Sunday, December 21, 2008

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

I'm finally posting about my "Coda" screening at imagineNATIVE. I wasn't sure what to post initially, because sometimes one screening is much like another. "Coda" was in the Experimental Program entitled "Into the Looking Glass," which I thought was rather appropriate… especially since they used the screenshot of Emma Claire piecing together the cracked mirror for their catalogue. My favourite film in that program had to be "Alice Eaton" by Amanda Strong, about a young woman on a quest to restore her broken spirit in a stylized underworld inspired by Lewis Carroll… though there were many other intriguing and thought-provoking films.

Unfortunately, because of the pitch workshop and session (which I'll be talking about eventually over at Weirdgrrl's Words), that was the only shorts program I attended. I did manage to go see "Before Tomorrow" by the Arnait Video Collective, produced by Zacharias Kunuk ("Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner" & "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen"… I'm embarrassed to admit that I still haven't seen "Atanarjuat" but I saw and loved "Knud Rasmussen.") I thought that "Before Tomorrow" was more cinematic than "Knud Rasmussen," with its use of music, editing and artistic B-roll shots, and also more consistent in tone. Ultimately, though, it didn't affect me as deeply as "Knud Rasmussen." Still, it was brilliant.

I look forward to going back to imagineNATIVE when I'm not pitching something, because I think it would be a lot more fun when I can go to more screenings and meet more filmmakers. Having said that, it was great to get to know the other pitch participants… it helped me feel like I had friends at this festival where I really didn't know anyone. And some of them definitely became friends that I will continue to keep in touch with.

I've also discovered that being screened at a festival like imagineNATIVE opens up quite a few doors. I've had several emails inviting me to submit to other festivals and even had one from Movieola asking to buy the broadcast rights to the film (but I don't own broadcast rights to the music… *sigh*). Not that I didn't intuitively know that the bigger festivals bring more opportunities, but I guess I didn't realize that imagineNATIVE was one of those bigger festivals. Very cool!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Maya Deren's Influence

I first saw "Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943), Maya Deren's first and most remarkable experimental film, during a workshop with James Reckseidler and I was instantly drawn to her mythopoetic approach. I would like to call her work surrealist, but it was a term that she eschewed over her preferred descriptions of avant-garde or ritualistic.

Maya Deren was born in Kiev in 1917 as Eleanora Derenkowsky. In 1922, the threat of anti-Semitism in the Ukraine caused the Derenkowsky family to flee to the United States where they Anglicized their surname to Deren. (Having recently worked on an article about Stanislavski, Vakhtangov and the Habima, and researched many Jewish artists in New York City in the first half of the twentieth century who had emigrated from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union—all of whom displayed such dedication and innovation—I found this part of her story quite fascinating.)

Deren's education ranged from journalism to political science to symbolist poetry, and she also showed a marked interest in dance, anthropology and the theory of relativity. (I rather like the fact that her list is so similar to mine.) Naturally, all of these interests informed her work in unique and unusual ways. It was in collaboration with filmmaker Alexander Hammid, whom she eventually married, that Deren produced "Meshes of the Afternoon". It was during this time that she decided to focus on film (and change her name to Maya).

Deren wrote and directed several experimental films, but it is in her writing that her status as an innovator in film production and film theory is truly apparent. I am particularly interested in the paper that she presented at a Cinema 16 Symposium in 1953, entitled "Poetry and the Film." In this paper, she argued that film works on two axes: the horizontal—including narrative, character and action—and the vertical—characterized by the more ephemeral elements of mood, tone and rhythm. I don't know about you, but when I read this explanation, it was as if a light bulb had turned on over my head. I suddenly understood that my short films focus primarily on the vertical axis: mood, tone and rhythm.

So it is the understanding of that vertical axis that Maya Deren provided for my film, a gift that I expect will continue to influence my future work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coda Trailer

ImagineNATIVE is the first film festival that has asked for a trailer of my short film, so I decided to throw a little something together. I wanted there to be the sound of a heartbeat throughout the trailer (maybe even instead of the music) but I had some technical difficulties with the sound when I exported from Final Cut. (I'm still getting to know all of the extra programs that one gets with Final Cut Studio.) So alas, no heartbeat. But if you would like to watch the end result, here it is:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

WILDsound Feedback

So "Coda" had its screening in Toronto last weekend. My friend was nice enough to take notes on her Blackberry, so I got to hear most of the feedback right away even though I couldn't attend the screening. But now the feedback has been posted online, so I figured I should share it here:

I'm particularly pleased by the European gentleman's comments. He obviously got everything I hoped for out of the film. And he gave me a great little tag line for this film: "Sometimes one appreciates the beauty of life only when close to death."

Hmm, I think I might look for some European festivals to submit to...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

WILDsound Feedback Film Festival

When I started my filmmaker's page on MySpace a couple of years ago, one of the first "friends" I made was WILDsound Film Festival. I was intrigued by the concept: have your film screened at a monthly festival and then get feedback both by industry professionals and audience members. And if you can't be there for the screening, they'll send you a DVD of that feedback. So I was glad that I finally had something to submit to them. They've accepted "Coda" and it's going to be screened on Saturday, August 23rd at the National Film Board Cinema in Toronto. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend but Jeanette Lee, a musician friend of mine (who I've actually known since high school!), lives in Toronto and she'll be attending the festival in my stead. So maybe I'll get to find out what doesn't get included in the feedback DVD!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Great Northern Arts Festival

I just got back from Inuvik where I attended the Great Northern Arts Festival. The visual art at that festival is amazing (I'll be talking about that on Limes with Orange in the next few days). I was fortunate to have an opportunity to show both "Coda in G Minor" and "Persephone" in a screening with "Whipped," the film produced at the festival's film workshop in 2007 and a few other films, including a couple by my father. One that was made before I was born and one that he made recently. Seeing "Nothing to Fear," the film my dad made while he was in grad school, I realize that it's not just filmmakers like Deco Dawson and Maya Deren who influenced "Coda"... part of my influence was definitely genetic!

Unfortunately, there was no film workshop at the festival this year as Dennis Allen, the Yellowknife filmmaker who organized the workshop previously, was occupied with the launch of his CD "Wayward Son." But if he organizes another workshop for the 2009 festival, I think it might be fun to head up north again and take it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fear No Film Festival

"Coda in G Minor" has been accepted into the Fear No Film Festival, part of the Utah Arts Festival. The tantalizing nearness of the festival to the Sundance Institute (where the June labs will be in session) makes me want to travel to it, but I just can't really justify the time or expense at the moment. (And there's not exactly enough time to apply for a travel grant, but maybe next time.) So if anyone attending the festival happens to stop by this blog, let me know how it's going!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Emma Claire Miller

I first met Emma Claire Miller when I was casting for my 16mm Film School project, "No Time Like the Present." I'd held auditions all day and had videotaped each of them with the assistance of my cousin, with whom I was discussing each of the actors after their auditions. It was all going smoothly… until we blew a fuse. (I hadn't taken my electrics course yet; that's my story and I'm sticking to it.) We managed to figure out a way to get enough light to keep taping… then the camera battery died… and then my cousin had to leave to start his job…


A woman sits in a dim room, no camera, all alone, with one last audition. She'd seen some good auditions and some talented actors but hadn't had any clouds parting, ray of sunshine moments saying 'here is the lead for your film'. She isn't defeated but her body language indicates that she doesn't expect anything to change anytime soon.

Enter Emma Claire Miller.


She has a fun personality. I can picture her as Jane (although the hair's a little too glamorous). Ooh, listen to her read; her voice is perfect for the voice over.

The director pauses as she considers the irony of talking about voice overs within a voice over. Then her attention goes back to the audition as she puts Emma Claire through a series of Sonia Moore improv exercises that had weirded out many an actor that day. But not this one.


Frack, this grrl's got some mad improv skills!

Cue the clouds and the choir.



I'll admit that I had a few moments of doubt about my judgement before we started production, simply because that was the ONLY audition that I didn't have on tape and that was the ONLY audition that no one else had seen. You can imagine how relieved I was on production day when I realized that my gut instincts had been right on the money.

So when I had the idea for "Coda in G Minor," I knew exactly who I wanted to cast. Fortunately for me, Emma Claire was willing and able and so production began.



Emma Claire Miller is an actress living and working in Calgary, Alberta. After completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre at the University of Victoria, Emma Claire spent nine months performing as part of the Chemainus Theatre Festival before moving to Alberta. Since arriving in Calgary almost two years ago, she has performed with many different companies in the city, including The Shakespeare Company, Alberta Theatre Projects and, most recently, Quest Theatre. Emma Claire is a co-creator and Artistic Associate of Sandbox Children's Theatre, currently touring an educational based show around Southern Alberta ( An avid improv artist, she has had the chance to play with both Loose Moose and the Kinkonauts. Earlier this year, Emma Claire was selected as one of the Devon Stars of the Future, highlighting emerging artists in the ATP season. She has had the pleasure of working with Cara on a couple of different pieces, and loves the opportunity to explore with new artists in every medium.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Deco Dawson's Influence

"Coda in G Minor" began as a spark of an idea during a Director's Eye Talk when I saw Deco Dawson's "Knout" for the first time. The high contrast black and white imagery and the surreal subject matter captivated me. I knew I had to make a film in that style.

In case you aren't familiar with the 29-year-old surrealist Winnipeg filmmaker Deco Dawson, he's "the Enfant Possible of Canadian Cinema" (FFWD Magazine). From 2000-2003 Deco collaborated with fellow Winnipeg cult-filmmaker Guy Maddin, acting as Editor and Co-Cinematographer of such projects as "The Heart of the World" and the feature film "Dracula: pages from a virgin’s diary," on which Deco also served as Associate Co-Director. Selected for the prestigious 2005 Berlin Talent Campus, the 2004 Talent Lab at the Toronto International Film Festival, named one of the top 25 young independent filmmakers in North America by New York's Filmmaker and one of the top 10 Canadian Industry Trailblazers by The Reel World Film Festival, Deco Dawson has been achieving international acclaim for his film work for many years. Deco Dawson is currently completing post-production on two new full-length projects and a feature film script. (I don't know about you, but I'm pretty impressed by all that!)

In the fall of 2007, Deco was the artist-in-residence at the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers. Being in the process of completing a short film inspired by one of his films made it especially exciting for me. I participated in Deco's editing workshop and even had an opportunity to sit down with Deco one-on-one in an editing suite and have him offer feedback and suggestions on the editing of "Coda."

It very satisfying to come full circle on this project, starting with the films of Deco Dawson and finishing with Deco Dawson himself. The cherry on top for me was Deco's passing comment that "Coda" reminded him of the work of Maya Deren. The appropriateness of that comment will come clear when I blog about the development of the narrative in this film.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Premiere Screening

"Coda" had its premiere screening at the $100 Film Festival this past weekend. The screening went well, even though I realized after the fact that it had run at 24 frames per second rather than the intended 18 frames per second. But the only way I knew for certain was from the 30 seconds of music left over at the end, so it didn't seem to affect the viewing experience. Although many people did say that it felt shorter than 2.5 minutes, but we all attributed that to the fact that it followed a 20 minute experimental film that was completely silent and somewhat repetitive (although technically brilliant). So to all those people who said it felt shorter… you were right! (1 minute and 55 seconds to be exact… I did the sums as I lay awake in bed after the screening.)

Having said that, I liked the way it looked at that speed (my skip printed sequence actually looked skip printed rather than simply sped up). So I'm toying with idea of going back to the editing suite and speeding it up a bit but inserting a couple of my flashback scenes to take the film back up to the 2.5 minute mark. Must mull…

P.S. Alas, no awards for this film at this festival. But I really liked the film "Grass" by Scott Amos, which ended up winning for Best Super 8, so I don't mind. Plus I got really good feedback from other filmmakers, which means more to me at this point than any award. (I know that sounds cheesy but it's true.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

FFWD Magazine

We had the press pre-screening of a few of the $100 Film Festival selections last Saturday. "Coda in G Minor" was one of the dozen or so films shown, so I was quite excited to see my first "review" when FFWD came out this week. Alas, I realize that a "preview" doesn't necessarily mean a "review," i.e. no opinions necessary. Here's the blurb:
Coda in G Minor explores the concept of finality, borrowing from a classical music term, and writer-cum-filmmaker Cara Mumford says she was inspired by the work of Deco Dawson, the Winnipeg filmmaker who was CSIF’s director-in-residence last fall.

So I have no idea whether the journalist liked my film, was bored to tears by my film, didn't understand my film, or any of the many other scenarios I could think up. But press is still press, right? Here's the link for those of you who want to read the full article: Low Budget, High Returns... $100 Film Festival marks its 16th year of shoestring filmmaking.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


"Coda in G Minor" is now listed on B-Side Entertainment courtesy of the $100 Film Festival. So follow this link to catch Coda on the B-Side.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

James Reckseidler's Influence

"Coda in G Minor" began in the fall of 2006 as a spark of an idea during a Director's Eye talk by local Calgary filmmaker James Reckseidler. As part of his talk, James showed clips from films that inspire and inform his own award-winning work, which focuses on using silent-era filmmaking techniques to create new modernist works. So the clips that he showed included original silent-era films as well as other modern filmmakers using similar techniques, such as Guy Maddin and Deco Dawson. I was captivated by Deco Dawson's film "Knout" and decided that I had to make a film in that style. (I'll be writing about Deco Dawson's influence on "Coda" in a later post.)

Shortly after that talk, I worked on James Reckseidler's "Ice Climber's Waltz" and got to watch Super 8 filmmaking in action. It looked like a blast. So at the end of the shoot, I asked James whether I might be able to borrow one of his Super 8 cameras so that I could try my hand at a Super 8 film for the $100 Film Festival. He said yes.

Armed with a story idea and two minutes of instruction on how to use a Super 8 camera (I was late to pick it up and James was on his way out the door), I contacted my actress and my 19-year-old cousin—who had both worked on my 16mm Film School workshop film—and we gathered in my 5' x 7' bathroom to film "Coda in G Minor."

At that time, I had been hoping to complete the film in time for the 2007 $100 Film Festival, the deadline for which was only two weeks away. Unfortunately, my Pepper's Ghost shot didn't work, so I either had to try re-filming it (which I didn't really have time for) or edit it digitally (which wouldn't give me enough time to transfer it back to film for the deadline). Shortly thereafter, I started Herland's IN:Camera Film Production Workshop, so "Coda" was temporarily shelved.

In the spring of 2007, I took the Handmade Film workshop at the CSIF taught by James Reckseidler. As part of the introduction to the course, James showed us a variety of experimental films, from the Surreal to the Mythopoetic. That was when I discovered and fell in love with the work of Maya Deren. (I'll be writing about Maya Deren's influence in a later post.)

During the workshop, I re-shot the footage for "Coda" that hadn't worked the first time and hand processed it, giving the new footage a very cool look but also leaving behind some artifacts and bits of gunk that I hated initially. But James has since convinced me to see the beauty in the accidents and I've actually come to really like that bit of gunk that floats across the screen near the end of the film. Hopefully you will, too.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coda Accepted!

Coda has been accepted into the $100 Film Festival! As it turns out, I've been way too busy to have time to try to set up a Deco-scope (which is what I've come to call the system that Deco Dawson set up to transfer footage edited digitally back to Super 8 film). But I discovered that the Black & White Film Factory in Toronto (which is where I need to send my black & white film to be processed anyway) now offers transfers from digital files to Super 8 film. It's a little pricey, but it's a godsend when you're short on time.

I just got it back yesterday and viewed it through the projector while playing the soundtrack CD, just as it will be screened at the festival, and it looked pretty good. I think I may have lost some of the old film look in the digital processing (possibly because they used a kinescope recorder to transfer off of a monitor instead of using Deco's ingenious device) but definitely not enough to make me want to edit on the Steenbeck!

So mark your calendars. "Coda in G Minor" will be screened at the $100 Film Festival held at the Plaza Theatre on Friday, March 14, 2008 @ 7:00 p.m.