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Winnipeg Cinematheque: A Map Turned To Landscape

By Mike Everleth ⋅ November 3, 2010

Winnipeg Cinematheque

Nov. 6
7:00 p.m.
Winnipeg Cinematheque
100 Arthur Street
Winnipeg, MB R3B 1H3

Hosted by: Brett Kashmere

Filmmaker, curator and professor Brett Kashmere will begin a months-long study of the Canadian “Escarpment School” movement of the 1970s with this opening event entitled “A Map Turned to Landscape.”

This particular screening consists of 7 short films by members of the loosely-defined Escarpment School produced between 1977 and 1992. The filmmakers who will be represented at this event are George Semsel, Lorne Marin, Rick Hancox, Philip Hoffman, Richard Kerr, Mike Hoolboom and Steve Sanguedolce. The actual list of films screening is at the bottom of this article.

Now, what is the “Escarpment School” actually? It was a group of “Ontario-based filmmakers that came together in the late-70s at Sheridan College, under the tutelage of Rick Hancox and Jeffrey Paull,” according to Kashmere’s promotional materials.

Members of the group include the filmmakers represented at this screening, plus Carl Brown and Gary Popovich; while Janis Cole, Holly Dale, Marion McMahon, and Mike Cartmell are all also occasionally considered a part of the movement.

As for the films themselves and what binds them together as a “movement,” Kashmere describes them as:

a desire for understanding through physical exploration and encounter with landscape. Taking their cameras on the road, to the ocean’s shoreline and across southern borders, the filmmakers featured here infuse rituals of masculinity with critical self-reflection and patient, poetic lensing; often conjoined in a diary or travelogue format. Although varied in tone and texture, the films in this program share numerous qualities, including an attention to geography, a drive to record reality, the filtering of documentary material through individual experience, the looming presence of America, and a process-based, formalist approach to nonfiction.

One of Kashmere’s goals of  curating this film series, which will have additional screenings in Februrary, March and May of 2011, is to help bring attention to and define more clearly what this often overlooked movement meant in Canadian film history. While the filmmakers themselves have gone on to great critical acclaim, how their work related to each other’s in the Escarpment School is less frequently, if ever, discussed in critical circles.

A particular point of contention appears to be if the Escarpment School can even be considered a legitimate art movement, or if it was little more than a PR stunt in order to bring attention to then-overlooked filmmakers.

However, the history of underground film is filled with quasi-movements, particularly the New American Cinema in the ’60s and the Cinema of Transgression of the ’80s, both of which were completely engineered machinations by filmmakers Jonas Mekas and Nick Zedd respectively.

Art movements are typically named and described by outside forces, not by those within the movements themselves. But, while “New American Cinema” and “Cinema of Transgression” were terms certainly dreamed up by filmmakers looking for a little attention, it’s difficult not to look back and see that there were in fact movements going on in film, no matter who called it what and when.

Perhaps the Escarpment School can and will fall into that same categorization. Special kudos go to Brett Kashmere to opening the discussion up with this ambitious series, the overall title of which is The Road Ended at the Beach, and Other Legends.

While I certainly hope to post the details of the rest of the screenings when they get closer, one place where you can get more info on the series is the excellent Winnipeg-based underground film website Cineflyer, which currently has an interview with Kashmere and an interview with Escarpment member Philip Hoffman.

Landscape, dir. George Semsel (1977, 16mm, 3 minutes)
Trains of Thought, dir. Lorne Marin (1983, 16mm, 10 minutes)
Beach Events, dir. Rick Hancox (1984, 16mm, 8.5 minutes)
The Road Ended at the Beach, dir. Philip Hoffman (1983, 16mm, 30 minutes)
His Romantic Movement, dir. Richard Kerr (1984, 16mm, 15 minutes)
Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion, dir. Philip Hoffman (1983, 16mm, 6 minutes)
Mexico, dir. Mike Hoolboom and Steve Sanguedolce (1992, 16mm, 35 minutes)