read something I know nothing about... well at least that seems to work at the moment.

AK - Could you tell us about your experiences of coming to Scotland to attend the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival for the premier of your first feature, Silver?

AB - Premiering Silver at Alchemy was awesome. Having a feature is a whole different experience than a short. The cliff is higher. It was my first time in Scotland so everything was wonderfully new. Also, the festival being in a town like Hawick made it very special. Everyone was super welcoming and interesting. It felt real.

AK - Have you been able to get much in the way of funding - towards travel to festivals or for your filmmaking in general?

AB - I haven't applied for too many production grants. I've received a couple of research grants and several travel grants. Arts funding is a difficult landscape to navigate.

AK - Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Allan. x 

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