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This winter, The Cinematheque is hosting Traces That Resemble Us, a screening series and art exhibition that explores art and cinema in Vancouver. SAD Mag’s Helen Wong caught up with acclaimed Canadian artist Vikky Alexander to discuss architecture, photography, and “revenge.”

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White and Gold Greyhounds (Istanbul Showroom Series) by Vikky Alexander, 2013

SAD Mag: Why did you choose the film Playtime for Traces That Resemble Us?

VA: My interest in Playtime comes from its satirical perspective on architecture. I like to think that is a film about architecture’s “revenge”. In the first part, the uniformity and perceived inhumanity of International Style architecture is identified in the complete confusion it causes for the protagonist, who cannot find or connect with the bureaucrat he’s looking for because of the office building’s unkind intervention. At an International Trade Fair, a group of American tourists are only allowed to peep at the historic city of Paris through reflection in portions of glass-curtain walls, which the monuments seem to literally slip off. When Hulot goes to meet a friend for an evening, he is confounded by the entrance to the apartment. He can see his friend and family from the street through the floor-to-ceiling window, but cannot figure out how to access them, and when he leaves, he cannot exit the main door. Finally, on the opening night of a chic restaurant, the room, furniture, food and costumes literally self-destruct in front of us. The more ruinous the interior, the more fun for all.

SM: How does your piece currently on display at Monte Clark Gallery use aspects of the film? What is the importance of reflection?

VA: My piece at the Monte Clark Gallery is a photograph of a shop window that I took in Istanbul a couple of years ago. The shop was one of many on a street that specialized in decorative furniture and objects for the home. I really liked how the shop window was like a pristine stage set that was untouchable because of the pane of glass in front of it. And yet the reflections on the window literally superimposed the life of the street into the virtual ‘home.’

SM: Do you often reference architecture in your works?

VA: I often reference architecture in my photographic, collage, and sculptural works. I am particularly attracted to utopian projects and have documented places like the West Edmonton Mall (Alberta), Disneyland (California), Las Vegas (Nevada), Vaux le Vicomte (France) and the Palm House in Kew Gardens (London). I see these projects as fantastic, fascinating, and flawed.

SM: What do you think of the term “environmental determinism”? Do you think that our thoughts and behaviours are influenced by the built environment?

VA: The film I chose, Playtime, makes a mockery of environmental determinism, I think. It seems to prove that regardless of architectural and environmental restrictions, human nature will triumph, and the film demonstrates that with humor.

SM: Most of your works reflect on the notion of utopia, how do you aim to situate the viewer within this space?

VA: I think all of us, either on a small (domestic) or large scale, construct and design our own utopias, and yet they are flawed because it’s human nature to want something better…better sofa, better house. And the minute you get that better sofa, guess what, you want the one that’s even better than that one.

SM: How do you work to achieve a self-reflexive nature through the recontextualization and reconstruction of appropriated images?

VA: In my early work (1980’s), I appropriated images from the editorial sections of European fashion magazines, cropped and enlarged them and reframed them. All text was eliminated.  When I reframed them, I added a large black overmat, which functioned as a sort of black mirror when glass (for the frame) was placed on top. In this way the reflection of the everyday viewer was superimposed on top of the utopian fashion models. These works are similar to my more recent photographs of showrooms in Paris, Istanbul, and Tokyo. Quite often the passerby on the street is superimposed on the luxury objects in the shop windows.

SM: Vancouver has a distinct history of art and film, how do you see this reiterated in contemporary art?

VA: I’ve always seen Vancouver as having a very particular photographic history and I’ve always felt that photographers have a close relationship to the cinema, originally because of they were both film mediums, I guess. But for some reason (maybe because Vancouver is so “photogenic”) I find it difficult to photograph here. Maybe because we have so much soft light, due to the climate.

SM: What is your favourite building and why?

VA: It’s difficult to pick a favorite building, as I have so many, but one really spectacular building is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven Connecticut designed by Gordon Bunschaft in 1963. It belongs to Yale University and the exterior walls are gridded marble panels, so that when you are inside on a sunny day and the light shines through the veins in the panels the whole building seems to be on fire. It’s amazing.

The Traces That Resemble Us art exhibit runs at Monte Clark Gallery until January 30. Monte Clark Gallery is located at 105 – 525 Great Northern Way, Vancouver. More information at monteclarkgallery.com.

Talk­ing Heads is an inter­view col­umn devoted to con­tem­po­rary arts and cul­ture in Van­cou­ver. Look out for more of Helen Wong’s inter­views on sadmag.ca. 

During its two week run at the Cinematheque, the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) dazzled cinema-goers with a variety of international films. There were some absolute gems in the mix and some unfortunate flops, but the festival was a success, overall.

Still from Gods (2014)

Poland’s official submission to the festival was Gods, a feature from director Lukasz Palkowski. The film was a fictionalized version of events which took place in Poland in the 1980s, following a young cardiovascular surgeon at a time when heart transplants were considered entirely too risky and taboo to perform. Tomasz Kot plays Zbigniew Religa, the first surgeon to successfully perform a heart transplant in Poland. The film is dramatic in its delivery, and gripping in its subject matter. Tension between Religa and his staunch older colleagues is clearly at the heart of the film’s story, reflected in the cinematography and sound design. However, I found the camerawork to be distracting at times, due to its wildly changing approach. Long takes and shaky, hand-held shots were sometimes used in the same scene, which might have been a technique to reflect the film’s conflict but was mostly a disruption to my viewing experience. My other qualm with this particular flick was its climax and ending. We watch as Religa descends into a disastrous fit of professional pressure and personal disgrace, as each heart transplant fails and the public loses whatever support they had for him and his work. All of the drunken anger and self-loathing unfolds unceremoniously on screen, until finally and suddenly, a successful operation is performed. However, this transition from catastrophe to triumph is so abrupt, and is followed so quickly by the rolling credits, that I nearly missed it. It took me a moment to realize that he had achieved his lofty goal after all. Ultimately, this film was a hopeful drama with an intriguing subject, but lacked consistency and final gravitas.

Still from The Fencer (2015)

The feature from Estonia was a much more subtle and skilled take on historical events. The Fencer, directed by Klaus Haro, was a delight to watch and felt authentic on all accounts. It tells the story of a former professional fencer, Endel Nelis, who, during Soviet occupation, hides away in a small Estonian town to avoid capture by Stalin’s secret police. He takes on the role of gym teacher to the town’s school children, and fosters a earnest relationship with them through the teaching of his old sport, despite the objections of the school’s rule-following principle. This film was a quiet and steady account of life during a time fraught with political suspicion. I felt a sincerity in the film’s delivery, both in the actors’ performances and in the visual vocabulary. I felt privy to the struggle of living with the burden of war and political transgression, and was very much taken by the subtleties between the children and their teacher. The cinematography was understated, conveying the intimate relationships between characters through close-up and static shots. However, during the film’s screening there was a short interruption, due to a few moments of disc trouble. One of the scenes in the last quarter of the film was skipped through and the theatre lights came on for a quick minute while the problem was addressed, but nothing of critical importance was missed and the screening carried on without error afterwards. Despite that slight snag, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and its affectionate portrayal of a very difficult period in European history. It was an intimate account of the values of patience and steady resolve during a time of oppression.


Sometimes, film festivals speed by so quickly that there isn’t enough time to publish all of our content. Sometimes, the content is so good that we have to publish it later because we love it so much. This is some of that content.

Poster for AAAAAAAAH! by Steve Oram

The Vancouver International Film Festival can sometimes seem like a very pompous affair, with all of its line-ups and pass holders and fancy venues. It can be refreshing when all of the slow-burners are interrupted by a real wild card. Though, in the case of this year’s AAAAAAAAH!, directed by British filmmaker Steve Oram, I might not use the word ‘refreshing’, more likely ‘bizarre’. It was like Coronation Street but with tea-bagging involved. Or a Planet of the Apes directed by Tommy Wiseau. Whichever of the two you can visualize more clearly. In plain terms, the film was violent, graphic, and sexually explicit. The characters carried out their lives like apes, and I do not mean that metaphorically.

After acclimatizing myself to the bizarre grunts and phallic gore as best I could, I saw a very familiar story playing out onscreen. I was watching a family drama, albeit a deranged one. The matriarch of the family ditches her husband and instead gets freaky with a younger man, much to the dismay of her angsty, brooding daughter. While Mom has fun with her new suitor, the daughter seethes in the shadows, until eventually she falls in love with an equally despondent fellow. However, happiness can’t last forever. I won’t give away the final bit of the movie, but I will say that healthy familial boundaries are blatantly ignored by all. It’s enough to make you nauseous, to say the least. The characters’ ape-like behavioural patterns are purely shocking at first, but eventually become a sly critique on regression in society and perhaps a comedic version of primal patriarchy. Though, I really can’t say anything with complete confidence. I know there must have been a thematic direction within the film, but I was way too busy trying to forget the array of flaccid members and food spittle. This is not to say that it was a bad film, I just don’t know if I will ever get over it.


Still from Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm


A film that I almost overlooked and ended up thoroughly enjoying was Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm. I bought my ticket late in the game and went to the mid-afternoon screening at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts rather than the evening one a few days earlier at the Rio Theatre. Even though I might have missed out on the late night atmosphere, Deathgasm was still a serious treat. A very bloody, campy, and obscene treat. Exemplary in its dry, tongue-in-cheek Kiwi humour, this cinematic gore-fest poked the perfect amount of fun at both cult sensibility and metalhead culture.

After the death of his mother, Brodie, moves in with his severely religious relatives and their bully of a son. While finding solace in the local record store, Brodie befriends fellow hardcore fan Zakk, and the two form a band. But when Brodie stumbles across a decrepit sheet of music and the two decide to play it themselves, death and terror reign down on their sleepy New Zealand town in the form of a demon-zombie apocalypse, until only their misfit group of friends are left to defeat the abounding evil. Howden directs the absurdity with skill, and uses genre tropes like low-fi special effects and hyperbolic character to his advantage. However, cult horror is notoriously misogynistic, and though this film tried to break from that pattern, it was not entirely successful. The film contained three noteworthy female characters, one being Brodie’s high school crush turned demon-fighting badass, another a low-ranking servant of hell who eventually usurps the head title, and the third a record store clerk who reads fortunes on the side. They operate in very different spheres and never interact with one another except during the film’s climax, and though they possess a certain amount of agency they still play a passive role in the film as a whole. I knew it was coming, but I still didn’t appreciate the genre sexism. However, apart from those few snags, Deathgasm was still a raucous bit of fun, presenting itself as a very clever addition to the cult canon.


GCNb2EGa_vdfQkXGoIEjfiZ9Qi7tz5jRQki5Wh38ZT0Violence, sex, drugs, love, friendship, hope–Luxembourgian director Donato Rotunno’s latest feature, Baby(a)lone, reminds us why being thirteen and different is still every bit as confusing as ever. The film launched this year’s annual European Union Film Festival, which runs until December 9 at the Cinematheque. With powerful performances by a talented young cast, Baby(a)alone is difficult, emotional, and gripping from start to finish.

Joshua Defays is the film’s unnamed protagonist, a problem child living with his largely absent mother (Fabienne Elaine Hollwege) in an affluent modern Europe. Life isn’t going well for the boy; his antics have landed him in special ed, just a small step up from the alternative–reform school. He spends his days rolling cigarettes and talking to his imaginary best friend Johnny (Etienne Halsdorf) at recess. The evenings he passes in his bedroom, smoking pot while his mother has loud webcam sex in the room next door.DJQ-Jr_jSe4KWEi4cto9fgsdw1XEhqpk1gHmRzA0cxE

Everything changes when he meets Shirley (Charlotte Elsen), a pretty, enigmatic misfit who joins the special ed program after attacking another student. The boy is immediately drawn to her, and they quickly develop an intense friendship. Although Shirley is manipulative and at times even abusive, she brings a spark of energy to the boy’s life. Together, they skip school and wander the city, watching movies, shoplifting, and getting drunk.

Expertly directed and stunningly shot, Baby(a)lone is an honest and emotional venture into a bleak teenage reality. And while it isn’t exactly enjoyable to watch (at times, it is downright horrifying) the film is extremely engrossing. For, despite the young protagonists’ flaws, it’s impossible not to sympathize with them as they fumble towards happiness–or at least some approximation of it.

The 18th Annual European Film Festival runs from November 27 to December 9 at the Cinematheque. For more tickets and screenings, visit the festival website.

On now at The Cinematheque is Traces That Resemble Us, a screening series and art exhibition that explores art and cinema in Vancouver. The Cinematheque invited 12 prominent artists to each program a film that has been influential to their work. I had the pleasure of visiting Ian Wallace at his studio to discuss his involvement in the series as well as his thoughts on film in Vancouver.

Ian Wallace in his studio. Photo by Helen Wong.
Ian Wallace in his studio. Photo by Helen Wong.

SAD Mag: How did you get involved with Traces That Resemble Us?

Ian Wallace: Shaun Inouye from the Cinematheque called and said they had come up with this concept for an exhibition that takes a range of Vancouver artists whose work has been involved with film in one way or another. In my own work I’ve made reference to films, I’ve attempted to make films, and in the 1970s I was shooting and taking stills off my own films and using them for large scale works. Since then I have been citing and referencing well known films from the European avant-garde in the 60s.

I am interested in the theme of the male and female relationship reflecting from a gender politics point of view. I aim to express this symbolically, taking stills from well known films and cutting and separating the male and female figures on the canvas. That was my basic strategy as I’m not commenting on the film themselves insomuch as I’m using the theme and figures to make my own statements.

SM: Why did you choose Contempt for the exhibition?

IW: The film is about the breakdown of a marriage. The male character begins to question why his wife doesn’t love him anymore…why she feels contempt towards him. I’ve taken references and images from this source and converted it to my own expressive iconography.

SM: What is it about the male/female relationship that attracted you to explore this theme?

IW: It is very much my philosophical mindset. I explore the idea of difference and opposition. In my own work an opposition between abstraction and representation exists. It acts as a formal expressive sense of opposition in regard to how marks and meaning can function in different contexts. And of course in our everyday lives—in the gendered politics of our lives—there is a biological difference in contrast between male and female that is subliminal. We try to erase it but we have to recognize that we have completely different bodies and emotional senses as to how we see the ‘other.’ I am interested in and influenced by the feminist movement of the 70s and all the questions that come [with it]. We must recognize that the organic world is constructed biologically as a gendered structure, even plants have male and female structures.

SM: That’s interesting from a biological point of view, what else are you interested in?

IW: I’m interested in the fundamental image of difference and how we can understand that and absorb that into our image consciousness. How images influence how we think and…meditate on what those differences mean through the image. By cutting, splitting and often reversing the image of the male and female [my work] exaggerate[s] this difference.

SM: Does the binary between photography and painting have any relation to the male/female relationship?

IW: Yes. Painting is only a field or ground for the signifying mark which is the photographic image. The photographic image is itself full of representational material. In a photograph, it’s hard to avoid references to the world; I like this because it enriches the meditative aspect. I like thinking of paintings as fields for meditation for thinking out subject matter. I’m interested in abstract painting, how a jolt of colour occupies space in an image, how it unifies, fragments, and marks an image. Abstract painting doesn’t mean anything, there is an absence of meaning while photography is full of meaning. I have to say, though, in the end everything has some kind of meaning in the sense that it has some context. A mark on a canvas has a context of the whole history of the representation of painting.

Enlarged Inkjet Study for Le Mépris V, 2010, by Ian Wal­lace. Cour­tesy of the artist and Catri­ona Jef­fries Gallery, Van­cou­ver. Photo: SITE Photography
Enlarged Inkjet Study for Le Mépris V, 2010, by Ian Wal­lace. Cour­tesy of the artist and Catri­ona Jef­fries Gallery, Van­cou­ver.
Photo: SITE Photography

SM: You mentioned that you were influenced by feminist artists in the 70s. Artists such as Barbara Kreuger and Mary Kelly were working with language and exploring its patriarchal roots. Do you think we can subvert this patriarchy?

IW: I try to listen and be sensitive to the female aspect. I cannot speak to the female aspect, I can only speak from the male point of view. I don’t think language is exclusively patriarchal but much of language is. The practice of women in culture today is more engaged than it has ever been historically which works to overcome the framework of language being patriarchal.

I don’t necessarily account for it except for…within the references I’ve made in my work. For instance, a woman is going to have a different feeling than a man when viewing my work, and a woman is going to have a different feeling than another woman. Someone who understands the film will have a different relationship than someone who has just seen the image for the first time. I don’t think there is any exclusive reading, I only put the general notion of the meditative object into context: an object for aesthetic contemplation.

SM: Can this apply to film?

IW: The critiques of feminism in the 70s have opened up how we read movie images and film images and [have] caused a lot of change in how they are produced as well. It addresses what kind of responsibility a director, artist, or author has in the meaning he creates.

SM: Is the use of montage represented in the way you’re using film stills?

IW: It is definitely a form of montage; I’m cutting into the body of the images. In film there are a variety of shots, reverse shots, close ups, over the shoulder etc. I’m cutting into each still from a particular angle, [and] through this a participation that occurs; I am reconstructing and recasting a film text in my own subtle way.

A feminist artist, arguably more influential than Kreuger and Kelly, is Sherry Levine. She is an artist who has appropriated male art, such as Walker Evans and Egon Schiele, and reconstructed and reconverted them in her own way. So she has in fact provided a metacritique of a feminist point of view using male-produced works.

SM: In this case, are you providing your own metacritique?

IW: I am doing something similar. I’m appropriating an image and recasting it in my own way, but I interfere with the image a lot more than she does.

SM: Vancouver has a unique history of film, ranging from the variety of films shot here to the work of important photoconceptualists such as yourself and Jeff Wall. How is this history incorporated in works today?

IW: We’ve all been experiencing film, television, and the dramatic image as we unconsciously model ourselves [after] forms of behaviour given to us by the dramatized image. As a group of artists (Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas etc) dealing with cinema and intellectual things, the study of art history moves things forward into contemporary models of thinking. None of us are critical, political, or theoretical in an obvious way, but it deeply informs our work without being clearly read as a mandate to the viewer to think a certain way. I give personal forms and expressions of a general theme that probably identifies my position in ways that I don’t even understand. People can then contemplate and open doors for themselves. Art works as stimulants for people to produce their own meaning, not just to consume other people’s meanings. I mean, that’s the function of art. I try to keep my work as simple as possible, as open as possible. There is a precise set of information I have in terms of thinking about art and history and my own expressive context, but ultimately anyone can do what I do.

SM: Then what is the role of the artist?

IW: To open the doors of perception—that’s the name of a book by Aldous Huxley. In it he explores how drugs can open up new ways of thinking: That’s what art should do.


Ian’s pick Contempt has already been screened, but you can check out  films selected by other artists such as Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, and Myfanwy MacLeod every Thursday until December 17 at the Cinematheque. You can also check out the corresponding Traces That Resemble Us art exhibition at Monte Clark Gallery, on until January 30.

Talk­ing Heads is an inter­view col­umn devoted to con­tem­po­rary arts and cul­ture in Van­cou­ver. Look out for more of Helen Wong’s interviews on sadmag.ca. 

Bizarre Love Triangle is an arts and literary festival happening November 27th and 28th at 552 Clark in Vancouver. The festival is a collaborative effort between Sad Mag, Real Vancouver, and Obscurior, and is shaping up to be the year end party we’ve been dreaming of. The festival is 100% totally free, but capacity is limited, so reserve your tickets here in advance to ensure you get through the door and in on the fun.


On the 27th, the festival is kicking off with Obscurior x Sad’s Point of Inflection exhibition–thirteen writers created short pieces prompted by a Point of Inflection, and Obscurior created cinemagraphs and original music to accompany each piece. There’ll be live readings, and live performances, and a DJ set by City of Glass, so bring your eyeballs and your ears for 13 generally spooky takes on a tipping point. See the trailer here.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.11.58 PM

The 28th is an open gallery for you to peruse, plus artist talks throughout the day. Then, that evening, is THAT FINAL MOMENT–Sad’s and Real Vancouver’s Year End Party to end all Year End Parties! We’ve got Beer by Driftwood and Phillips, and live performances by Gay Sha and Vixen Von Flex (the beauty our Movement issue cover)!


Hosted by the lovely Sean Cranbury and Dina Del Bucchia, an evening of cheesy jokes, live readings, live performance, sweet music, and boozy drinks. Celebrate a year well destroyed, issues created, and art dispersed. This is our bizarre love triangle send-off. Party with us. 

See you Saturday!

We are thick into November and the cold, dark weather has already begun to take its toll. As the temperature drops, and the urge to cozy up inside skyrockets, many of us are watching our social lives wither and die at the mercy of our Netflix accounts.

Luckily, November also happens to be European Union Film Festival month—the perfect excuse to bundle up with friends, munch on popcorn, watch phenomenal international cinema…and actually leave bed doing it. From November 27 to December 9, the Cinematheque will be showing films from every one of the EU countries, the largest and most diverse festival roster to date. For those who can’t make it to all twenty-eight showings, SAD Mag read through the entire EUFF program, binge-watched a bunch of unsubtitled foreign trailers, and selected our five favourite picks for this year’s festival:

SAD Mag's Must-Sees for EUFF2015

By Sad Mag

  • Love Building (Romania)

    By Sad Mag

    Fourteen couples, seven days, one camp designed to fix their “broken” relationships. This low-budget indie hit takes romantic mayhem to the next level.

  • The Sinking of the Sozopol (Bulgaria)

    By Sad Mag

    A dark, brooding stranger appears in the historic town of Sozopol with ten bottles of vodka, a heart full of painful memories, and the conviction his problems will be solved as soon as he finishes the liquor. Don't lie, you've been there too.

  • A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden)

    By Sad Mag

    Sweden's submission to next year's Oscars, _A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence _is an award-winning collection of comic vignettes by renowned director Roy Andersson. But, honestly, we're just curious what they mean by that title.  

  • Simshar (Malta)

    By Sad Mag

    The first ever entry from Malta at Vancouver EUFF: an intense and dramatic take on southern Europe's illegal migrant crisis. Inspired by true events.

  • The Keeper of Lost Causes (Denmark)

    By Sad Mag

    Detectives, police raids, a mysterious disappearance—_The Keeper of Lost Causes _is about as Nordic Noir as it gets. Special bonus: this film features work by Nikolaj Arcel, the writer who adapted _The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo _for screen.  

For more information about the 18th Annual European Film Festival, visit the Cinematheque’s website

When Helena Marie’s masterful short film CRAZY LOVE (2013) debuted last February at the VISFF it took the festival by storm. Marie’s tense, unflinching dramatization of domestic abuse and revenge stunned audiences and wowed judges, winning every major award, including Best Film, Best Performance, Best Writing, and Best Technical. Since sweeping the VISFF, CRAZY LOVE has been touring other festivals in Canada and even won the Best Short award at the 2015 ACTRA festival in Montreal. VISFF recently caught up with Helena Marie in her current hometown of Vancouver and talked to the actor­/writer­/producer about domestic violence, friendship, filmmaking, and the importance of dreams in her creative life.


SAD Mag: You started your artis­tic career as an actress. How did you tran­si­tion to filmmaking?

Helena Marie: About three years ago I started audi­tion­ing and get­ting lit­tle parts here and there and hav­ing fun with that. But I real­ized that even though it was really excit­ing to get a part on a TV show, sometimes my part would only be for a few minutes or even sec­onds and that I wasn’t getting enough storytelling time. I wanted to tell sto­ries and actually con­tribute to these projects. When you’re an actor you don’t always get to choose what you get to tell and what part of it you get to be. So I decided it was time to make my own film.

SM: What inspired you to write the script?

HM: I hap­haz­ardly have been a writer for the last six or seven years. Never publishing anything. It was sort of an out­let for me, mostly a result of crazy dreams. I wake up and remem­ber these epic dreams and if I’m dili­gent enough, I take a pen and paper near me and write it all out. But I’d never go back to it as a story; these are just things I need to let out right at that moment not to for­get about them. I have pages and pages of half­written sto­ries, half­written dreams—

SM: Are they dark?

HM: No, they are epic.

SM: Did you base your CRAZY LOVE story on one of these dreams?

HM: No, but it was a story that I as an actor always wanted to tell. The main con­cept of the film is spousal abuse. When you’re an actor, peo­ple always ask you “why?” “Why choose this ridicu­lously hard, drain­ing career path?” And the con­cept that always came to me was, if I could tell a story, for exam­ple of an abused woman who decides to fight back, and if there’s one per­son up there who is in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, sees that and gets encour­aged to fight back and get out of it—then that’s the ideal out­come. You’ve touched some­one, affected them. I watch movies and TV, I lis­ten to music because I want to be affected, I want it to make me think and feel some­thing. So when I started this jour­ney mak­ing my own project, there were a few ideas float­ing around. I’m a big sci­fi fan, so I started with that, but real­ized it was quickly turning into a feature, and I wanted to start with a short film for my first time, so I decided to scale back and focus on an inti­mate story. So I chose to write about spousal abuse, because it was always some­thing I wanted to do as an actor.

SM: Do you have any expe­ri­ence with that issue?

HM: Not per­son­ally. I’ve never been in that sort of rela­tion­ship. But I have friends who have. In the first few min­utes of the movie, there’s this girls’ poker night scene. It was really impor­tant to me to show the dynamic of dif­fer­ent kinds of friend­ship that can exist around some­body in that sit­u­a­tion. One of the girls is totally aloof and has no con­cept of what’s going on. Another one hints that she kind of has an aware­ness, but when there are ques­tions being asked about Sam’s injured foot, she doesn’t want to rock the boat and get into talk­ing about it. And the third one is “that” friend who’s like “What is going on? What are you going to do about it?” I came at it from the posi­tion of some­body who’s seen friends in these kinds of sit­u­a­tions and I’ve felt like all three kinds of char­ac­ters at some point. I’ve felt like the friend who is clue­less and when I find out I’m in total shock. I’ve felt like the one who knows but doesn’t know how to talk about it, and I’ve felt like that per­son who is like “I’m tak­ing you out of this right now.”

SM: Is this how you’ve pro­gressed as a per­son or did it reflect the dif­fer­ent kind of rela­tion­ships you’ve had with people?

HM: I’d say it’s a com­bi­na­tion of both. My first reac­tion would be to say that’s my pro­gres­sion as I grow up and become more aware of what’s going around me, but the truth is that I don’t. I like to think I do, but I don’t always know what is hap­pen­ing with some­body else. And at the end of the day, it’s not always my busi­ness. Not to say that when some­one is in a bad sit­u­a­tion it is not my place to try to help them, but we don’t always know the whole story and what kind of help they need. I might assume that I need to get them out of that sit­u­a­tion and be there for them emotionally, but maybe what they actu­ally need is finan­cial support. And I might not be the best person to help them. They may need someone else and me getting involved isn’t what they want. You can’t always be a mind reader unfortunately.

SM: What do you think Sam (your char­ac­ter) wants from her friends? What is her perspective?

HM: I think she has gone totally numb after what hap­pened ear­lier that day. She’s out of it and doesn’t know what she’s done. They’re lit­er­ally play­ing this poker game as her boyfriend is lying in the back­yard and she thinks he’s dead. When she finds out he’s not, it’s a big shock to her.

SM: There must have been years of ten­sion build­ing up in the rela­tion­ship. What do you imag­ine your character’s back­ground is?

HM: I think the abuse started off sub­tly and it got to a point for her where it was eas­ier to pre­tend. If she had broken the teacup two years ago, there would have been a fight with yelling and hit­ting, but at this point, it’s eas­ier for her to turn around and do what he says. Then it’s done and she can carry on with her day. It’s really creepy when you think about it.

SM: So she’s not look­ing for help or some­one to get involved?

HM: It’s scary. You might have to look up the exact num­bers, but sta­tis­ti­cally, if there’s going to be a mur­der com­mit­ted in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, the major­ity of the time it’s going to hap­pen on the abused part­ner after the abused part­ner leaves. That’s ter­ri­fy­ing. When you’ve got­ten to that point when stay­ing seems more fea­si­ble. I wouldn’t know what to do. You can call the cops, you ask your friends and fam­ily, every­one is going to help you…but it’s still scary. What do you do? There’s not one answer for any­body. Everyone’s dif­fer­ent, every­one needs a dif­fer­ent fix. And with abu­sive peo­ple, you never know how far they’re going to go. I’m sure she does want help – but at this point she’s so far into the abuse she has no clue how to escape – it all seems so impossible.

SM: How did the char­ac­ters develop over the time of writ­ing the script and shooting?

HM: The script went through so many revi­sions. At one point, the char­ac­ter of Alan had a much bigger part. There was even a reverse tor­ture scene where she holds him cap­tive and repeats all the violent acts onto him that he has done to her. There were a lot of rea­sons we didn’t go that way, but mostly because we didn’t want the focus to be on him. I didn’t want the abuser to get much screen time. Even if he was por­trayed as a hor­ri­ble per­son, I felt that the more time he’d get, the more glo­ri­fied the char­ac­ter would be.

SM: Funny that the char­ac­ter of the abu­sive part­ner is played by your real life fiancé. Did that have any impact on your relationship?

HM: Not at all! It’s funny. I needed some­body who could go through a whole range of emo­tions, espe­cially in the orig­i­nal script where there was a stronger focus on his character. And Jason is just really tal­ented and could do that. I also needed some­one who could be charm­ing and not come across as an aggres­sor. Some­one you’d see walk­ing down the street or hang­ing out with friends and say, oh, there’s a dude, he’s hot, he seems nice. We didn’t want a mus­cu­lar mean face with a shaved head or what­ever the typ­i­cal image of an abu­sive per­son is. And Jason did a great job, but it didn’t affect our rela­tion­ship at all, in fact it made it stronger. I once said at a party that Jason was per­fect for the role, and every­body went “Um, what do you mean?” I meant that he killed it!

SM: You said you “aim to cre­ate films which address mature sub­ject mat­ters and ask [audi­ences] to ques­tion their stance on the def­i­n­i­tions of right and wrong.” Wouldn’t almost killing a per­son be con­sid­ered wrong?

HM: Going back to the con­cept of the friends—it could be any­thing triv­ial or any­thing seri­ous a per­son could be talk­ing about, but some peo­ple would go: “Oh, I’d kill him, let’s find him and do it.” And I think, “Okay, but really? You’d really do it? Because that’s pretty seri­ous.” Just hear­ing stuff on the news, you go “I’d do this, or I wouldn’t do this.” It’s so easy to say. I wanted to see at what point the audi­ence is still okay with what’s hap­pen­ing. First, we see this woman, and her boyfriend is an abusive jerk. He’s mak­ing her walk on a bro­ken teacup. And there’s a his­tory, there’s gotta be a rea­son why she’s doing that. Peo­ple don’t like what they’re see­ing but they are not at the point where they’d say “kill him.” But by the time we get to the end of the movie, the guy is a veg­etable. Now, where’s that line? Where do you still say, “Okay I’m sup­port­ing this, or maybe this is get­ting a lit­tle weird, and now it’s too much.” I want to have peo­ple to go through the tran­si­tion and think about it afterwards. And most importantly we wanted the audiences to actually talk about spousal abuse, have it enter into our everyday conversations so they can understand a tiny amount of the difficulty that these people are going through and not be afraid to address it if they think there’s something going on with their friends or loved ones.

SM: Is there room for wor­ry­ing about Sam not as the vic­tim but as the aggres­sor who will have to face the con­se­quences of her vio­lent action?

HM: Who knows? Obvi­ously, the law is there to try to pro­tect peo­ple. But it doesn’t always. Peo­ple get hurt, mur­dered, raped, kidnapped…The law doesn’t always help. My point isn’t to tell peo­ple to go out and take a base­ball bat to the per­son who’s hurt­ing them. That’s more of a metaphor for stand­ing up for your­self. But the way our lives work now we don’t know what’s going on with people. It used to be that when some­body was an ass­hole in the community, they just took him out. Now we have all these nice lit­tle homes and nice lit­tle cars, we all do our thing and don’t know our neigh­bours’ names. We hear yelling some­times out­side the win­dow and think, “Is it just a little fight or…?” We don’t know our com­mu­nity, and the peo­ple around us anymore. It would be nice to think that the law would be on her side, but again, that’s up to the audience to see how difficult the verdict would be to make in that situation.

SM: When did you real­ize you had pas­sion for acting?

HM: I went to the­atre school after high school. I was very shy; pub­lic speak­ing was the worst. But in the­atre, I was able to express myself, because it wasn’t Helena—it was a char­ac­ter. These char­ac­ters can say things in front of peo­ple and not be embarrassed.

SM: What is the most impor­tant part of prepar­ing to get into a char­ac­ter?

HM: It took me a long time—and I’m still kinda learn­ing it—to real­ize that even if you have a nat­ural abil­ity and you’re com­fort­able doing cer­tain things, that it’s all about prac­tice and being prepared.

SM: Did you always know you want to fol­low this career path?

HM: I had a real life after I left the­atre school—a typ­i­cal nine-­to-­five life for a cou­ple of years and I stopped act­ing, danc­ing and singing. I had a great time, but at some point I real­ized I wasn’t dream­ing any­more. Lit­er­ally; I wasn’t wak­ing up with any mem­ory of hav­ing dreamt, which for me is not nor­mal. I often wake up remem­ber­ing two or three very vivid, very long and detailed dreams from that night. So that made me real­ize I was sti­fling my cre­ativ­ity; a part of me, that cre­ative per­son, had gone dor­mant. So within a few years I was back to act­ing and being cre­ative. Also, before I dis­cov­ered act­ing, I wanted to be a psy­chi­a­trist. I was inter­ested in how the brain works in terms of emo­tions and how it makes us feel things. And around the same time I was decid­ing to pur­sue act­ing, I real­ized that being an actor was a study of human behav­ior. It wasn’t just show, it’s express­ing of how we all feel. We have been sto­ry­tellers since the begin­ning of time. We relate to peo­ple through sto­ries; we want to con­nect and know what they feel, and under­stand why dif­fer­ent peo­ple feel dif­fer­ent things, and know that we are not alone.

SM: How do you treat a char­ac­ter that requires a more emo­tional background?

HM: I’m pretty open in terms of emo­tional avail­abil­ity. I cry at radio com­mer­cials if they put the right music with it. I’m a total sucker. So I iden­tity with sen­si­tive char­ac­ters eas­ily. When the char­ac­ter is tough, and doesn’t show a lot of emo­tions, that’s been a challenge for me. But I like a good challenge!

SM: What advice would you give to aspir­ing filmmakers?

HM: Work with peo­ple you want to work with. Don’t work with jerks just because they’re the “best” at what they do. If they’re mean and belit­tle other peo­ple on set, don’t give them another chance. As you get into big­ger and big­ger pro­duc­tions, there are a lot of peo­ple that are always get­ting rehired just because they were part of a suc­cess­ful film, but maybe on set they’re sex­ist or rude. You can still make a film with­out them. You’re going to be able to find other great peo­ple. Because at the end of the day, work­ing on set is really stress­ful and there’s a lot of money in the pro­duc­tion, so you should sur­round your­self with peo­ple who are pro­fes­sional and team players.

SM: How did you come to work with Math­ieu Charest (direc­tor of CRAZY LOVE)?

HM: I was introduced to Mathieu by our cinematographer Benoit Charest. Mathieu had already read the script and was so so excited that he started right in explaining their relationship (Alan and Sam) and just got absolutely everything I was going for. It was like he was in my brain. He also has decades of experience behind the camera. So it was a no brainer to work with him. I think he and I share a love of the weird and dark. Like, for me, there’s that part of CRAZY LOVE where, after she hits him, she tears up a stack of porn mag­a­zines and uri­nates on them as a sym­bol of her mark­ing her ter­ri­tory and dom­i­nat­ing him. And I per­son­ally enjoyed the fact that I got to pretend to uri­nate on a porno and people gave me an award for it (laughs).

SM: What expe­ri­ence from VISFF are you tak­ing to the next festival?

HM: If it’s a fes­ti­val where there are are awards—and I rec­om­mend this to everyone—always know what you want to say if you do the speech. Mine was the worst; I went up there and was, like, “Hey! Let’s party!” I’m not good under pres­sure (laughs). Be pre­pared, because you have every right to be proud.


You can sub­mit a film to VISFF until Novem­ber 1st, and the fes­ti­val will be held in Feb­ru­ary of 2016. Visit their web­site for more details, and their socials for updates: @visff.

Albert Maysles, famed documentarian and beloved cinematic friend to all, passed away earlier this year at the ripened age of eighty-eight. He, along with his brother David (1931 – 1987), sought out uncommon character and strange circumstance within their work, developing a myriad of delightful and rare documentaries that are still treasured today. I remember watching Grey Gardens for the first time and gazing up at the theatre screen in awe of the life I was witnessing, in all of its honest nonsense. Albert Maysles was the one to capture those moments, and since then I have been equally in awe of his sincerity with the camera.

Albert Maysles

This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival had the pleasure of screening one of Maysles’ last films, a work on which he collaborated with several other filmmakers (Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui and Ben Wu). The film finds its subject in the Empire Builder, America’s most frequented long-distance train route, stretching from Chicago to Portland and Seattle, a journey which takes approximately three days. The camera’s role is observational, typical of a Maysles production, and it captures intimate conversation and solitude alike. Passengers on the train pour their hearts out into the lens, and we become witness to all manner of departure and arrival.

David and Albert Maysles. Photo: John Sotomayor

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this film as much as I had wanted to. Though I found the train as subject to be fascinating, it was generally difficult to immerse myself in the stories of the people on board. The vision of the film was supposedly objective, but the moments captured by the camera were often cheesy and clichéd, which seems like a very cynical thing to say about actual lived experience, but I could not make myself feel differently. One woman revealed her struggle with being a single mom, another explained that the train was her break from an ex-husband, and a mother and daughter exchanged words about their dreams of arrival and feeling that the destination would be a new start.

Sometimes I felt as though these testimonies and exchanges were written especially for the camera and that their candid nature had been erased. If it had all been scripted, I would have cringed in my seat. What I would have liked to have experienced further was the thematic presence of the train as destination in itself, a kind of temporary space in which to ponder what came before and what will come next. Cinematic representations of trains are usually limited to the symbolic. They are used as devices to signify a character or narrative’s transformation, the start of something new or the leaving behind of old. With In Transit, the train became the definite location. Yes, it did symbolize coming and going, and held transformative qualities for some of its riders, but more so than that it became a real place. A self-contained habitat for all manner of folk passing through. I guessed that perhaps the characters aboard the train were intended to be the humanity of the film, but I wanted to explore that of the train instead. I was intrigued by its omniscient personality and acceptance of those who travelled along its route, and by the pattern of existence which only the train could produce. Oh, well. I may have been underwhelmed, but Albert still holds an honoured place in my heart.


Ah VIFF, we hardly knew ye. Sarah Bakke, star volunteer at the Cinematheque and brilliant critical film student saw close to twenty films during this years festival and was kind enough to recap a few of her favourites for SAD.


Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict by Lisa Immordino

This year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) programme included numerous biopics and documentaries of a similar biographical nature. People who lived great lives, it seems, are in overwhelming abundance. Peggy Guggenheim, famed art collector, curator, and singular woman was among those whose stories were told at Vancouver’s annual cinematic mélange. Her extraordinary life was expressly revealed in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s feature, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015). I saw this film at the Vancouver Playhouse, to a bit of my dismay. In my experience, the Playhouse is not the best venue for viewing film because the space lacks the necessary acoustics, and so sound tends to echo involuntarily. In the case of Vreeland’s film, aural clarity was particularly important, since most of the story’s direction came from a series of taped interviews with Guggenheim shortly before her death in 1979, and the recordings were occasionally difficult to understand. However, I became too enraptured by the telling of our heroine’s life to care beyond the first few minutes.

Peggy Guggenheim knew love and misfortune, often all at once. She came from a ridiculously wealthy family and constantly felt like the odd one out, and as her life went on it became clear that she would do wild and wonderful things, though completely beneath the expectations of her tribe. Her interest in artists (and subsequently their art), combined with her penchant for sex and bohemia discredited her within the art community and elsewhere. Art Addict does not shy away from these less glamorous details. A variety of esteemed talking heads and rare photographs reveal the many ways in which Guggenheim was a modern woman, and how her brand of existence was ridiculed by many. Nonetheless, her contributions to art history and the canon cannot be ignored. Vreeland’s documentary was by no means experimental, but it told an exceptional story, and was sensitive to its subject. Peggy G. (as I now affectionately call her) knew what living through art meant, and she did it with gumption and honesty.



Frank and the Wondercat by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa

Another festival gem this year, also about a life well lived, was Frank and the Wondercat (2015), directed by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa, both of whom are Simon Fraser University alumni. Frank Furko is an aging eccentric, completely and willingly lost in memories of Pudgie Wudgie, his beloved pet cat, and their rise to cult fame. Frank and Pudgie put on a series of shows together, with Pudgie dressed in a variety of costumes while performing tricks for the camera, and the pair went on to rub shoulders with the likes of Maury Povich and David Letterman. Though Pudgie passed away in 2001, Frank still lives his life in reverence of their time together, telling anyone who will stand still long enough about the glamour of life in the spotlight. Frank and the Wondercat affectionately captures Frank’s love for his late companion, but it also reveals how deeply Frank is immersed in reminiscence, and how difficult it is for him to pull away from the past.

The film was compiled of both Frank’s personal VHS archive and footage taken by the two filmmakers, shot over the course of several years and with a 4:3 aspect ratio, so as to mimic the VHS format. The final picture was less about Pudgie Wudgie and more about Frank’s dependance on their relationship. In one scene, Frank speculates that Pudgie knew he had been rescued through adoption, and that’s why Pudgie was so obedient. But the film tells a different version, a reversal. As was said by Massil in a question period after the screening, “Pudgie Wudgie sat through all of the costumes and sunglasses not because he enjoyed it, but because he somehow knew that it was for Frank, that this is what this other creature needs.” Frank and the Wondercat was a portrait of kinship beyond simple definition. Frank Furko had a true companion in his silly, patient cat, and has been changed because of it. What could be more heartwarming than that?

Follow Sarah’s instagram for more of her film fuelled escapades at @sarahmbakke. Hit up the VIFF website here.