TIFF 2019: Our Review of ‘Wavelengths 4: Lives of Performers’

TIFF 2019: Our Review of ‘Wavelengths 4: Lives of Performers’

Films don’t always have to be feature length, everybody here knows that by now. Thankfully, TIFF’s Wavelengths program has its share of short films that they divide into four sub programs. This sub program gets its name Lives of Performers from an Yvonne Rainer film. It might be easy to assume then that this sub program is all about performers. But it pushes that concept further. These films look into our performative relationships among ourselves, the spaces we inhabit, and the objects around us. And as these things go, some of these shorts are more successful than others.

The sub program starts out strong with Billy, Zachary Epcar’s film. What starts out as a melodrama about a man’s dream expands. It switches formats between 16mm and digital and questions our associations towards both formats. Those formats exists as part of a binary, and the film questions other binaries as well.

Remembrance: A Portrait Study by Edward Owens has different concerns. It’s reminiscent of Paris is Burning, making me wonder whether Jennie Livingston took inspiration from this. We don’t know the names of the glamorous black women whose faces we see on screen. This reminds us of history’s ephemeral nature. These women didn’t have a long time to make their mark for the people around them. Learning that these women are Owens’ mother an her friends adds a personal touch to this film.

Deborah Stratman’s Vever (for Barbara) marks a dip in this sub program’s quality. This combines footage that Barbara Hammer and Maya Deren shot, the former recording the streets in Guatemala. There are inter titles showing local tapestry pattern that Stratman super imposes on the images of Guatemalan women. This shows visual and moving art’s manifestation before cinema. That’s great, until one of the titles talk about the victors writing history. I guess I have the privilege on to be in the right circles that questions that notion. Nonetheless, the idea that the victors write history is, with all due respect, trite.

Art has a better use in Annie MacDonnell’s Book of Hours, marking this sub program including Canadian content. This film, by the way, has clips of Lives of Performers, as well as images of mandalas and tarot cards. This film shows how art can permeate even the most domestic of spaces. It also questions our concept of cinema at its most basic level. Audiences associate one image with another, despite how wildly different both can be.

Cars, streets, and prisons show up in John Torres’ We Still Have To Close Our Eyes. Torres shoots documentary style footage from the film sets of Lav Diaz and Erik Matti’s films. He then fashions them into a sci-fi plot about people using other people’s bodies as avatars. Torres also incorporates Diaz and the developing world’s ideas of sci-fi cinema. This shows economic constraints allows storytellers in the developing world to have a more realistic view of scientific progress. There’s also something intimate, polished, and romantic about Torres’ version of dystopia.

This Action Lies is the last film in this program. Here, James N. Kienitz Williams shows a coffee cup in four angles while he pontificates. This film is not for everyone, maybe not even for me. But my audience responded well to how he ties this coffee cup with Greek mythology. Those references, by the way, are a thing it has in common with the other films in this festival. Maybe there’s something more to this cup of Joe than meets the eye. And we can say the same about most films and objects around us.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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