Shelter: Description

8 minutes 16mm 2001

Shelter is a multi-layered experimental film that cleverly weaves archival social commentary and recent political activism in a playful analysis of our culture’s misplaced priorities. The film blends a variety of appropriated material — including a homeless demonstration during the gala premiere of an Atom Egoyan film at the Toronto Film Festival — with archival footage of circuses, westerns, and Pierre Burton discussing the pros and cons of building a bomb shelter. Shelter also celebrates the inherent qualities of the film medium, qualities that have quickly become marginalized through the current obsession with digital technology.

“Shelter is a non-narrative experimental 16mm film that explores the themes of nuclear warfare and homelessness. Constructed entirely of appropriated film footage, the film will use imagery ranging from turn-of-the-century aviation footage, a bomb shelter PSA to recent homeless street youth.” (from a proposal to Pleasure Dome)

“Shelter addresses issues of state control and homelessness, rampant in Toronto the Good, through a sophisticated montage of film and television fragments from diverse sources: found, archival and guerrilla.” (Ger Zielinski, Blueprint Catalogue)

“…Shelter (2001) was commissioned for the Pleasure Dome film and video exhibition group’s project “Blueprint for Moving Images in the 21st Century… there is a pronounced attention to the materiality of images themselves and how their manipulation can shift meanings, if not create new ones entirely. In Shelter, which is constructed wholly from found footage – be it of a 1960s Pierre Burton telecast, or an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) pro-public housing demonstration during an Atom Egoyan Toronto International Festival (TIFF) premiere – meanings are mixed up at the level of montage, most notably near the film’s conclusion, when contrasting images vie for the audiences’ attention in split screen. The effect of B-movie footage appearing in tandem with other more “realist” footage is a jarring one, intensified when the film returns to its own beginning with the presentation of decayed film and its choppy, sonic equivalent.” Long Live the films of Roberto Arigenello by James Missen, CFMDC Study Guide

Roberto Ariganello’s Shelter by Jonathan Culp
In case you haven’t noticed, there is something going on at the left of the political spectrum. Far from settling for summit-hopping and the spectacle of “demonstration,” many of the aligned interests which fight our various oppressions are finding durable, effective and meaningful militant ways of manifesting this mission. The pigeonhole of “anti-globalization protester” no longer functions – would you believe “revolutionary anti-capitalist”? Thousands would. What’s more, the content of the vision is often way les rhetorical than such language would suggest. Startling!

Alongside these growing movements, meanwhile, has been an explosion of what is called “video activism” – basically people with cameras expressing solidarity and disseminating information, largely through images of protest spontaneously captured. But now here comes Roberto’s Shelter to shred THAT category. What shall we call it – “revolting cinema,” perhaps? Sorry: I do suck at the name game. But the point is, just as the larger movement is going beyond issue-based activism to challenge the larger governing structures, it is time for allied media to question their own inherited structures – including, of course, the straitjacket of “documentary.”

The occasion for this particular anti-hegemonic bum rush is a protest by my beloved allies in the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. The issue is Toronto City Council’s sickening propensity for rendering poor people invisible while bragging about their city’s glorious prosperity. Their agents are Fantino’s finest, those human bludgeons in blue. In this instance their excuse is the Toronto International Film Festival.

In case you missed OCAP’s advent, or are confused about its methods, here’s the short form: ECONOMIC DISRUPTION. If the machine will not produce justice, the (impeccable) logic goes, then the machine will be stopped. No remorse, no compromise. And that goes double for the bacchanals of multimillion-dollar dream factories. So a few hundred poor people gather for a mass panhandle at the gate of the festival’s posh opening. Perfect.

Shelter takes you there – the glamour squad owners and the cops (who are of course omnipresent in this industry; ask Bruce McDonald) rear their bossy heads. But – and here’s the beautiful part – it also takes us beyond, with enthusiastic appropriations from a Pierre Berton fallout shelter infomercial, black-and-white socialites of unknown origins, and portentous images of a cheesily mysterious Machine. With such devices the filmmaker pisses on Grierson’s grave, and the impulse is infectious.

But, all my serious friends will want to know, is Roberto an Ally? Well, in the context of this film he is definitely an outside, and I don’t think Shelter embodies any motive towards propaganda. I am here to tell you, in breach of all confidence, that I have heard Roberto speak of this – apologetically, of course – as a “personal film.” Gasp, horror!

But how could it be otherwise? The whole point of the action is that the film industry is implicated in social repression, on and offscreen. Such an observation should indeed occasion “personal” reflection in a filmmaker – even one on the so-called margins. Take heart, commies – all those stylist insertions end up serving, not obscuring, the action’s message. The admonitions to “FOCUS” that repeatedly follow his imaginative wanderings may indeed by a nervous fillip, another token of angst at breaching the private/public divide. But in this context, I think I can argue for them – and for the film as a whole – as a baroque wake-up call, a noble effort to wipe the Vaseline off our collective lenses.

It’s also funny, by the way; Shelter takes that cinematic pie in the sky and throws it in Piers Handling’s face, which is all a reasonable activist could ask. There’s more than one way to rouse a rabble, after all, and the time for tractor movies has long passed. I can only hope that viewers – and, hell, producers – will take the bait and actually join the resistance to our current game of musical fuhrers. Ammo available at www.ocap.ca. In the meantime, just keep telling yourself: it’s only a movie.