Programmer of TIFF's avant-garde and experimental programme, Wavelengths
Jackman Hall (317 Dundas Street West)
Wavelengths 1: Analogue Arcadia
Friday September 9, 9:15 p.m.
Wavelengths 2: Twenty Cigarettes
Saturday September 10, 6:30 p.m.
Wavelengths 3: Serial Rhythms
Saturday September 10, 9:15 p.m.
Wavelengths 4: Space is the Place
Sunday September 11, 7 p.m.
Wavelengths 5: The Return/Aberration of Light
Sunday September 11, 9:15 p.m.
As the programmer for Wavelengths, TIFF’s acclaimed experimental programme, Andréa Picard has a pretty interesting job. (It’s so interesting, in fact, that we once profiled her just to ask her all about it.) Where most of TIFF’s programming staff specialize in one-or-another (or, more commonly, a few) national cinemas, Wavelengths is Picard’s baby: the programme she’s nurtured into one of the festival’s most consistent. Like the Midnight Madness programme—which also bears a singular curatorial signature, that of Colin Geddes—Wavelengths has cultivated its own niche audience. For plenty of people, TIFF quite simply begins and ends at Wavelengths.
For anyone outside of that circle, though, the Wavelengths programme(s) can be alienating. It’s hard to talk (or even think about) experimental and avant-garde cinema if you aren’t fluent in its movements, figures, and insider jargon. Basically, if you don’t own one of Criterion’s Stan Brakhage Anthologies (or haven’t at least checked them out from your university library), it’s easy to feel alienated by all these non-narrative explorations of shape, space, texture, and duration: one of Wavelengths’ banner presentations in 2011 is James Bennings’ 20 Cigarettes, a 90-ish-minute showcase of 20 people working through a small pack of smokes.
There are flows, though, between the avant-garde and the… less so. Ideas whip through other modes of filmmaking. Indeed, Picard’s long-running column for Cinema Scope magazine, “Film/Art,” tugs at the connection between experimental cinema and just plain cinema. These dialogues and cross-pollinations are felt across other TIFF programmes, too. It’s easy, for example, to trace Visions and Vanguards back to the experimental attitudes of films typically programmed in Wavelengths.
We spoke with Picard about these connections, the place of Wavelengths within the larger razzle-dazzle of TIFF, and ways into avant-garde for the inexperienced but adventurous. Oh and FYI, the programme is named after Canadian artist Michael Snow’s seminal 1967 avant-garde film, Wavelength. You probably need to know at least that to get in the door.
Torontoist: How does Wavelengths fit into the larger festival?
Andréa Picard: Well it’s twofold. I kind of see Wavelengths as a festival-within-a-festival. Like a sidebar. It’s always on opening weekend. And it has a local following. There are some people who go to Wavelengths and nothing else. They get the Wavelengths pass and they’ll do that. But Wavelengths is also one of the fundamental programmes. It is one of the most celebrated and successful programmes. It gives a nice balance to the festival, and gives it some integrity. One of the beautiful things about the Toronto International Film Festival is that yes, you can go to all the galas, and it’s a launch pad for the Oscars, but it’s also got a really strong avant-garde programme. I think it’s important to stress that TIFF has that range and that it celebrates that range… there’s a dialectic there, let’s say.
Do you find it a challenge to get people to come to Wavelengths who aren’t part of this local community, but who may still be curious about the programme?
I think it used to be more of a challenge, even five years ago. It’s now in its 11th year, and people are more adventurous, because it’s gotten such great press and has such a great profile. And the passes sell out, so people know they have to get tickets in advance. There’s this excitement that encourages people to dabble. Certainly, it’s not for everyone. For people who are here to see mainstream, let’s say, American or Hollywood movies, then clearly Wavelengths is not for them. And we don’t expect it to be for them.
The separate Wavelengths programmes seem organized, this year, around the visualization of space, or analogue technology. Are these threads that emerge as you’re sifting through the submissions?
Absolutely. We can show 20 or 30 films, at best. So it’s become a process of selections. And we made the decisions early on to have a real, curated programme. We want the works to speak to each other, but also to breathe on their own. You don’t want a jumble of a shorts programme, but you don’t want there to be some overarching theme. You want it to emerge organically.
The Analogue Arcadia programme seems to have this sense of urgency, as if these technologies are on the brink. Beyond eulogies for analogue filmmaking, how do you think changes in film formats will come to bear on avant-garde and experimental film?
These dialogues have been happening for a number of years. Certainly, things are being phased out. It becomes difficult to project certain things, and for certain projectors it becomes hard to find certain parts. But there’s a whole subculture out there. There are networks and ListServs and people on eBay. But when you’re talking about lab culture and lab processing, that’s where things are changing. The aesthetic changes, there’s no doubt about it. The tactile qualities that celluloid has just can’t be replicated digitally; I don’t care what anyone says. It’s better depth perception as well. And a pixel is not a grain…you have to acknowledge that certain media has certain qualities and textures, and celebrate them all. And now we’re seeing more hybrid works.
[2010 Palme d’Or winner] Apichatpong Weerasethakul has a film in one of this year’s Wavelengths programmes, right?
Yeah, it’s in the Analogue Arcadia programme. It’s called “Empire,” and it was commissioned last year for the Viennale [Vienna International Film Festival].
Does programming films by filmmakers like that, not mainstream filmmakers but certainly known by name, provide an entry-point to those people we talked about who may be wary about Wavelengths?
Absolutely, and that’s something we’ve been doing for a number of years. Like when we had a film by Lisandro Alonso, that name got some recognition. A lot of these people are avant-garde filmmakers, but it’s still narrative, and configured in a different wave. I’ve always loved to have that inter-dialogue between filmmakers. James Benning, for me, belongs in the Masters programme.