York prof premieres her documentary at Toronto’s Reel Artists Film Festival

Visual arts Professor Katherine Knight’s latest documentary, Pretend Not to See Me: The Art of Colette Urban, will receive its Toronto premiere at the Reel Artists Film Festival Feb. 26. The screening takes place at 4:30pm in the Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, 750 Spadina Ave.

The Reel Artists Film Festival is a showcase of documentaries on visual artists, highlighting key personalities and demystifying the thinking behind contemporary art. In her profile of Newfoundland-based performance artist Colette Urban, Knight paints a portrait of the artist as resilient, determined, self-aware and funny as she balances everyday living with the world of imagination, set against the rugged beauty of the province’s rocky coast.

Pretend Not to See Me: The Art of Colette Urban features 13 enigmatic performance artworks by Urban, restaged and filmed on location on the artist’s remote Newfoundland property. In the barns and fields of her oceanfront farm, the artist becomes a half-woman, half-bear, dances a tango while strapped into bungee cords, wheels nonsensical record contraptions and turns herself into a parody of consumer goods. She uses her body like kinetic sculpture to explore themes of identity and social convention.

Right: Colette Urban performing Field Orchestrina from the film Pretend Not to See Me. Image courtesy of Site Media Inc.

“This is a film about an artist carving out her own distinctive place in the world,” says Knight. “I have always been a fan of Colette’s work. I wanted to link her art to her love of Newfoundland. Initially, I struggled with the expectation of narrative, but in the end I embraced a poetic, evocative quality. This film is a crash course in performance art for everyone who loves landscape and ideas of the heart and mind.”

A trailer of Pretend Not to See Me can be viewed online.

Above: Urban performing Bare from Pretend Not to See Me. Image courtesy Site Media Inc.

An award-winning artist who is recognized nationally for her distinctive landscape-based photographic works, Knight has recently expanded her practice to film. In 2006 she established Site Media Inc., a production company specializing in television documentaries that chronicle the changing world through portraits of creative artists working in extraordinary places. As producer, her credits include Annie Pootoogook (2006), a profile of the Cape Dorset artist produced for Bravo and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and the 2008 short Goh Poh Seng…A Poet in Newfoundland.  

“After years of using film as a teaching tool, I felt a compulsion to contribute Canadian content,” says Knight. “We don’t have a resource that compares to the American PBS series, “Art in the 21st Century”, but we do have fantastic artists. Canadian artists need international markets and audiences. Film is an essential tool to help achieve that.”

Pretend Not to See Me, which was nominated for a Golden Sheaf Award at its Canadian premiere at the 2009 Yorkton Film Festival in Saskatchewan, marks Knight’s directorial debut. The film’s cinematography is by Marcia Connolly, who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in film production at York. Alumnus Jared Raab (BFA Spec. Hons. ’07) was involved in the final editing, and York’s Film Department assisted with the online component of the film.  

Urban will introduce Pretend Not to See Me with a live performance on Feb. 26. After the screening, the artist will join Knight and York alumna Barbara Fischer (MA ’99), the curator/director of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, in a public conversation about the film. 

Admission is free for students with ID, and student online registration available is in advance. General admission is $10 in advance, with tickets available online through the Reel Artists Film Festival Web site, or $12 at the door.