22 minutes, 1998
Production, Image and Sound: Gary Popovich
Voices: Janieta Eyre, Mike Hoolboom, Shae Popovich
Production Assistance: Kieran Mahon
Video Footage: Louise Lebeau
Title Animation: Greg Woodbury
Thanks To: Jan Bird, Dominique Cardona, Laurie Colbert, Chris Evans, Jim Evans, Doug Freeman, Ruth Freeman, Paul Hemrend, Jeffrey Paull, Anne Popovich, Lori Popovich, Kristin Roe, Sam Sanguedolce, Steve Sanguedolce, Barbara Sternberg, Kika Thorne, Mark de Valk, Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT)
Angels: Marion McMahon, Ivan Popovich, Ignace Verlaan
Navigation: Lisa Freeman
Produced with assistance from The Ontario Arts Council
Premiered at TIFF, 1998
“As tectonic plates move with seismic repercussions, relationships fail and people are uprooted and transformed in Faultlines. This experimental piece explores both geographic and personal faultlines.”
Helen du Toit, Toronto International Film Festival Catalogue, 1998
“In a tapestry of migratory luck, artifacts and shells, a mixed choir of images and sounds engages the paradox of a journey that loses all meaning once it reaches its end. The film’s westward inclination to the American shores of the Pacific, bound in a pitiless growth and decay, drives a dense montage, woven with guns and prayers.”
It’s a banner year for Canadian experimental cinema at the Toronto International Film Festival. I count 10 films that are either pure examples or hybrids, most of them made by veterans. It’s encouraging to see that the short film programs are a mixture of genres; gone are the days when the experimental films were segregated into a single program that few could sit through. Due to sheer lack of space, I’ll focus on a few of the highlights.
Popovich’s Faultlines is a multilayered visual journey between civilizations, cultures and states of mind. Ancient Mayan hieroglyphics mix with the casinos of Las Vegas to produce a perverse and fascinating view of modern American culture, one that makes you question just how far we have come. As the images skip across the southern United States, the voices on the soundtrack relate stories of love and loss, poignant in their longings for reconnection. This sense of disconnection transforms the imagery and when scenes from the aftermath of the Californian earthquake are added to the mix, the film moves toward its own earthquake, one that leaves no answers, only questions.
Barbara Goslawski, Take One, 1998
Shorts at Toronto International Film Festival ‘98
Gary Popovich began shooting his experimental piece Faultlines when he landed a free ticket on a Caribbean cruise and continued during a cross-country trek where he was showing his work in art galleries.
The short format allowed Popovich to experiment with an innovative process—multiple image rolls where images shot on 16mm, Super 8 and video are composited together to create different layers of visuals. Ontario Arts Council money helped fund the project.
Rub a dub dub
There is a madness to experimental filmmaker Gary Popovich’s bathtub processing method. Black and white high-contrast stock is preferable because, he says, it gives the most striking results. Assorted techniques are then tried, such as turning lights on and off during processing, spraying developer onto the surface of the film and adding household cleaners, bleaches, urine—anything within reach.
Famed for his work in the tub, Popovich spent part of last year on tour giving seminars on his discoveries. This year, with a number of films on the go, Popovich is up to his ankles in fixer.
At the top of his list is Faultlines, a 20-minute sound poem collage now at the sound edit stage. Electro-acoustic music (composed by Randy Smith), sound fragments and a recorded voice are combined with multiple layers of images on 16mm color reversal stock.
“It a combination of (Allen) Ginsberg’s Howl and a documentary reflection of a poem that weaves right around the North American continent,” says Popovich.
Coming Attraction, a Super 8 multi-image compilation, is inspired by Popovich’s new experience as a father. “It’s a tough assignment,” he says. No regular home movies for his kid. The biggest challenge is avoiding the clichés so often found in pictures of one’s offspring, and so, for starters, he is interweaving delayed loops into the soundtrack. He also plans to blow up the Super 8 stock to 16mm for optical printing and hand processing.
Also in the works is a 10-minute piece, Guest Host, about “some of the craziness” in the former Yugoslavia. Popovich has relatives in Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia, and he shot a film there in 1985 called Elegy. For this project, he is working with actors as well as using some image layering. It’s at the first draft stage.
Out of Turn, a 70 to 80-minute piece, has been in the works for a couple of years and involves some of the same performative and layering techniques being applied to Guest Host. It’s about sexuality and politics, “like everything else,” says Popovich.
Niagara film producer took the long road
For Gary Popovich, it was 17 minutes of film that took four years to produce. Faultlines, the Niagara Falls-born Popovich’s newest short film, took the long road to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Work began on the project four years ago, when Popovich was struck with the idea of showing the journey, or ‘migration’, of people to America’s decrepit west coast. Along the way, he raised two children, did plenty of travelling, and did lots and lots of editing.
At one point, Popovich sat back and realized he had been working on the sound for an entire year. “It took that long to really focus right down to what the essentials of what this thing was going to move to…the journey that was going to be explored,” says Popovich from his Toronto home.
Faultlines, his sixth film shown at the 23–year old festival, is part of the Perspective Canada line-up, which includes 19 features and 42 short works. It’s scheduled to be screened at the Alliance Cumberland Cinema Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 19 at 10 a.m.
The film is a short but potent visual assault. Multi-layered images and frantic editing creates a mood of decay and self-delusion, as instinct seems to send people westward to a false land of dreams. It’s a world unto itself—at one point, shortly after an earthquake, stores are seen having ‘after earthquake’ sales. Disasters, whether natural or manmade, are part of the city’s fabric.
“When I arrived in Los Angeles, (an earthquake) had happened two weeks earlier,” says Popovich. “I stayed with my sister, and for her it wasn’t a big thrill. She thought she was going to die. But for me, I was waiting to feel one of these ‘after effects’, and when I did, I got a bit of a charge. We ended up having a 5.3 (on the Richter scale). We felt several fairly strong aftershocks, and it was no longer that ‘Oh, let’s go on this ride’ rollercoaster. You feel the danger of it. This is a bigger power that takes you over.”
Using brief narration, Faultlines reveals a journey that’s ultimately empty, and loses meaning along the way. The dense montage of images never lets up—at times, there is animation, new film, and stock footage crammed into one frame. It’s all part of Popovich’s Canadian slant on America, and its decayed promise.
“I wanted to grapple with America, and what it means to me living just outside of the ‘empire’; a part of it, yet apart from it, to some extent.” He says. “That I would be starting at that Columbian gateway down in the Caribbean and ending up in Los Angeles, for me circumscribed a path of migration that’s part of a bigger flow from east to west. Certainly ending up in Los Angeles at this place where there is no more ‘west’. West ends, and you look out towards this mythical ‘east’.”
With five projects on the go, Popovich is booked for the next three years, but the Westlane grad has plans to bring the camera home someday. Niagara Falls is a subject tugging at his sleeve.
“There’s that dichotomy at work between the commercialism that exists—which I was sort of a part of because my dad had a hotel and a motel down there—and at the same time being sort of repulsed by the whole thing. Especially as you go down Clifton Hill. You see all of that, but when you get to the foot of it, I still stand in awe of that waterfalls, that water cutting through that river and the layers of time. It’s the evidence of time, the bigness of that time, and the smallness of our attempts to make meaning of it.”
The Perspective Canada series has become a popular segment of the film fest, and Popovich is glad to be back. It’s a place where even the most experimental films—Faultlines among them—can find an eager audience.
“You’ve got a big crowd there. People are usually pulling for you, and they’re interested in these different types of films.”
John Law, The Niagara Falls Review, 1998