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)



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."


Director b&w.jpg

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.