ED, July-Aug 2005

Message from the Executive Director (Film Print Volume 25 Issue 4, July 2005)

When I first started working at LIFT back in 1998, there was  widespread belief among media artists that film was quickly declining as a viable art form. Seven years ago, Mini DV and non-linear digital editing systems had quickly established themselves as practical alternatives for producing time-based art. The prevailing mood at that time was that LIFT would have to change quickly to remain a significant force in the local media arts community. I remember one suggestion at the time was to replace al the existing flatbed suites with Premiere digital editing systems or rent out digital video camera. fortunately, we did not make that mistake.

The new digital technologies arrived and made a significant impact in our community. Schools quickly divested themselves of film equipment, and, through corporate partnerships, acquired new digital technologies. Artist-run video production centres lost a significant portion of their membership when members realized they could affordably purchase their own cameras and editing systems. LIFT, however, flourished during this period, and, in fact, grew significantly (especially over the last couple of years) despite the seemingly never-ending “advancements” of digital technology. Truth be told, advancements in digital technology had positive effects on film art production at LIFT.

A good example is the realm of animation. Approximately ten years ago, digital animation quickly replaced analogue production methods in the commercial domain. The animation that you see today in cinemas and, especially on television, is created digitally. Advancements in digital animation have created a remarkably different and pronounced visual style in our world. The large, cumbersome Oxberry camera quickly became obsolete for commercial animation production. Yet, rather than the Oxberry being carted to the scrap yard, there has been a resurgence in its use precisely because it is no longer part of the commercial realm. The Oxberry creates a visual quality or “look” that is absent from mainstream media and which is entirely different form the animation that is created by digital technology. Moreover, filmed animation appeals to artists who work in other disciplines and employ artisanal techniques. Photo animation, rotoscoping and collage filmmaking have all experienced a resurgence at LIFT – and in international independent filmmaking, as well – thanks largely to advancements in digital technology and the commercial popularity of video.

As video emerges as the dominant commercial medium, the tools of filmmaking have become liberated, so to speak, and a re-emergence of old school techniques like optical printing, camera-less animation and hand processing have been embraced by a new generation of artists. The separation between film art and video art has never been more apparent. Yet, there is still a prevailing myth that film art has something to do with Hollywood and is not an art form – despite the generations of extraordinary artists who have explored and contributed so much to the medium over the past 100 years. It is not surprising, therefore, to read in the spring issue of Canadian Art magazine an article by Tom Sherman pontificating on the merits of video as the predominant medium of the 21st century. As played out as the argument is, Sherman raises it to such a hysterical level that one wonders if he’s on the payroll of Sony and Panasonic. Video is the all-encompassing art form, Sherman concludes, genetically superior to all others – especially film. Sherman can’t resist writing off experimental film (he lumps all film in with commercial cinema) as “…being eclipsed by video art.”) This sort of trivializing of our art form is both quaint and disturbing. Every couple of weeks I read somewhere or encounter someone – the Chicken Little of the art world – who will try to convince me that film is dying or dead. There is always some old (or young) fool out there who likes to advise artists that they are wasting their time with film. Usually these folks are completely blind to the differences between film art and video art.

What is more appalling than Sherman’s tedious Darwinian praise of video is the ignorance on the part of the Canadian Art editorial staff. Apparently, they are unaware that film is a unique art form inherently different from video and permitted (or even solicited) Sherman’s outlandish claims. Sherman is the sort of tired intellectual – he’s worked for the Canada Council in the 80s and even received the Governor General’s Award – that editors assume know what they’re talking about. The editors themselves appear blithely unaware of the long tradition of Canadian artists who have worked in the film medium. (Call me – I’ll give you a list.) Perhaps Canadian Art might wish to consider its name. At least until it has a better understanding of the Canadian film scene.

Roberto Ariganello