“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
Hailing 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.”
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
‘All Fall Down (Philip Hoffman 94 min, 2009 Canada HDCAM) is an experimental documentary that takes as its starting point a nineteenth century farmhouse in Southern Ontario, Canada, and asks 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 two hundred years.
The film explores these characters through a variety of archival materials: diaries, landscape paintings, photographs, heritage films, poems, phone messages, maps, historical reenactments, songs) that express the complexity of time and the politics of land. The film is structured through Hoffman’s extraordinary landscapes of Southern Ontario which make the temporal fabric shimmer, bringing us a meditation on childhood, property, colonialism, ecology, and love.
Film Stills & Photographs
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“The paintings and writings of Homer Watson and Paul Kane are featured and explored in the film, along with writers George Orwell and Wallace Stevens. Contemporary figures such as organic farmer and raw milk advocater Michael Schmidt also appears in the film. Composers Toni Edelmann and Tucker Zimmerman have created the music for the film and the film was co-written with Janine Marchessault.”
- On Thursday December 10, 2015, Philip Hoffman will attend a screening of some of his work as part of (read more…)
- Film Farm at Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival in Scotland
The film farm was represented at Alchemy Film Festival 2017 in Scotland in a … (read more…)
- “Passing Through: A Philip Hoffman Retrospective”
by Philip Hoffman
The Saugeen River was named Sauking, ‘where it all flows out,’ by the Ojibways in the early 1800s. It runs into Lake Huron. The place where I know it is twenty miles south of Owen Sound, Ontario, near Williamsburg, where I spent lots of time in my youth exploring. Over the past dozen years I’ve returned there to film. In 1977 with a wind-up Bolex and one roll of 16mm color film. In 1981 with a 1/2″ reel to reel, black and white video portapak. In 1984, indoors now, with a rear screen set up to record on video the original 16mm footage. And then again in 1989, the camera went for the first time beneath the surface in an underwater housing, the camera loaded with high contrast printer stock.
All the video images were transferred to film in the version that’s now in distribution, though I sometimes still screen the piece as a film/video installation, once even outside, in a forest, on the snow.
On the way to the river to shoot the underwater section in 1989, I made a quick call to my parents who live near the Saugeen to let them I know I was on the way up. My mother told me that my uncle had been found dead that day. He shot himself by the river (a different river), near our home town. She told me not to tell anyone because his immediate family wanted to say it was a heart attack. I got into the car with Garrick and Tim, my friends who were helping me with the filming, and we drove up. Churning inside.
I know that the death had something to do with what we filmed that day, and how I edited the section. I used the filming and editing as a way to mourn for him who I cared for, who never had the chance to be heard.
In this last section of the river, underwater, I gave up the camera. I told Garrick to let the river take him—just start the camera and let the current take you. I stood in the boat wondering about the death and watching. Giving up my hold on the camera.
Titles and Intertitles
:30 Part 1: A Measured Dance
17:30 Prologue to Part 2
17:40 Member Amateur Cinema League (over World Globe)
18:00 One evening while searching for news of the proposed Canadian voyage of the R-100, I fell asleep and dreamed…
18:13 My dream announced a radio message from my twin brother, who is now the Chief Movie Photographer of the R-100 – I am the assistant. My duties are to shoot the scene from the ground while my twin shoots the views on and from the ship. When all is finished, our shots are woven together in the production
18:51 THE HIGHWAY OF TOMORROW
HOW ONE MAKES TWO
18:55 R 100 leaving for Canada
19:17 Heading for the Atlantic
19:20 Sunrise in mid-ocean
19:26 Sunset of Cape Race
19:37 The scenic route of tomorrow
18:50 R 100 encounters a terrific storm between Three Rivers and Montreal
20:00 Along the 1000 Islands section of the St Lawrence
20:05 The R 100 arrives
20:15 Safe at last
20:20 Canadian Officials greet Officials and Crew
20:35 Call from the ship. More Pictures. More Pictures!
20:40 We obey orders and make more pictures of the ship at the mooring mast.
21:00 Twin brother comes to see me and finds me still dreaming.
21:05 I show my twin brother a picture of myself editing the story of the R 100 trip.
21:20 I show twin my projector
21:30 I must take a note of that
21:45 Will it go backwards?
22:00 Have you people seen all I have seen in my dreams?
22:55 Part 2: Veiled Flight
by Steve Reinke
I know it’s a hollow rhetorical ploy, a cliché even, an excuse for a certain kind of sloppiness, dispreparedness, but I mean it sincerely: I have given up on the essay I meant to write. Instead I submit these pathetic notes in the form of a letter asking for forgiveness. By now I should be used to my failure as a critic. I continually back away from planned essays, taking refuge in the literary: the aphorism, the satiric manifesto, the autobiographical anecdote. But this retreat is more disappointing than most. When I watched Kitchener-Berlin again (I hadn’t seen it in many years) I was struck by its rightness, its perfection. It seemed to me exemplary. Trebly exemplary: to (or as) the work of Hoffman, to Canadian cinema, and to experimental film. The film surely merits close textual analyses from a variety of approaches. Moreover, it seemed to me, however paradoxically, that these analyses would constitute a more general discussion of experimental film as an endeavor.
Sure, art is long and life is short, but I am not troubled by this condition. What bothers me is that art is complex and I am simple, though conflicted: stupid. Art makes retards of us all. Writing about it is a clumsy thing, doomed to always miss what is most significant and instead gloss the petty. Criticism becomes an act of contrition, an extended apology. I am sorry, and sorry that this is the case.
Film Contra Video
Experimental video is centered around the voice: an individual talking, rhetorically deploying a particular subjectivity in relation to a certain construction of consciousness. Video is willfully interior: its relation to the world is never direct, but processed through a particular subjectivity. It is doubly mediated, there is no direct perception, no immediate apprehension of the world. One cannot speak of phenomenology in relation to video without undue strain. Experimental film has a completely different relation to voice and the world. There is no such thing as a ‘personal’ film. The voice in film always aspires to be the voice of God. Film is singly mediated, self-consciously authored by authors who retreat behind subjectivity to become merely thinking, perceiving bodies. Interiority is impossible, the world itself impinges too strongly. Experimental video proceeds through a process of talking to one’s self as if one had a self; experimental film through a process of swallowing or incorporating the world into a self which is no longer human, but an author, a hollow signature attempting to structure perception.
This season it’s all about Deleuze’s cinema books. I keep reading these books because his distinction between the time-image and movement-image seems a fertile jumping-off point for a discussion of experimental film. But the only films people seem to discuss are Hitchcock’s (when Zizek via Lacan should have silenced them all, at least long enough so these hacks could take a break in which to think a little bit harder). I asked Laura Marks—one of the few academics who has applied Deleuzian theory to artists’ film and video—why this would be the case. She said because artists such as Hoffman are applying Deleuze’s insights directly (whether or not they have any knowledge of his writing) the need is not so great. This is probably true, but still I am not satisfied, and regret I am not able to supply such an analysis at this time. But here is what I have learned from Deleuze: that there is a kind of vertiginous ecstasy to be always on the verge of coherency, to endlessly defer sense in the hope that what one approaches is something that had been previously unfathomable.
I dreamt last night that I came across a book called Kitchener-Berlin and it was a really big book—lots of words, hardly any pictures, a few diagrams—something between an encyclopedia and an autobiography. It contained all the information about the images in the film, where they came from and what they mean. This dream is partly a response to my hermeneutic anxiety—a feeling that I can’t write about the film without a greater level of mastery, specifically the ability to form a reading which would proceed from an extensive knowledge of what is depicted in individual shots. So while I continue to remain firm that Kitchener-Berlin does not call for that kind of interpretation (that is, will not constructively yield to a directly hermeneutical approach), perhaps its dream book does (and would). Perhaps this dream book is a bible situated between the artist and the film and ready, in its encyclopedic detail, to tell us everything. We would study the book endlessly in order to derive increasingly accurate interpretations of the film. And the film itself—the hermetic, incorruptible art object—could sink into the background, as pure and coyly mysterious as the Mona Lisa.
by Monica Nolan
Indie Circuit, ReleasePrint, March/April 2004