MACHINE GUTS (2003), directed by Christina Zeidler, 3 minutes, part of the Trace Elements shorts program, Saturday (April 17), 7 pm; KILL ROAD (2003), directed by Zeidler, 14 minutes, part of the Ticklish Subject shorts program, April 24, 7 pm. Both at the Images Festival Of Independent Film And Video, Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex), through April 24. For this week's complete schedule, see page 100. www.imagesfestival.com Rating: NNNNN
Christina Zeidler is fascinated and outraged by roadkill. Her eyes are round, bright hazel-brown - an intelligent-animal colour - and direct as she bemoans the ways humans treat animals.
"Animals are like the garbage of our culture, and yet we have this strong connection to them. It's a tension that's really evident with pets. There's this netherworld where people live with their pets in forbidden relationships that they can't talk about in society."
We're perched on barstools in a sunny corner of the magnificent ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel, the family business where she works as property manager. We're discussing her films, particularly the two being shown this week as part of the Images festival, Kill Road and Machine Guts.
In Guts, the shorter film, a deer (created by artist Bill Burns) narrates a story about an alienated mall worker in a deliriously deadpan voice as he types it into his laptop.
In Kill Road, a family run over and kill a raccoon, then pretend they haven't. Its dreamy, stop-motion sepia look and banjo soundtrack combine with ludicrous characters and searing emotional honesty to make it absurd on the surface and weepy at the core.
Both films are playful, experimental in form and technique, but also accessible. They've got narratives, for starters, and are funny and explicit about at least some of their subtext, which doesn't make them any less resonant emotionally. It's almost like an indie rock aesthetic.
Zeidler sees the connection.
"I have this politic that art is part of your everyday life. I make no distinctions about who's an artist. I love the idea of cultures where the undertaker's a poet.
"That's what's compelling to me about zine culture, do-it-yourself culture, band culture. I love playing in a band, because I'm not a musician and I play a lot with people who are actually musicians. In the same way, I love working with people who haven't got a clue about film. They're going to bring things to it that I would never have thought of, and I can help them make it work. I want to free things up from the definitions of what makes you a filmmaker, what makes you a visual artist."
Don't get the wrong impression - DIY does not mean sloppy.
"I'm very labour-intensive with my work. Otherwise, it's too raw. I like to play with ideas and mould them. I'm a crafter. I have a fascination with the minute hands-on detail."
Kill Road is probably the most fastidious piece of work she's done. She shot it frame by frame, with the actors moving in slow motion. When she dubbed in the sound, it didn't match up exactly, so she had to re-photograph the entire thing to make it fit.
"It almost killed me to make that film," she laughs. "I'd be sitting in the dark, with little tears squeezing out, asking myself, 'Why am I doing this? Everyone else works in digital!'"
The answer is, because she likes the control part.
"I like being a master of it, learning all these processes. You never know what medium I've used. It's manipulated - you can feel that my greasy fingers have been in there. But it also has to be seamless, because if it looks like it was difficult to make, you're losing people to the technique.
"I'm a control freak. That's part of the existential crisis I have with my work. I am the master of this universe - but ultimately, I'm really not controlling anything."
Relinquishing control is a major theme in her work, both on- and offscreen.
It's one of the main ideas she addresses in her masterpiece, Traces, the intensely moving eulogy for her dog, Mica. It's also something she's learning about in her collaborations with other artists. With her friend Allyson Mitchell, she's been touring Freeshow Seymour, a collaborative retrospective.
"We use it to explore the crush on film that we have. Both of us have had the experience of wanting to make art, and then doing it, getting involved, and that's such an exciting transformative process."
That inclusive, collaborative cross-pollination is also something she's trying to encourage at the Gladstone, which, under Zeidler's management, is becoming a hotbed of creativity. In the next two weeks, the hotel hosts artists from the Images festival, the Broken Pencil magazine launch, OCAD's performance art program's year-end presentation, and Lost, by New York artist Kathe Izzo, who will commit to falling in love with anyone for a day.
Christina took over the property management of the hotel from big sister Margie, who also runs the warren of galleries and arts businesses at 401 Richmond West. Her father, Eberhard, is an architect involved with the Toronto city planning board, and city planning guru Jane Jacobs is a friend of the family.
"We grew up thinking about cities and what makes a city great. We sit around every Sunday and talk about urban planning issues.
"I've always loved connecting people. I'm just as happy to see other people doing art as I am to do it myself, and that's the orgy freakout of fun that is this place." Local cross-pollinator's experiments in emotional honesty hit home Christina Zeidler's got Guts