By Mónica Delgado & José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Running one of the most interesting programs of experimental cinema around the globe is not easy feat. Andréa Picard has been in charge of Toronto Film Festival’s Wavelengths section for a while now, a task that is no extent of many challenges and keeps her in her toes with some of the more current tendencies of experimental cinema today. Here at Desistfilm we talked to her about the state of experimental cinema, the criteria behind a program like Wavelengths, the task of dealing with expanded cinema and more.
Desistfilm: Wavelengths is one of the most important events of experimental cinema in the year. With one of the most robust programs out there, we were wondering what are the criteria or the considerations you have when selecting the films as a programmer. In that order, what do you think is the particular profile of the program?
Andréa Picard: Thank you for saying so! Wavelengths is actually somewhat small, with 4 core shorts programmes, and approximately 10 -14 features. One of the greatest challenges is adhering to this size as we receive many submissions, and always see more high calibre work than we have space for. The section strives to provide a curated selection of the year’s most essential, stimulating work -be it aesthetically, emotionally, or politically, from both newcomers and established filmmakers. While it stays true to its roots as a showcase for experimental cinema and moving image art, the scope is larger than that and includes a wide range of cinema, including experimental short films, medium-length work, documentaries and fiction films from some of today’s most inventive, and risk-taking arthouse filmmakers. The underlying belief is that great cinema and film art comes in a diversity of forms and from diverse voices from around the world.
Desistfilm: In light of these new social movements favoring racial and genre issues that have been surfacing in the last 10 years, do you find new and different challenges in your work as a programmer? Is this a crucial factor to observe when building a program as relevant as Wavelengths?
Andréa Picard: Any festival that strives to be relevant and meaningful to its audience must constantly evolve with the times. In my tenure, technological, inter-disciplinary and societal changes have all impacted how I work, where I look, and how I look. Given the profile of the programme and its international scope (and that it takes place in a heterogeneous, multi-cultural city), I take very seriously (and even lose sleep over!) programming decisions as I am acutely aware that they are bound up with with institutional weight and privilege, and can impact a film’s visibility. Seeking out a diversity of voices, but also a wide array of filmmaking that does not fit into neat categories is a commitment of the programme. Given that it’s fundamentally non-commercial, and TIFF thankfully continues to support this aspect, Wavelengths has a certain amount of flexibility in what it can present and this, of course, comes with responsibility. The programmes combine new work with older work, sometimes student films alongside those by master filmmakers, always with an eye toward relevance. Much of the work we see comes directly from filmmakers and artists themselves working outside of the industry. Representation plays a key role in devising the overall programme –looking for balance and a variety of voices, and methods of cinematic expression. Each year is different. For instance, we saw many strong films from China and this is reflected in the programme. But by and large, we cast the net as wide as possible and attempt to show strong work from a diversity of filmmakers and artists.
Desistfilm: Experimental cinema has always decanted for the “expanded”, as Gene Youngblood said. We see each day more installations, performances and different manifestations of the moving image. As a programmer for how do you deal with these forms of the art? Do you think the film theatre may not be enough for today’s demand?
Andréa Picard: Over the years, Wavelengths has presented live filmic performances (with Jennifer Reeves, Bruce McClure), as well as lecture-film performances, and many installations and exhibitions, including gallery work by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Shambhavi Kaul, Ben Rivers, David Lamelas, Albert Serra, Michael Snow, Harun Farocki, Luther Price, Ana Mendieta, Cyprien Gaillard, Sharon Lockhart, among others. We have also experimented with showing single screen installation work by artists like Tacita Dean, Thomas Demand and Ali Cherri in the cinema space. I think the more opportunities for exhibition the better, so long as high presentation standards can be achieved inside and outside of the cinema (and/or gallery space) as the technological demands and pacts with the audience are significantly different. Recently, TIFF has discontinued the installation component for Wavelengths and while I lament the end of our citywide gallery co-presentations, we have upgraded our in-cinema experience with a new projector and larger venue to accommodate a greater public. TIFF is a big festival and our amazing technical staff is pushed to the max, but whenever I propose something out of the ordinary, they are eager to make it happen, such as our 70mm short film presentation this year. I think the interplay between film and art extends as far back as the 1920s, with the so-called first wave of experimental film. But this simultaneously parallel and overlapping history is a rich, contentious and sordid one and we’ve seen it play out in economic terms.
Desistfilm: Why do you think it’s important that big film festivals like Toronto have sections such as yours? This same profile is shared by Berlinale with its Forum Expanded. How do you consider this need for keeping spaces of this type?
Andréa Picard: I think it is crucial. There are many terrific film festivals, whose primary focus is experimental film (Media City, Courtissane, etc…), and great year-round screening series in micro-cinemas, cinémathèques, museums and universities globally, who continue to showcase experimental film. International film festivals like TIFF and the Berlinale are committed to showing a wide range of cinema and attract an audience comprised of the public and industry, including international film critics. A well-curated festival, in my opinion, is one that showcases the extraordinary array of cinema, and puts contemporary cinema in dialogue with the present, as well as the past. The infrastructure afforded by these festivals is also larger than that of smaller ones, and therefore they can and should aim to promote non-commercial artists as best they can. Festivals also function as de facto distributors along a circuit, and can launch films into this cycle of visibility, which can have a positive ripple effect.
Desistfilm: Through your experience as a programmer, in and out of Wavelengths, how do you evaluate the state of experimental cinema in these days? What do you consider to be the principal interests of experimental filmmakers and visual artists today?
Andréa Picard: I think cinema in general is in a healthy state, although I continue to marvel at how people can afford to make a living and make independent films. (And, sometimes, write about and curate them, too.) I think there is a greater appetite for experimental film, nourished perhaps from the artworld and the internet, which paradoxically bathes in moving images but also drives people back into the cinema for a collective experience. Themes and stylistic trends naturally emerge (the proliferation of celluloid, for instance), although I tend to steer clear of generalizations. One can say that the work is often political (in response to our world run amok), but also personal and abstract (for the very same reason).
Desistfilm: How do you see the Latin-American presence in Wavelengths? What’s something that particularly got your interest in the region?
Andréa Picard: Despite various upheavals (social, economic, governmental), Latin America, as you know, has always had a rich and varied cinematic tradition, and this continues today. Argentina, in particular, tends to have a strong presence in the programme with independent, auteurist work. Mariano Llinés’ LA FLOR is emblematic of this. On the more experimental side, this year we presented short films by Lina Rodriguez and Laura Heurtas Millán, both natives of Columbia, currently living abroad (Canada and France, respectively) and Malena Szlam, a Chilean-Canadian filmmaker living in Montreal. All three of these films are by young talented filmmakers who have already amassed an important body of work, and continue to experiment with hybrid forms. And each is terrific and singular in its own way.