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Snuck away from work today to take in a double bill of films at a preview for the VIFF: Salt and 22 Canoes, from Australia. It was a treat to sit in the plush seats of the near-empty Vancity theatre and forget about everything.
Salt is a short film (28 minutes) by Murray Fredericks, a photographer who, for the past six years, has spent long periods of time in the middle of Lake Eyre in South Australia, a vast area that, when dry (as it often is), is a salt pan, and when wet, is a mud hole. Fredericks pulls a metal cart full of camera and camping gear behind his mountain bike, rides 15 kilometres into the lakebed, and sets up camp for an unspecified length of time, and then sets up a camera that continuously spans 360 degrees around the horizon. Meanwhile, he takes still photos, mostly of the horizon and the sky with a huge camera, and, for this project, films himself waking, sleeping, cooking, and talking about what it’s like to be in an overpowering space where nothing changes from day to day. Comic relief is provided by the sound of a phone ringing: he’s still able to talk to his wife about his kid’s soccer games and complain that he has feelings too, “he’s not a bloody robot.” This is a beautiful movie you can get lost in. It's full of mind-blowing visuals accompanied by a rich soundtrack full of other-worldly sounds by AAjinta (one of whose members offers overtone singing lessons on Skype).
12 Canoes (Molly Reynolds and Rolf de Heer), is a 66-minute collage of sounds and images that tells the story of the Yolngu peoples of north Australia, from Creation Time to Nowadays. The Yolngu live in a vast marsh area that is rich with flora and fauna and they are famous for their brightly-coloured paintings that depict both their history, their beliefs and their symbols using strong geometric patterns as backgrounds and borders. 12 Canoes uses 12 of these paintings, plus old and new photographs, film footage of everyday life, dances and ceremonies, narration by David Gulpilil and a luscious soundtrack, to open up the Yolngu world to us. What a way to absorb the story of a people: sit back, slow down and then slow down some more, and surrender to this feast for the eyes and the ears.
Even though these two films are all about expanses of land with relatively few people in them, on the walk back to my office I saw my city with fresh eyes and my ears picked up sounds that on another day I would never have noticed.