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culture

Images Festival 2012

Toronto's annual experimental-media festival celebrates 25 years with its largest ever lineup.

Still from The Pettifogger, showing in a pre-festival screening tonight.

Images Festival
Multiple venues (Festival Venue Guide)
April 12–21, various times
Single tickets $5–$15, festival pass $75

Already North America’s largest festival dedicated to independent and experimental moving-image culture, the Images Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012 with its most comprehensive program of projects to date. Images was founded in 1988 as an alternative to TIFF, and quickly became a forward-looking platform for innovative international film and video artists working outside the mainstream. This year’s instalment also looks to the past, reflecting on the festival’s origins and evolution, as well as on the broader history of Toronto’s film-going culture. In total, Images 2012 will feature 119 screenings, installations, and live events, including a closing-night performance by Yo La Tengo.

While Images began life as a refuge for artists too radical for TIFF, the two organizations are mutually supportive, and have partnered to offer a free pre-festival screening ahead of tomorrow’s official opening. The bonus curtain-raiser, co-presented by TIFF’s Free Screen series, is the first feature-length film from veteran collage artist Lewis Klahr, entitled The Pettifogger. “Starring” a mid-century comic-book cut-out, and featuring snippets of dialogue from vintage radio dramas, The Pettifogger re-appropriates found media to create a fascinatingly unconventional film noir. The film presents elliptical snatches of a year in the life of a jet-setting ’60s conman, but is less a coherent story than an abstract sensory pastiche. For Images newcomers, tonight’s Lightbox presentation (7 p.m.) is an ideal opportunity to sample the festival’s weird and wonderful wares, free of charge.

Of the selections screening during the festival proper, we’re particularly fond of The Observers (April 14, 7:30 p.m.), from filmmaker Jacqueline Goss. Like a non-fiction, non-narrative counterpart to Duncan Jones’ Moon, Goss’ quasi-doc is a portrait of individuals at work in potentially maddening isolation. Unlike Jones’ protagonist, the latter’s subjects are earthbound—but only just. As climatologists at the Mount Washington weather observatory, they share responsibility for gathering data on the infamously extreme conditions at the mountain’s peak, some 6,288 feet above sea level. Goss conveys the pointed contrasts that characterize their solitary, seasonal stints, depicting both the majesty of their windswept surroundings and the monotony of their repetitive observational tasks. In the wrong hands, The Observers itself might have been pretty tedious going, but Goss’ meditative, minimalist execution is surprisingly engrossing.

Ditto Antoine Bourges’ excellent East Hastings Pharmacy, a 46-minute documentary short about a methadone dispensary on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. BC regulations call for a pharmacist to witness each dose, and Bourges’ camera replicates that perspective, acting as a silent observer as a parade of regular clients file through the clinic’s doors and wait patiently to fill their daily prescriptions. Bourges also trains a lens on the pharmacist, capturing both sides of a dispenser-patient dynamic that is generally gracious and good-natured, but which can become stressful for both parties. East Hastings Pharmacy is the highlight of “A Place in The World,” a program of shorts that screens on April 16 at 7 p.m. We’d also recommend the subsequent shorts program “Memories of an Amnesiac” (April 16, 9:30 p.m.), which presents six film and video projects that explore various aspects of memory and identity, inlcuding Tonje Alice Madsen’s Insideout, a compelling, 26-minute patchwork of unseen strangers’ YouTube confessionals.

The Ace Theatre at Danforth and Gough in 1947. Courtesy of Images Festival and the Archives of Ontario.

Occupying the Urbanspace gallery (401 Richmond Street West) now through April 28, our pick of Images’ off-screen programming is “Toronto: Cinema City,” which charts the rich history of Hogtown movie houses. From the silent era through to the advent of contemporary multiplexes, Toronto has been home to more than 300 screening venues, most of which are long gone, if not forgotten. “Cinema City” features rare photographs and artefacts from those sites, including the many alternative film-going spaces that have long been staples of Toronto film culture. Local film buffs are also likely to appreciate Alphaville e outros, a reimagining of Jean-Luc Godard’s Aplhaville by renowned Brazilian visual artist Antoni Muntadas (April 19–May 19, VTAPE).

With respect to Images’ selection of live events, we’re eagerly anticipating Yo La Tengo’s closing-night gig, largely thanks to the fact that the trio’s music will accompany a selection of films from legendary avant garde documentarian Jean Painlevé (1902–89). Science and surrealism collide in Painlevé’s wonderful shorts, which depict seemingly mundane facets of marine biology (sea-urchin locomotion, for example) with captivating, balletic splendour. In 2001, the San Francisco Film Festival commissioned Yo La Tengo to compose an instrumental score for eight of Painlevé’s films, and the result was The Sounds of Science ($25, April 21, 8 p.m.), which has since been performed at various venues around the world, but never before in Canada. Images’ closing-night gala will also include an opening performance from Toronto-based singer/songwriter and film curator Chris Cummings.

For tickets and a full schedule of screenings, exhibitions, and events visit the festival’s website.

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