Prof’s film to open Reel Artists Film Festival tomorrow

York visual arts Professor Katherine Knight’s documentary film about influential Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop in some ways mirrors the style found in Koop’s paintings: full of colour and precise, playing with the idea of glancing and observation, and entering into a world where the real and the abstract co-exist.

The world premiere of the 52-minute documentary KOOP: The Art of Wanda Koop will open the 8th annual Reel Artists Film Festival on tomorrow at The Royal Conservatory, TELUS Centre for Performance & Learning, Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W., in Toronto. A Q&A with Knight, the film’s director and co-producer, along with Koop and critic and urban planner Jane Perdue will follow the screening. The pre-screening reception will start at 6:30pm, the screening at 7pm and a celebration at 8:30pm. KOOP will screen again in Calgary on March 24.

Knight’s film looks at Koop as she prepares massive new works depicting archetypal cities and familiar yet disquieting landscapes for two 25-year retrospectives, one at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and another – Wanda Koop: On the Edge of Experience – at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa until May 15. She is an artist who questions how and what people see or notice, and in turn, shows through her art what people missed with their first glance, as well as what remains out of sight.

Right: Katherine Knight

A Site(Media)inc. documentary, filming for Koop began in June as Knight, an award-winning photographer known for evocative landscapes with a strong narrative atmosphere, cinematographer and York alumna Marcia Connolly (MFA ’10) and Koop embarked upon a week-long trip on a freighter along the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City to Port Cartier. Travel has often provided inspiration for Koop. This voyage along one of Canada’s most significant and fabled waterways not only provided a shared experience for the artist and the filmmakers, it also allowed the audience to share in some of the raw visual materials Koop uses to create her art.

“I was making a documentary about an artist who didn’t want to be filmed painting,” says Knight. So instead, she filmed Koop as she gathered inspiration. “It was about putting the audience into the framework that the artist works in. So the audience can actually travel along with the artist.”

The examination of the visual continues as the film looks at the science of vision, colour and perception. It places the audience in the York Centre for Vision Research, where Koop has her vision tested by York senior research scientist Olivera Karanovic and Laurie Wilcox, graduate program director in the Department of Psychology, in the 3D Vision Research lab to take a look at how she sees – she apparently has great 3D vision.

Left: Artist Wanda Koop has her vision checked in the York Vision Research lab in the opening scene of the film Koop

The artist’s studio as a factory of the imagination also plays a role in the work created, and the film explores this, taking the audience into Koop’s newly renovated factory, where she makes, archives and markets her artwork. There, hundreds of paintings, thousands of sketches and tables full of the painter’s tools contribute to the visual and physical space.

“I’m really interested in making documentaries about artists that get inside the creative process,” says Knight, a longtime friend of Koop and fan of her art. Koop has won several national and international awards for her artistic achievements and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. In 1998, she founded Art City as a storefront art centre in Winnipeg. The goal is to bring together contemporary visual artists and inner-city youth to explore the creative process.

Right: Wanda Koop’s studio

Several alumni worked on the documentary, including project editor Jared Raab (BFA Spec. Hon. ’07), who was declared one of the People to watch 2011 by the Toronto Star. Raab will begin shooting a feature in March with alumnus Matt Johnson (BFA). The score for Koop is by Montreal-based composer Sam Shalabi, who worked on Knight’s 2009 documentary Pretend Not to See Me: The Art of Colette Urban, which was awarded special mention at the Ecofilm Festival in Rhodos, Greece, in June 2010. Pretend Not to See Me will screen at The Female Eye Film Festival 2011, Thursday, March 17, at 5pm at the Rainbow Cinemas, Market Square, 80 Front St. E. (at Jarvis) in Toronto.

Left: Wanda Koop on the freight boat

Knight co-founded Site(Media)inc. with David Craig in 2006 with a passion to make documentaries and short films. Its first film, Annie Pootoogook, was commissioned by Bravo Canada and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. A professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Knight has exhibited her photographs extensively in solo and group shows across Canada and in the United States. Her works are in many public and corporate collections, including the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Banff Centre and The Canada Council Art Bank. She was awarded the Canada Council’s Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography in 2000 in recognition of the excellence of her work.

Tickets to the opening night of KOOP are $175 per person and can be purchased by visiting the Reel Artists Film Festival website or calling 416-368-8854 ext. 101.