Filmmaker Grant Gee was in attendance at the October 5th screening of Patience (After Sebald), his documentary exploration of the late W. G. Sebald and his 1995 book The Rings of Saturn. The screening was well attended but not full, and I would guess that most of those in the audience were more familiar with Sebald's work than with Gee's (he is the director of two previous documentary films, on musical groups Joy Division and Blur).
Sebald's books are completely sui generis: part travelogue, part biography, part history, part autobiography, part holocaust studies; one of the people interviewed in Patience is Sebald's British publisher, who recalls how Sebald, when asked in what categories he wanted his books to be published, responded: "All of them."
The Rings of Saturn is – in my opinion – the best of Sebald's books; it is a mesmerizing account of a walking trip through East Anglia, during which the author seems to be virtually alone as he wanders through a bleak landscape cluttered with ruins and abandoned enterprises, landmarks which serve as points of departure for digressions on: the 17th C. author Thomas Browne (and his skull); the silkworm moth and Norwich silk weavers; the symbol of the quincunx; the bombing of German cities during WWII; the Chinese Dowager Empress Tz'u-hsi; poet Edward FitzGerald and his translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The film is structured to mirror the itinerary of the walk described in The Rings of Saturn, with each new site/section of the film marked with an overlaid caption which gives both the geographic location and the corresponding page number from Rings (one visual element included in the film is an interactive map of Sebald's journey, assembled by Barbara Hui). Gee also includes voice-over commentary taken from interviews with writers who have been influenced by Sebald and his work: Rick Moody, Robert McFarlane, Adam Philips, and Tacita Dean among them.
Gee successfully evokes the book's mood of melancholy by filming the landscape sections on a grainy black & white film stock (a stock which – in a very Sebaldian note – is no longer available). Not all of Gee's cinematographic decisions were as successful: at several – too many – points in Patience, Gee overlays his grainy, widescreen, black and white landscape shots with a smaller, full-colour shot showing a closeup of his own feet walking through (one presumes) that same landscape. These colour overlays only cluttered the screen and broke the mood to little benefit.
At the conclusion of the screening Gee was asked by the VIFF programmer whether his film had secured a distributor. "It's strange," Gee responded. "I don't expect that many people will want to see the film, but it seems that there is no shortage of people – like yourself – who want to show it" at film festivals. Gee expects that some sort of arrangement for the distribution of Patience (After Sebald) will be concluded by early in the new year.
Patience (After Sebald) has one remaining VIFF screening on Thursday, Oct 13th, 11:00am at the Vancity Theatre. While I could not find a trailer for the film, you can watch a short video piece about the filmmaker and his film here.