Thursday 2 August 2012

Curator's notes

Prairie Tales can be an embarrassment of riches.

This year’s jury, Kyle Whitehead, Corinne Thiessen Hepher, and Shreela Chakrabartty, viewed over 40 short works and selected 15 over the course of a weekend.

Submissions represented the many different regions of Alberta: the major cities (Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort MacMurray) as well as more rural areas.

They ran the gamut of genres: animation, drama, experimental, music video, documentary. The overall quality of the submissions this year was outstanding. Though this made for an enjoyable jury process, it also meant that there were some heartbreaking omissions. To those of you who didn’t make it this year: thank you, and please know that your work is appreciated. It’s encouraging to see how the media arts scene in Alberta is developing; no doubt you will see many Alberta-made films in the coming year that have not been included in the Prairie Tales program.

This year, AMAAS is hosting the IMAA Conference in Banff. This is a meeting of media arts organization from across Canada, and we are tremendously proud to be debuting Prairie Tales 14 in front of a national audience.

I’m pleased that the jury chose Quickdraw Animation’s C’est La Vie: The Chris J. Melnychuk Story to start the program. So many artists started out at the artist-run centres and co-ops, and C’est La Vie is the result of many of the animators associated with Quickdraw who took the time to put some of the late Chris Melnychuk’s words into a touching visual tribute.

EMMedia, another co-op from Calgary, is represented by the video poem, Without Them, I May Have Been Blind by EM staffer Peter Curtis Morgan. Empezar, in pieces, a beautiful dance piece made by dancer Rosanna Terracciano, was also produced through EM, as are a number of other pieces in this compilation.

Not Far From the Abbatoir is the only traditional dramatic narrative in this programme. What stood out for the jury is the sense of small-town angst and the great performance by musician Kris Demeanor, who is now the poet laureate of Calgary.

Collaborations also feature prominently. Kari McQueen’s layered and complex experimental piece Translate is the product of the Interrarium interdisciplinary collaborations though the Banff Centre. Spirit of the Bluebird is another collaboration, between Xtine Cook, aboriginal artist Jesse Gouchey, and the tragic story of Gloria Black Plume, who was murdered behind Cook’s house in 1999.

Some of our submissions come from outside the media arts scene. From the Farmers Mouth is a series of interviews of local organic farmers by Kevin Kossowan. Kossowan is known primarily as a DIY foodie—he smokes his own bacon and grows much of his own produce in Edmonton, where he lives. It’s a testament to the power of video to educate and promote in many fields, and an important look at rural Alberta’s innovations.

All Round Junior Male is a rarity these days: shot on film in Canada’s Arctic by Edmonton filmmaker Lindsay McIntyre, it features images of Arctic games champion in high contrast black and white.

Another moving experimental piece is Mirror. Lethbridge-based Nicole Lalonde draws on her personal history to create a beautiful piece about twin sisters, a shared memory and an exploration of identity.

John Osborne commissioned an original composition from clarinetist Don Ross for Lines for Clarinet. Stripped down to the very basics—black and white, dots and lines—the movement and images are rhythmic and mesmerizing, proving that less is more when the content is exquisitely executed.

Scape is overtly political: a critique of Alberta’s Oil Sands and of our reliance on petroleum and an unsustainable economy. Edmonton filmmakers Kyle Armstrong and Leslea Kroll combine image, text, and sound to call out a MAYDAY for the envorinment.

Inspired by the shadow puppets of Indonesia, filmmaker Eva Colmers’ Finding Home tells a story without dialogue, with the action shown in silhouette.

For a glimpse of artmaking as a way of life, Wednesday Lupypciw’s Why Dad MMXI is a self-deprecating yet compassionate look at two generations of artists: Lupyciw and her father. Audio interviews, video interviews, archival footage and a dose of good humour draw parallels between the artist’s anxiety about her art practice and the same anxiety suffered by her father, who is also an artist.

Self Portrait is notable for its soundtrack of looped audio and textured sound. An often-overlooked aspect of film, the soundtrack knits together several abstract memory-stories of the woman hanging pictures.

The collection wraps up with the raucous Pocket Watch, a charming animation by Greg Doble. Using the music of Edmonton’s The Wet Secrets (featuring multiple Prairie Tales artist Trevor Anderson behind the drums), a privileged yet sheltered young man discovers an underground world of rock ‘n’ roll weirdoes when his pocket watch gets away from him.

Prairie Tales 14, like all its incarnations before, is all over the map. And that’s how we like it.