IMAGES FESTIVAL 24 at the Royal, Workman Arts, Jackman Hall and other venues, from tonight (March 31) to April 9. imagesfestival.com.
The 24th edition of the images Festival finds Toronto’s annual celebration of experimental film and video expanding even further across the city, adding the AGO’s Jackman Hall to its list of venues.
The programmers have collected cutting-edge of work in the visual arts, with experimental documentaries sharing screen space with impressionistic shorts, live action and animation bumping up against each other, and the Live Images program once again blending cinema with live performance, just to see what happens.
Although the festival technically started yesterday with a “bonus screening” of experimental work from the San Francisco Bay Area at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Images kicks off good and proper this evening with Luo Li‘s Rivers And My Father (tonight, 7 pm, the Royal rating: NNNN).
It marks an evolution for Li, whose delicate debut, I Went To The Zoo The Other Day, was a highlight of last year’s Images. Shooting in nostalgic black-and-white and blending documentary and fiction, Li creates an enhanced version of his family’s history, reaching back from contemporary Toronto to the banks of China’s Yangtze River.
The reflective mood carries echoes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beguiling Syndromes And A Century, or Jia Zhang-ke’s recent docu-fictions Still Life and I Wish I Knew, but Li isn’t borrowing from those directors so much as exploring a common theme in his own particular style.
An equally distinctive vision is at work in John Gianvito’s four-and-a-half-hour documentary Vapor Trail (Clark) (Sunday, 6 pm, Jackman Hall rating: NNNN), which investigates the miserable legacy of the American presence in the Philippines for most of the last century, using the decommissioned Clark Air Force Base in the Pampanga province – where the groundwater has been rendered toxic by the storage of chemical weapons – as a symbol of imperialist negligence.
It’s a compelling look at the tragedy of imperialism, using its running time to force us to pay attention to victims – to people – we might otherwise never encounter. (Gianvito will be at the Gladstone Hotel Art Bar at 3 pm Friday for the first of the festival’s Images Talks.)
Other highlights in the festival include Adele Horne‘s And Again (Saturday, 8:30 pm, Workman Arts rating: NNNN), a fascinating tour of a struggling New Mexico town that got a new lease on life when it was purchased by the Department Of Homeland Security as a training ground for anti-terrorist operations, with the residents hired to play aggressors and casualties. It’s like an Onion satire brought to life.
Jesse McLean‘s Magic For Beginners (Friday, 7 pm, Workman Arts rating: NNNNN) is an imaginative caution against the aspirational effect of American celebrity – the mutant child of Brian O’Blivion’s monologue about “being on television” in Videodrome and Warren Beatty’s excoriation of Madonna’s need to be on camera in Truth Or Dare. Sounds hectoring, I know, but it’s thrilling to watch.
And Duncan Campbell‘s Make It New John (Tuesday, 6:30 pm, Jackman Hall rating: NNNN) mixes documentary and speculation to explore John DeLorean and the stainless steel sports car that bore his name (and became a pop culture icon at 88 mph in the Back To The Future films) in the context of Thatcher’s England.
The festival also features Reframing Africa (Monday and Tuesday, 9 pm at Jackman Hall), two programs of African experimental cinema curated by Jean-Marie Teno, who gets his own Images Talk Tuesday at 3 pm at the Gladstone.
And next weekend’s closing-night gala presents Tod Browning‘s rarely screened 1928 silent, West Of Zanzibar, with a live musical score by Fucked Up (April 9, 8:30 pm, Toronto Underground Cinema). That’ll be something to see.