On (Experimental) Film

by Barbara Sternberg

…speaking to Philip Hoffman about his summer in England ‘apprenticing’ with filmmaker Peter Greenaway (Draughts­man’s Contract, The Falls): Philip was especially in­terested in Greenaway as someone who has bridged the gap between shorter experi­mental films and (low-budget) feature-length works accessi­ble to a broader audience. Philip wanted to see how Greenaway operates within the commercial industry, yet maintains his control; how he can make films for the ‘public’ without compromising his conceptual and visual con­cerns. Philip is an independent filmmaker (On The Pond), The Road Ended at the Beach, Somewhere Between Jalos­totitlan and Encaraclon) and a freelance cinematographer. He worked on Kevin Sullivan’s Krieghoff and Megan Carey. And recently on Richard Kerr’s On Land Over Water. His films have been screened at the Na­tional Gallery, Ottawa; Zone Cinema, Hamilton; The Funnel, Toronto: Museum Fodor, Amsterdam; London Filmmak­ers’ Co-op, England. Philip teaches part-time in the Media Arts Department at Sheridan College.

He first met Peter Greena­way at the ’84 Grierson Semi­nar where the idea arose of going to England to observe Greenaway shooting his newest film Zed and Two Noughts while Hoffman made a short film of his own. Philip speaks highly of the experi­ence – the opportunity to look over the shoulder of cine­matographer Sacha Vierny, to follow the filmmaking proce­dure right through, to see what worked, what didn’t, how ad­justments were made, when to let an idea go, and generally how communication was ef­fected. Philip is still glowing from the warmth of his recep­tion. Besides access to the shoot and the use of his editing facilities, “more than just that,” says Phil, “Greenaway ap­preciated that I am trying to be inventive in film against all odds. He even took prints of my films and showed them around—that kind of coopera­tion!”

Interest was shown by Kees Kasander of Allart’s Enterprises (the Dutch producer of Greenaway’s film) in Hoff­man’s short premiering along with Zed and Two Noughts at the London Film Festival in November. Philip returned to Canada at summer’s end with his film? O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) in rough-cut stage and with this deadline in mind.

Unfortunately, he won’t make the festival. Although the film had been accepted into the N.F.B. PAFFPS programme, Ontario Region, Philip was re­minded in September that this is a Low-Priority Programme—the film would he printed when there was time, perhaps three to six months. He was also told that he would have to reapply for completion money and that the programme is ‘on hold’ for now. Philip was disappointed by a system that is supposed to help, but even more by the lack of interest, respect or en­thusiasm shown—they didn’t even ask to see the film!

The N.F.B.’s aid to indepen­dents IS helpful, but the whens and hows are always uncertain – and that’s less than helpful. Philip has decided to apply to the Arts Councils and hopes to complete the film for the Berlin Festival in February.

(Originally published in Cinema Canada 1985)

*Footnote: When Hoffman tried to use NFB facilities to edit his film, he was told he would have to wait his turn as the editing machine were all in use. Meanwhile, Gary Popovich another PAFFPS recipient, and partner in experimental crimes, invited him into the space he was given. Hoffman was surprised to see many machines on the floor unused, so the film was eventually edited at the NFB, though they do not know that. This was the last film Hoffman made with support of  the NFB.