Machiavelli and Me by Gary Popovich

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I took a break to do other things, and all I could think about was Machiavelli’s sharp clear-eyed relevance to this time we're living in. I’m working on a new video called Machiavelli and Me, a piece about power and leadership.

Over the years I’ve worked with actors on several films and videos, more in the spirit of talking compositional arrangements, less often evoking characters with some sort of psychological realism. This time I’m using characters from a canon of works blasting about the complexities of leadership and the use of power, and force.

I put together an ensemble of actors for the project. Two of them I’ve worked with before; some of them I’ve been watching for years; some of them are new to me.

(l to r) Jordin Hall, Brefny Caribou, Chris Whidden, Tatiana Deans, Alice Lundy, Dylan Evans, Lesley Robertson (Felix Beauchamp and Erik Helle will join us too, and likely a few others)

(l to r) Jordin Hall, Brefny Caribou, Chris Whidden, Tatiana Deans, Alice Lundy, Dylan Evans, Lesley Robertson (Felix Beauchamp and Erik Helle will join us too, and likely a few others)

We’ll be shooting in front of a blue screen, which means I will be putting all kinds of backgrounds behind them: Medici opulence, domed cathedrals, sunsets, wars, forests, cities. In front of these backgrounds the actors will perform bits from Shakespeare and many other writers up to the present, mixed with bits from Machiavelli, and some improv. The actors will at times appear in the background, and will at times interact with themselves as foreground and background.

We’ll go outside to generate a bit of our material. We’re going to do a small segment of Julius Caesar (and other things including improv) in the midst of the financial district in Toronto, while some of the actors engage with the people who happen to come by. In addition to my camera, some of the actors will be recording with their cellphones.

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802.

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802.

I’m also asking this brave group of thespians for homework. On their own (with minimal directorial input from me) they will go home and do something with their cellphones, something personal, around issues of leadership and power.

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Why Machiavelli? Because of the rules of the game the world still lives by. Machiavelli was clear about how to acquire power and how to hold it; the methods include deadly force, deceit, violence, crushing entirely one’s opposition. Machiavelli was quite clear-eyed in his ability to see that under the present (his time and ours) rules of world politics these brutal principles are operative; and only foolish leaders (who would lose power) would do otherwise.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.

The video is an incarnation of these ideas; and it ends (hopefully) begging the next questions that need to be asked: how else might we organize our world, together? are countries necessary? what are the grounds of good leadership?

The world systems may pay lip service to democratic principles and human rights, but it’s an endless stream of wars, slavery, occupation, race and class divisions and injustice, resource exploitation, labour exploitation, etc. Until we evolve out of this, Machiavelli’s (satirical?) advice is still at play de facto.

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Maya, my blog inspiration, told me that if I was going to blog, it’s a good idea to keep it regular.  Ok, I’ll try.

Steve Sanguedolce: Land Of Not Knowing by Gary Popovich

 

WORLD PREMIERE Monday November 7 / 8:30 PM  / Art Gallery of Ontario / Jackman Hall (317 Dundas Street West, McCaul Street entrance)

LAND OF NOT KNOWING/ 2016 / CANADA / 71 MINUTES /  FILM RATING 18A

http://www.rendezvouswithmadness.ca/land-of-not-knowing

 

Steve’s new film premieres at the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival. Here’s what they say about the film in their catalogue.

 

"In this bold new experimental documentary, four artists talk about suicide: the role the recurring thought has played in their life and art, the struggle to understand and overcome the impulse, and the ongoing confrontation with a form of stigma that renders the very concept of suicide as a kind of pariah even among mental health issues and discussions. With a frankness that is both bracing and illuminating, Sanguedolce's subjects tell their stories, and the filmmaker responds with a striking visual scheme that permits us something rarely attempted in the engagement with this most misunderstood of conditions: a sense of first person understanding."

 

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Steve is a long time friend and colleague in the world of independent/alternative/experimental film, and he asked me to edit the film with him.

Before I arrived Steve had edited the interviews with his subjects, then assembled about a one-hour cut of all four voices, interweaving their stories. He chose not to film his characters, not to use their image in the film. Using his CP-16 (on-the-shoulder somewhat heavy 16mm camera) he shot a lot of scenes around town, building demolitions, a contact improv, hypnotic downtown traffic. He also hired actors to stand in for the characters and filmed them in various places doing various actions.

Sanguedolce then took the film (not video) he shot and hand processed it. The method is usually rather personal and idiosyncratic, first submerging the film in a developer solution, some practitioners use tanks (homemade or manufactured long ago) and many just use trays and gently move the mass of twisted film stock around, until a negative image appears. Swishing the film stock more roughly in the developer tray adds more scratches--an aesthetic choice.  Once the image appears and you wash the film stock you can then subject it to colour chemical toners, fixers, more developers, creating split toning techniques, crazy cracked film emulsion, and rapid reversals from positive to negative. Within the parameters you can control always lies the element of chance to which you must surrender.  You know what you’re going to get within a range; at any moment you can lose the works. The emulsion (the silver that makes the image on the base of the film stock) being subjected to chemical and physical hardship, can slide right off and disappear as particles in your tray.

In addition to the film he shot, there was also a large batch of video shot on an iPhone. And when we sat down for the first day’s edit Steve had about 10 hard drives connected, offering up footage shot during the making of his past films, footage from friends, and some royalty free footage. This would be the large palette for this sad, tortured, heroic and touching set of stories. One of the voices was friend and colleague Mike Hoolboom who also provided a large amount of his own images.

As soon as I was up to speed and had a good sense of the vast collection of footage, we jumped in. Steve sits at the controls, and we discuss shoulder to shoulder. He had done an amazing job with the narrative logic and getting the voices down to one hour; now we needed to add picture and cut out about half of the voices, and keep all the emotional power, and massage a new set of dynamics with picture that would help the stories resonate.

Facing us was a black screen and the voices; we used our large palette of images to build a picture of what these voices might have been feeling, or how we might interpret those feelings metaphorically. So the day to day grinding of depression, its shattering of psyche and spirit might be pictured as the crushing destruction of a large machine smashing a brick building; or the complex interplay of emotions amongst lovers or parents and children might be pictured as a contact improv, several bodies tumbling over each other, grasping, letting go, twisting and turning, piling and separating.

Steve allowed our working process the freedom to be able to go anywhere with the visual images, and we did, constructing an inner sense, as Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival has noted, “a sense of first person understanding.”  This comes from compassion and identification on the part of Steve Sanguedolce the filmmaker sharing with these four subjects the dynamics of a life in full swing, from the highs of artistic practice and achievement, to the lows of depression, and wanting to end one’s life. It is a sharing that effectively makes him the fifth voice in this ensemble, commiserating, wanting to visualize the hard life choices and feelings, and sharing a dialogue about the courage to keep moving and making both art and one’s own life choices.

 

Ali, Steve, and Me by Gary Popovich

You didn’t say enough about yourself.

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I like tennis.

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Two years ago I premiered Souvenir with my partners Continuum Contemporary Music, live with an ensemble. I’m in the process of adding one more part to the video, then marrying the sound with the image and presenting it anew.

 

That’s sort of the theme of my work in the last few months. Preparing bits of writing, clips and pictures for the website meant I had to open boxes left unopened for years, boxes that travelled with me from one address to the next. Inside I found movies I’d forgotten, short, self-funded, having some problem (often lab costs), preventing it from splashing onto a screen.

 

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I’m also editing a film called Traitor, a piece about how I grew up understanding our tribal nature; it’s a piece I’ve been working on for a few years; a piece for which there is no box large enough to hide.

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In the last year: I finished editing with Ali Kazimi (Random Acts of Legacy) and Steve Sanguedolce (Land of Not Knowing).

Ali’s movie won an Honourable Mention for Best Canadian Feature Documentary at the 2016 Hot Docs festival.

“What emerges from a pile of deteriorating 16mm home movies spanning from 1936 to 1951, is a moving story of a Chinese American family set against the backdrop of race and class in Chicago, and one collector’s obsession with the 1933-4 World’s Fair.

Rescued from an online auction, the filmmakers’ quest to make meaning of this Chinese American family’s early home movies connects him with Irena Lum – the surviving daughter of graphic artist and collector, Silas Henry Fung.”

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Steve Sanguedolce's film Land of Not Knowing will premiere at Toronto’s Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival on Monday Nov 7th at 8:30 pm in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall.

Steve Sanguedolce

 It’s a 71 minute hand coloured hybrid documentary that explores themes of art, depression and suicide.  More on Steve and his film in a couple of weeks.

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Hello World by Gary Popovich

Welcome to these pages. I thought I’d introduce myself.

 

I’m likely mostly homo sapiens sapiens (I haven’t had my DNA tested yet, but maybe one or two percent Homo neanderthalensis). I can’t say a lot about my distant past, except that they were hunter gatherers. My family left Africa about 60,000 years ago. At some point, some major mass of my DNA was clustered in the Balkans, along either side of imperial faultlines and violent engagements. Both of those sides emigrated separately to Canada and found each other in the land of promise, with fields of snow.

 

I grew up grateful we weren’t at war and that we had arts councils. I could be critical about things around me and it was one of the virtues of my country, something that allowed it to grow better. Like the world's free trade advocates I too believe in a world without borders, one where there’s equal citizenship, justice, opportunity, and compassion, wherever you might be and whoever you are.

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