York Professor Philip Hoffman named a Governor General’s Award laureate

Professor Philip Hoffman, faculty member in the Department of Cinema and Media Arts in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University, is among eight winners of the 2016 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. The news was announced on March 7 by the Canada Council for the Arts. Hoffman was nominated by his colleague Professor Michael Zryd, also of the Department of Cinema and Media Arts at York University.

All Fall Down - Philip Hoffman
All Fall Down (2009) – Philip Hoffman
Car - Philip Hoffman
Chimera (1995) – Philip Hoffman

The award recognizes outstanding career achievement in categories including artistic achievement in visual and media arts, fine craft, and outstanding contribution. Recipients receive a $25,000 cash prize, and a presentation of a medallion by the Governor General of Canada David Johnston. The ceremony takes place on March 23 at Rideau Hall.

Philip Hoffman shooting at the Berlin Wall, 1987
Philip Hoffman shooting at the Berlin Wall, 1987

“The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts celebrate Canada’s leading artists and most dedicated supporters of the arts,” said Johnston. “Each laureate has a unique visual language that enriches our culture and strengthens our nation. These awards highlight Canada’s long tradition of recognizing and encouraging talent, creativity and dedication.”

“The special recognition the Governor General’s Award bestows on Professor Hoffman is exceptionally well deserved. Phil’s unique, highly personal form of cinematic expression brings us to an utterly human place, where the rational and emotive intellects intersect to form a heightened common language of memory, place, love, loss and mortality,” said AMPD Dean Shawn Brixey. “We join in celebrating Phil’s remarkable work and thank him for the artistic inspiration and invention he shares with us and the world.”

Hoffman said he is honoured to receive this award for the work he has been building for 35 years, and for the development of his workshop, The Independent Imaging Retreat (also known as the Film Farm), over the last 20 years. He was nominated by Micheal Zryd, associate dean, Academic, Faculty of Graduate Studies.

“Phil’s incredibly rich body of work is a significant contribution to the canon of experimental cinema, and has inspired many filmmakers around the world,” said Professor Ali Kazimi, chair, Department of Cinema and Media Arts. “He’s also a brilliant teacher; year after year, I’ve seen our students being inspired and transformed by his alternative film workshop courses. We are so proud to have him as a colleague.”

Hoffman also acknowledged the award as a nod to his communities – the fringe film and media communities of artists, curators and independent film and media exhibitors who make “pushing boundaries of film and media” possible.

“Also, I must say I have been fortunate to be working/teaching within a vibrant department (Cinema and Media Arts) with colleagues that stimulate me and make room to develop my teaching and practice of ‘process cinema’ – the experimentation with narrative, documentary form, and audio-visual materials,” he said.

“Initially I was interested in poetry and experiments in literature, and the process of developing photographs. This combination drove me full force into filmmaking,” Hoffman said.

Slaughterhouse - Philip Hoffman
Slaughterhouse (2014) – Philip Hoffman

“I think one of the most important aspects I have been developing is the process of working without a script, letting the interaction of the camera with the world be the starting place for projects,” said Hoffman. “I collect images sometimes without knowing why, with a diaristic approach, and sometimes these images tell me where to go with a current project, or lead me into a new project. So doing comes before thinking, in a way.

“This is the heart of ‘process cinema’ – working with ‘chance’ and spontaneity in every aspect of the project, adapting to the changes that time offers,” he said. “It’s an aspect of any filmmaking or artistic practice, but more visible and central within an experimental practice such as mine. It rubs up roughly against mainstream industrial filmmaking practices and suggests there is another way.”

On the Pond - Philip Hoffman
On the Pond (1978) – Philip Hoffman

As a precursor to the March 23 ceremony at Rideau Hall, there will be a screening of some of Hoffman’s films in their original 16mm format projected on celluloid. This event, at Arts Court Theatre on March 22, is presented in partnership with the Canadian Film Institute with support from the National Gallery of Canada.

From March 24 to Sept. 4, the National Gallery of Canada will feature the 2016 #GGarts exhibition, which showcases selected works by this year’s winners.

For more on Hoffman and his work, visit philiphoffman.ca.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile deputy editor