IN THIS ISSUE
Director's Report: WorkPrint Is Back!
by Martha Cooley
Feature: Greenhouse Arthouse
by Evan Bower
with Iain MacLeod
The Shot List
Calls, Grants, Opportunities
WORKPRINT IS BACK!
Since WorkPrint last published in 2010, it’s been a dream of mine to bring it back in digital form, and I’m overjoyed to support Evan Bower, our Online Projects Coordinator, in his reimagining of this historic publication.
WorkPrint was once AFCOOP’s physical newsletter—it first published in 1984 and continued for over two decades. It was created as a way to keep members up to date with what was happening at the co-op, but it became its own unique and quirky chronicle of local filmmaking of the time.
I must admit its falling out of circulation was also in part my fault. When I started at AFCOOP in 2007 as the Programs and Membership Coordinator (initially a temporary maternity leave replacement for then coordinator Erin Oakes), I was overwhelmed with the number of projects on my plate. WorkPrint, although spearheaded by an active communication committee and editor Tara Thorne (hi Tara!), was also something that Erin had been active in facilitating. After a few more cycles of publication, the logistics of a quarterly newsletter mailed to members (imagine!), combined with the pressing need to vacate the CBC Radio building where we’d been for over a decade, spelled its demise.
In WorkPrint’s place we had the BIG email after all—that behemoth of plain text, styled after minimalistic newsletters of the time like Instant Coffee (anyone?), and distributed through an increasingly unwieldy Gmail contact list and other mailing lists like THE SHOUT and the HRM Arts List, that notorious accidental gossip rag (ah, the scandals). But what was missing from the BIG email, and what’s been missing this whole decade, are the stories of who is making what, interviews with local filmmakers, in short, journalism about the independent film scene in Nova Scotia the likes of which isn’t often covered by news outlets.
Sure, the logic at the time was that social media filled that void, and in a way it did. For some time now it’s been standard operating procedure that every film has its own Facebook page, which every filmmaker has coerced their friends into liking. (If you don’t post online about getting into a film festival, did it even really happen?)
But this year it feels like we’re collectively rethinking the conventional wisdom of social media as the communications solution. At AFCOOP, we’re talking about how to divest from social media and regain control of our connection with members. Early in the pandemic, Iain MacLeod, our Programs and Outreach Coordinator, started recording video interviews with AFCOOP members that we edited and posted online. One question he’d ask at the end of each video was whether members had a message of hope for the world, and far from the cheesy or sarcastic responses I imagined, people answered with wisdom, compassion and creativity in a way that hinted at the true possibility of what it means to be a community organization.
The reality is AFCOOP doesn’t need to reach thousands of people. We’re not looking for exponential growth. We’re a small organization rooted in an active membership of artists, and we’re at our best when we escape the noise and come together to share and collaborate with one another.
WorkPrint chronicled AFCOOP’s community for over three decades. As we near AFCOOP’s 50th anniversary, it feels like the time is right to bring that spirit back.
AFCOOP Executive Director
Filmmaker Dawn George on phytograms, outdoor film studios, and artistic practices that are good for you
by EVAN BOWER
There are ants and dirt and all kinds of vegetation in Dawn George’s film studio, which doubles as her yard, on the outskirts of HRM. There’s a 14-foot greenhouse, constructed five or six years ago to extend the growing season, where fragments of plant-life have been pressed to strips of celluloid stretched over planks of wood.
“My whole yard is like a studio or a lab,” she said. “Any place can be your studio, right, your place where you work? I just like to work outside, so that’s where I go.”
The film strips are Dawn’s phytograms in the making. The process, developed by analogue-artist Karel Doing, involves soaking plants in eco-processing materials and laying them on the film, by hand, to wildly colourful results.
Dawn has been capturing nature on film for nearly a decade. She’s one of the founding members of the Handmade Film Collective, whose plant-based films will screen in a special program at the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival this year alongside a selection of Doing’s work and local, commissioned pieces created under his mentorship.
Her outdoor film experiments began with Negative Nature, the black-and-white time-lapse short she released in 2013, and she’s gone on to produce more than a half-dozen films that have screened across the globe. But Dawn has been passing days in a garden long before she decided to bring a camera along.
It started when a simple project to resurrect an old weed bed quickly grew into “a really bad addiction,” complete with a many-sectioned garden that soon covered most of her backyard.
She later found herself in a Master Gardeners course in Denver, Colorado, diving deep into the world of horticulture and becoming something of a plant doctor, even volunteering at farmers’ markets to meet with concerned gardeners and diagnose their sickly tomatoes.
It wasn’t until she moved to Nova Scotia and began developing her film practice that those interests merged.
“A long time ago, before this life, I was doing theatre, which I also really enjoyed. But also, when you’re doing theatre, for the most part you’re in a black box,” she said. “And I was thinking, I wish I could do something creative that was outside, I like to be outside, and eventually that wish kind of worked itself out.”
For Dawn, a day of shooting could mean tracking an insect’s movement in the grass, or pulling up near a dandelion for an hour or so to watch it bloom. Often it’s a quiet, meticulous game of observation until the unexpected happens.
Complete control is never an option—insects resist instruction—but by now she knows that given enough time, you inevitably witness “something that blows your mind.”
“There’s something really amazing when you can just sit and watch that. You connect with nature in a deeper way,” she said. “And I think that gives you maybe even a spiritual connection, some kind of connection with the earth around you.”
There’s a delicate and enviable balance in Dawn’s patient process: a practice that’s creatively fertile and yet soul-nourishing in the act of doing it. No matter how the footage turns out, no day spent in her garden is wasted time.
“Whatever everybody’s wish is for what they do, I wish that everybody can find that, because it’s pretty spectacular when it happens,” she said. “Even on the crappy days where you’re just like, ‘This isn’t working,’ you’re still like, ‘Well, I got some fresh air.’”
Evan Bower is AFCOOP’s Online Projects Coordinator. He’s also a writer, reporter and film programmer living in Halifax, N.S.
with Iain MacLeod
With cinemas closed and new film releases more-or-less halted, what’s left to do but dig into the archives? Every month, we’re asking AFCOOP members or staff to share a few memorable discoveries that have come across their screens.
High and Low (Japan, 1963, dir. Akira Kurosawa) Japanese noir in which a rich shoe mogul (truth) has to decide whether to pay ransom for his chauffeur’s mistakenly kidnapped son. Great look at the human cost of Japan’s post-war economic miracle. And even as a shoe executive Toshiro Mifune looks dangerous. (Available on the Criterion Channel.)
The Narrow Margin (USA, 1952, dir. Richard Fleischer) I only watched this after intense peer pressure from Halifax actor Shawn Duggan, and he wasn’t wrong — amazing film noir about a cop who has to get a gangster’s wife from Chicago to LA by train to testify in front of a grand jury and the assassins on the train trying to prevent that from happening. (Available from the Apple Store.)
Risky Business (USA, 1983, dir. Paul Brickman) I always thought this ’80s classic, which I’d never seen, would be equal parts stupid and sexist, but it is actually a very pointed critique of the emptiness of Reagan’s America. And it’s got a Phil Collins song. (Available from Mark Palermo’s DVD Collection.)
Iain MacLeod is a writer, director and AFCOOP’s Programs & Outreach Coordinator. He enjoys screwball comedies, speaking Gaelic, and can most often be found in the Scotia Square food court.
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