Rivers of Time, The Films of Philip Hoffman

(Edited by Tom McSorley)

Download Rivers of Time as PDF.

Published by the Canadian Film Institute, 2008. All rights reserved.


The lake is calm, like a great sheet of ice.

In the middle, between the beach and the far shore,
has surfaced a large finely textured brick,
its sharp edges shaped by the rising sun.

Beneath the scene, a voice:

I like wrecked bricks, the points pierce my eyes, sending me hurling in space.

I revisited this curious post-adolescent site in 1989 after the completion of an initial cycle of excavations. Formal experiments on super-8 using the single-frame-zoom, which splayed the surround of the filmed subjects, squeezing out their ghosts. After seven years of collect, reflect, revise this form found its place in the film `Chimera’, and the power of its pull lead me into dark gardens of loss. In Mark Doty’s words:

What these ashes wanted, I felt sure,
Was not containment but participation.
Not an enclosure of memory,
But the world.’

These films are a circle of stones. Embedded in each is the world, reaching deeply into the past, rolling on..

— Philip Hoffman, Circling Stones, Spring 2008



On Philip Hoffman

Thawing Phil Hoffman’s Freeze-up (1979)

Tales of Hoffman (Expected Time of Arrival)

I know you are, so what am I?: 25 passing through/torn formations

Kitchener-Berlin as Aesthetic Allegory


Time Sweeping Space

Experiments in Disorientation: Chimera

Travelling Companions

Philip Hoffman Filmmography 1978-2008


Download Rivers of Time as PDF.

Landscape With Shipwreck, First person cinema and the films of Philip Hoffman

*Free Copies of Landscape With Shipwreck

edited by Karyn Sandlos and Mike Hoolboom

book_cover_landscapePhilip Hoffman has been making personal documentary films for over twenty years. He has devoted his life to examining the narrow aperture each of us uses to bring our own experience into focus. As many of the writers in this volume will attest, telling personal stories is dangerous work.

Landscape with Shipwreck is an untidy stew of gravediggers and critics, architects and builders. In their conversion of pictures into words, each has used the history of their own naming as compass and guide. These photographs and scripts speak alongside the written word, not to fill in the gaps but to deepen them, not to make the strange seem more familiar, but to turn towards the secret task of this volume: to write what cannot be written. To write what must never be written. To uncover a kind of writing that is beside itself, and without regret.

“Philip Hoffman’s work is an encouragement to those who want to use autobiography as subject matter, personal vision as a trademark, and show how small resources can be a positive virtue.”

— Peter Greenaway

“Philip Hoffman is a precious resource, one of the few contemporary filmmakers whose work provides a bridge to the classical themes of death, diaspora, memory, and, finally, transcendence. As Landscape With Shipwreckmakes clear, Hoffman explores these most Canadian of themes without grandiosity; instead they emerge from stories held close to the ground, the family, and personal experience, whether at home or in very unfamiliar places indeed. And he does so through a constant renovation of method that enriches the viewers’ ability to grasp how film form contains and conditions meaning. This is just the sort of human voice articulated through film that we desperately need amidst the thunder of corporate media in all forms.”

— Martha Rosler, Artist and Professor of Media and Critical Studies at Rutgers University

“Philip Hoffman’s films are a revelation for those lucky enough to see them. At once literary document and visual archive, Landscapes With Shipwreckadvances contemporary thinking about Hoffman’s films and the autobiographical documentary tradition in Canadian cinema.”

— Piers Handling, Director, Toronto International Film Festival

Free Copies of Landscape With Shipwreck

Barns, Brits and Birthrights: Phil Hoffman’s All Fall Down by Scott MacKenzie in POV

“Over the last thirty years, Phil Hoffman has often been called Canada’s pre-eminent diary filmmaker. The release of his first feature film, All Fall Down (2009) offers one an opportune chance to reconsider his body of work, his diaristic practice and its relationship to documentary. Revisiting Hoffman’s diverse oeuvre is a revelation: it quickly becomes apparent that Hoffman is one of Canada’s most important documentary filmmakers, full stop. To make this case, one only needs to look at the current ubiquity of ‘hybrid documentaries’ and the critical and ethical debates surrounding their emergence. The term itself is of recent provenance, yet Hoffman has been making what would now be considered ‘hybrid’ documentaries since his first film in 1978, On the Pond.” by Scott MacKenzie – POV magazine, Issue #76 Download as PDF


wndx_2009_poster_4eventsHailing Hoffman: Legendary experimental filmmaker a focus of local WNDX Festival – “Philip Hoffman, one of Canada’s most critically respected filmmakers, is coming to Winnipeg to attend a retrospective of his short works and a screening of his first feature. Known for his distinctly personal approach, Hoffman has made over 18 short films, has had more than a dozen retrospectives of his work across the world, teaches film production at York University and is the founder of the Film Farm, an experimental filmmakers retreat. He will be screening his new film, All Fall Down, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to terrific reviews, at WNDX (Winnipeg’s festival of film and video art) this week.” by Ryan Simmons

Beyond the blockbuster: Legendary experimental filmmaker a focus of local WNDX Festival: by Aaron Graham (Uptown Magazine, Winnipeg’s Online Source for Arts, Entertainment & News)



Philip Hoffman’s latest production, All Fall Down (2009, HDV) screens as part of the Berlinale’s Forum Expanded program, a series exploring traditional image formats in the digital age.

The feature-length film is an experimental documentary that juxtaposes the lives of two people separated by a century but linked by a farm house in Southern Ontario. It explores the characters through a variety of archival materials: diaries, landscape paintings, photographs, heritage films, poems, phone messages, maps, historical reenactments and songs that express the complexity of time and the politics of land.



BAFICI was born in 1999 and has ever since grown to become one of the most prominent film festivals in the world, placed as it is in a privileged position on the international film agenda. The Festival is renowned as an essential means of promotion for the independent film output, where the most innovative, daring and committed films can be shown.

“The fact that All Fall Down is a film in which the theme and central question is how to build a film character might be the reason for this story about writer George Lachlan Brown being so fascinating. Philip Hoffmann had endless answers for that question, but he understood his character didn’t fit in the usual systems of society, which would demand an approach that would not just settle with first person storytelling or archive footage, but would tear down those barriers and pose a perspective that –as critic Michael Sicinski said– oscillates between the intimate and the distant. As it occurs with powerful films, it’s hard to define its most relevant topic: family and loneliness, imagination and reality, Art and everyday life, the local and the global, the time’s passing and weight, comedy and tragedy. It’s hard to ask this unforgettable film for more.”

Canadian Film Institute


Special Presentations: ALL FALL DOWN
Auditorium, Library and Archives Canada

“One of Canada’s pre-eminent experimental filmmakers and a pioneer of the diary film, Philip Hoffman has been working and teaching in sound and images for over 30 years. ALL FALL DOWN, Hoffman’s first feature length film, is in some ways the culmination of his ongoing formal and thematic concerns related to history, family and memory. The film weaves together a diverse array of material in its memory work: archival documents, diaries, landscape photography, family photo albums, heritage films, poems, cartography, and the interstitial moments that linger in the in-between. In asking the question, “What has been here before?,” the film “weaves together a complex temporal structure that juxtaposes the lives of two figures, one historical (Nahneebahweequa: a nineteenth-century aboriginal woman and land-rights activist) and the other contemporary (an ex-pat drifter and father of the filmmaker’s step-daughter), across 200 years.”

A sensitive and probing first person perspective travels over and within the images, linking the fates of farms in Southern Ontario to far-reaching issues related to Canada’s colonial history. Reminiscent of the genre-bending essay films of world cinema giants Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker, ALL FALL DOWN is an emotionally moving and thought-provoking cinematic excursion into the archaeologies of memory and place: the place of memory in the contemporary world. Must-see cinema.” – Tom McSorley. Presented in collaboration with the Available Light Screening Collective.

Philip Hoffman and co-writer Janine Marchessault will be in attendance to introduce and discuss their film