Three York film professors score international festival success

Three York University film professors are having a "festive" February, with two world premieres at the 59th annual Berlin International Film Festival in Germany and a six-title retrospective in India.

The Berlin International Film Festival, or Berlinale as it is commonly called, is one of the world’s leading film festivals, with more public patrons than Cannes or Toronto. This year, the festival runs from Feb. 5 to 15 and packs more than 400 films into 10 days.

York film Professor Philip Hoffman’s latest production, All Fall Down (2009, HDV) screens as part of the Berlinale’s Forum expanded program, a series exploring traditional image formats in the digital age.

Right: A scene from Phillip Hoffman’s All Fall Down

The feature-length film is an experimental documentary that juxtaposes the lives of two people separated by 200 years but linked by a 19th-century farmhouse in southern Ontario. It explores the characters through a variety of archival materials: diaries, landscape paintings, photographs, heritage films, poems, phone messages, maps, historical re-enactments and songs that express the complexity of time and the politics of land.

Last year, Hoffman was in Berlin for the screening of his 16-mm film Kitchener-Berlin (1990) in the Berlin Arsenal festival, but All Fall Down marks his Berlinale debut.

Film professor John Greyson’s Fig Trees (2008, HDV) is showing in the festival’s art house Panorama Special program. It marks Greyson’s fifth visit to the festival. He previously presented Urinal in 1988, The Making of Monsters in 1992, The Law of Enclosures in 2001 and Proteus in 2004.

Left: John Greyson’s Fig Trees is a "doc-op" about AIDS, pills and Gertrude Stein

Cheekily tagged a doc-op (short for opera) about AIDS, pills and Gertrude Stein, Fig Trees explores the work of AIDS activists Tim McCaskell in Toronto and Zackie Achmat in Cape Town, South Africa – and is narrated by an albino squirrel, an amputee busker and St. Teresa of Avila.

In 1999, Achmat went on a treatment strike, refusing to take his pills until they were widely available to all South Africans. This symbolic act became a cause célèbre, helping build his group Treatment Action Campaign into a national movement.  

Telling the story of Achmat’s strike in song, and the larger story of the fight for pills on two continents and across two decades, Fig Trees performs musical and political inversion on the music and words of Gertrude Stein’s 1934 avant-garde classic Four Saints in Three Acts.

Greyson and Hoffman will travel to Berlin to attend the premieres of their films and participate in artist talks and Q & As.

Their colleague, film Professor Ali Kazimi, who served as a director of photography on Greyson’s Fig Trees, is being honoured with his fourth retrospective showcasing his work as a director. Kazimi is a guest of the ViBGYOR International Film Festival, running Feb. 4 to 8 in Thrissur, India, which is screening six of his productions: Narmada: A Valley Rises (1994), Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeffrey Thomas (1997), Documenting Dissent (2001) Continuous Journey (2004), Runaway Grooms (2005) and Rex vs. Singh (2008). Greyson and Kazimi co-directed Rex vs. Singh. The 30-minute video examines a 1915 trial where two Sikh mill-workers, Dalip Singh and Naina Singh, were entrapped by undercover police, accused of sodomy and sent to trial (see YFile, Aug. 20, 2008). 

Right: Rex vs. Singh examines the 1915 trial of two Sikh mill-workers

Continuous Journey and Rex vs. Singh were also shown at the Making Migrant: Dialogs Through Film festival in late January, organized by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust in New Delhi, India.