Born in Montreal in 1951, Anna Gronau moved as a teenager to Toronto, where she became a central figure in the city’s turbulent fringe-film scene.
After I graduated, I helped Keith and Jim with their films and went to screenings and meetings of the Film Co-op, but I hadn’t had any technical instruction at OCA so I didn’t have the confidence to try making my own films. AG: It released publications, staged performances, provided video access, and hosted conferences.
AG: Separation started before I became involved, but I think the idea initially was that the Funnel had a strong mandate and could likely function well on its own — get its own funding and so on. AG: I think it contributed to making the censorship laws look silly, but actually, I think it was the huge number of run-ins with the arts community that gradually undermined their credibility. MH: The Funnel required an incredibly committed membership to ensure the organization could fulfill its ambitious program. AG: Well, like most of my films, it started as one thing and gradually turned into something else.
MH: There are alternating close-ups of you and your friend, lit to show half your faces, as if you’re complementary halves.
AG: Well, during the time when I was at the Funnel, we were making, showing, and distributing films, as well as being the audience and the reviewers, too. AG: I wouldn’t identify it solely with the image either, although it arises in relation to certain images.
MH: What’s the sequence that follows — is that the elderly woman reading from Bataille’s Story of the Eye? AG: The final sequence involves a hand drawing a picture while the picture is superimposed over the portrayed object. AG: There’s always a lot of invention that goes into reconstructing one’s intentions from so long ago. AG: The “story” is about a filmmaker named Mary who goes through a period of intense withdrawal inside her home and gradually lets the outside world in. MH: The scene where she watches television is strange because you use the music that started the film as the music that’s supposedly coming from the TV.
AG: One of the things the film tries to deal with is the urge to find perfection, original truth, the first and authentic instance of something. MH: At different points in the film, numbered lists of titles appear superimposed on the image.
AG: After Mary Mary I volunteered at the Native Women’s Resource Centre for a while, helping with their newsletter. AG: It’s about Shanna Sabbath, a seventeen-year-old Mohawk girl torn between traditional Native values and her need to come to terms with contemporary life — as represented by her miserable secretarial job in the city. In answer to your question, I have to confess that I don’t enjoy some of the avant-garde films I see, but I’m also compelled to defend what you call “fringe” film to those who dismiss it because it doesn’t work the way “good” films are supposed to.
Anna Gronau’s first film in five years, Mary Mary (60 minutes colour 1989), opened March 7 at the Music Gallery in Toronto to a large and enthusiastic reception. Canadian filmmakers have lost the naive sense of originary gestures, metaphysics of presence and heroic endeavor that marked the project of the American avant garde of the fifties—a film practice that’s impelled our own.
Four sets of thirteen titles appear, enumerating in succession a polyphony of influences that move from children’s books to native Indian calls for self government.
Each scene seems contingent here, isolated glimpses of a whole that remains tantalizing and elusive. Mary Lennox (Margaret O’Brien) is a young British girl living in India during a cholera epidemic. The mysteries of the grown-up world propel the 1949 MGM film The Secret Garden, based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The first act of the film is a bit frightening, with the deaths during cholera and her uncle’s gloomy estate, a place straight out of an Emily Bronte novel.
The cinematography of The Secret Garden is delightful, though one could hardly expect less from veteran cinematographer Ray June. The color is saved for the secret garden on Uncle Craven’s estate, a walled-off area in the middle of the vast lands the mansion is sitting on. The cast of The Secret Garden is a treat, and even those of you prone to disliking child actors will find Roper, Margaret O’Brien and Dean Stockwell (as Colin Craven) both tolerable and enjoyable. The Secret Garden is available here on Warner Archives MOD DVD, in a really lovely restoration. The crankybutt I was referring to in the last paragraph were the Herbert Marshalls of the world. SECRET GARDEN 2 - VERSAILLES'Versailles houdt zijn geheimen goed verborgen,' verklaart Dior op haar website. I lost touch with film for a while, and then in the late seventies, Jim Anderson, his brother Dave, and Keith started holding screenings at a studio at the corner of Adelaide and John Streets.
Within a month, using only volunteer labour, we turned a raw warehouse space into a one-hundred-seat theatre with a projection booth and an office space. Ross McLaren, who had been involved while the Funnel was at CEAC, always wanted an equipment co-op. By the time I started working at the Funnel, there was a little publication called the Filmmaker’s Newsletter that came out of Minneapolis. There were times when there’d be only ten people in the audience and others when we turned people away. But in the end, this ideal devolved into an us-versus-them mentalitywhich entrenched marginality for its own sake. I edited the film symmetrically, like a palindrome, with one central image and matching sorts of images on either side of that centre, all the same length. I hope that my work will point to some paradoxical and ambiguous places — and in doing so remind me, and the viewer, that we do well to resist hierarchies and situations in which one person’s understanding is the law, the only truth.
That’s why I especially like films that both grip you the way the movies do and let you think and breathe and reflect.
For example, while the different voices ask the question about breakfast, the image is of a woman eating an egg. She’s holding an occluder, which looks like a round spoon with a long handle, used commonly in eye tests to cover one eye while reading charts. Sometimes I think that I was concerned very much with negativity, the famed negativity of the avant-garde.
Partly because I work slowly and partly because I kept running out of money and not being able to get more. It’s about an orphaned girl who goes to live at her uncle’s mysterious manor on the Yorkshire heath. As I understand it, psychodrama starts with an understanding of the mind as a cohesive but stratified whole, so while there is material that is not conscious, there’s always a centre, a “self” that’s fairly stable and acts as a central reference point. It’s as if the film is starting over — that we’ll again see all of the events leading up to this place on the couch. She’s photographing herself in the dark, but she can’t see the photographs or what she’s photographing. In several titles there’s reference made to Indian mythologies and the relation of Native people to the land — and this seems to connect to the landscapes we see in the film that surround the house by the bay, the setting of the film. M.’s house is in southeastern Ontario, and she tells the story of her great-great-great-grandfather, who was a settler.
We were always running short of artwork, so I was frequently on the phone soliciting work from Native women artists.
She has three outrageous aunts who sometimes appear as “matriarchal clowns” or spirit guides. It was a film about Shelley’s experiences more than mine, but I had some film experience and she didn’t at that point. Shelley and I wrote the lyrics to a song called “I’m Pretty.” It’s a “he done me wrong” song, but it has a really strong political subtext. There have been a few times when “experimental” film has overlapped quite substantially with visual art. It also irks me when people say a film is “experimental” — either seriously or as a joke — to mean that it’s lousy. The wellspring for this intertextual weave is The Secret Garden, an English fairy tale about Mary, an orphaned child who uncovers the family’s secret cripple, teaches him to walk and turns the key to the secret garden that was lost when the mother died.
Early in the film, wrapped in a fold of silken sheets she passes a hand mirror over herself, looking on as if she were another. We can all relate, of course, to being a child and not understanding the adults that control us, and also being the undeserved recipient of frustration borne out of some very screwed-up adult issues.
It’s when Mary finally finds other children to engage with that the film, just like her life, opens up. Responsible for visually stunning films such as Alibi (1929), Babes in Arms (1939) and Ziegfeld Follies (1945), June was the perfect D.P. It has been closed off for years, and Mary searches for the key and the gate to get inside, sure that answers await her there. O’Brien has toned her tendency for shrillness down quite a bit for the role, and Stockwell was always a terrific actor, no matter what his age. There is some flicker in the early scenes but otherwise the black and white is crisp and the color realistic, which you can’t always say about late-40s Technicolor films. De tweede Dior Secret Garden-video is een feit, vol mooie shots van Daria Strokous in het paleis Versailles en een mistig bos niet ver er vandaan.
She has written and lectured tirelessly on feminism and the avant-garde, touring work and championing marginal expression.
I was living in an old farmhouse with a big picture window in the kitchen that overlooked an orchard. But that wasn’t feasible politically or legally because the Toronto Film Co-op was going bankrupt. They announced new films and screenings and screening facilities, and this created a circuit so experimental filmmakers could take their new works on the road.
Films ranged from home movies to student films to offbeat stuff that you might imagine strange people had obsessed over in basement editing dens. Using that kind of a structure was an attempt to find a form for something rather inexpressible. I think the “openness of interpretation” doesn’t necessarily mean it could be about anything at all, but rather that within its parameters there’s room to move and breathe. There’s a large part the viewer plays in the construction of meaning within these films, but that also alienates a lot of people from fringe work. But it’s the situation that has existed for experimental film — and video art, in a lot of ways — for a long time. It’s a looped shot, so she seems to be eating endlessly — far more than the contents of a single hard-boiled egg would require, and there’s an arrow following her hand movements. The woman reads to herself with one eye covered, and then aloud with the other eye covered.
So there is a multiple layering of representations with no final or absolute “original” they can all refer back to.
I wanted to push its destruction of meaning so that the film would be negative about negativity itself.
She discovers that her uncle’s son, her cousin, has been crippled from birth and locked away, and no one wants to talk about him.
The calls fill us in on aspects of M.’s life, but they also show how her identity is formed by people and events outside herself. It also speaks of a relationship that is finished in a way, that’s related to the mourning in the Secret Garden story now that the mother is gone.
I think we tried to respect each other’s experience and listen to each other as much as we could.
As though “bad” were synonymous with “avant-garde.” The unrelenting marginality makes me uncomfortable.
Mary Mary is a psychodrama writ large, a film obsessively self absorbed even as it unfolds the luxuriant vision of a mind at play, replete with swimming polar bears, flash frame Polaroid’s, and two long gowned sisters demurely stepping into the heat of a summer afternoon fifty years before.
This reflexive loop joining the film’s dark midsection with its opening threatens to enclose its protagonist in an Escher-like labyrinth of mirrored mirrors. A long day’s journey beneath the twin shadows of the American Hollywood feature and the American underground.

All this points to the failure of narrative to account for our lives, that the way of our expression, our gestures of work and love exceed any simply linear compact bent on resolution. This story, in turn, finds its antecedents in tales like Sleeping Beauty which similarly figures a house fallen asleep after the mother’s death, and Beauty and the Beast in which the dead mother appeared formerly as the young and beautiful bride to an ugly hunchback. The rebirth (or bearing) M conceives for herself after her long sleep is inextricably linked with this archaic remnant, just as her house has been built on lands deserted by the Indians. Later she snaps self portrait Polaroids—as we watch them develop we realize she is privy only to her reflection, her image, or at best, her abilities to manipulate the means of reproduction. Strangely, there is no sympathy for her except from the British soldier who finds her abandoned, and there is no understanding from even a single adult that this is a young girl trying to navigate a very strange new world.
Mary pieces together much of what has happened at her uncle’s home prior to her arrival, and like most children of her age, can suss out the broad strokes while the details elude her. This was one of Stockwell’s last childhood performances, as he took a break from acting for several years in his late teens and early 20s. It’s a bit scary in the early scenes but appropriate for children, and will entertain adults, even grumpy ones mired in their own personal despair. It was a place where some ambitious young filmmakers — some of whom went on to be famous — were watching a lot of movies and planning their first films. I set the camera on a tripod half an hour before sunset, turned on the kitchen lights, and filmed a kind of time-lapse out the window. As I was told, it had lost its “alternative” approach and was being used as a low-cost quasi-commercial facility and was accumulating untenable debts.
You can’t declare bankruptcy in one organization and then start another that does the same thing.
To tell you the truth, I liked the idea of Open Screenings better than the reality of them. The Censor Board had already lost a couple of times in court, but it was not until they found themselves in a standoff with the Film Festival that they started making accommodations. The Funnel had very little money with which it sponsored extensive activity and programming.
There doesn’t seem enough to be able to hang on to because the terms of the usual theatre experience, the terms that unify the whole body of the audience, are no longer there.
It’s come to be expected that these art forms comprise a more or less self-sustaining, closed world. A subtitle at the bottom of the screen reads, “What is it?” which seems to refer to the hand the arrow points to.
What I think I had in mind was to have an anti-structure — things connect, but they don’t add up or pay off. It turns out that the boy’s mother died when he was born, and his father — a “poor hunchback” — was so grief-stricken that he abandoned his home and his son. I felt I couldn’t discuss this specific place without talking about the histories attached to it.
I asked Maddy Harper, who ran the centre, if I could do an interview with Shelley for the newsletter and she said sure. New Year’s Eve is coming, so the aunts decide to take Shanna and make the trip to the Falls.
We never had any knock-down fights, although there were times when our different cultural backgrounds made it hard to understand each other. The sequence was a parody of a music video, set in this schmaltzy hotel room, with the aunts in wild evening dresses and outrageous high heels. There was a big backlash against structural film that struck me as pretty illustrative of the differences between those two worlds. I saw experimental art as heroic when I was younger and avant-gardeness as “leading the way.” Maybe I miss those idealistic fantasies. Citing through the ruins of modernity and its aesthetics of silence the Canadian avant garde has been delivered into a sense of belated production, afterimages ruled by the word. Gronau suggests that the process of individuation is finally a political one—that we continue to live between the lines of a history that alternately obscures and illuminates—and that these traces of erasure must be resuscitated if our lives are to have any meaning. Sent with other orphans across the ocean to relatives in America, Mary is thrust into a frightening and confusing world. But it’s clear that the adults, some intentionally, some not, are bent on denying information to the children in their lives, which in turn denies them happiness and freedom. It’s one of a handful of movies of the era made in both black and white and color, the dreary opening of the film is followed by a gradual warming of the grey tones, finally resulting in moments of pure Technicolor splash. He had appeared in a couple of the William Brown movies in the UK as well as in several stage productions before winning the role of Dickon, and MGM flew him in with much fanfare and publicity… though stating his age as being only 14. In smaller, sometimes almost cameo roles are Herbert Marshall, Elsa Lanchester, Reginald Owen, Gladys Cooper and even Sennett veteran Billy Bevan, star of that Oscar-winning spectacle (not really) Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925). Rallies, protests, and politicking were capped by many hours in the courtroom interrogating government agents, exposing the capricious judgments and ambiguous standards applied to motion pictures large and small. I saw my very first experimental film there, if you don’t count the Norman McLaren films we saw as kids.
Then I heard about a filmmaking workshop at a new organization called CEAC, the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication.
The Canada Council asked members of the independent film community to get involved and try to save the Co-op. Some members felt from the start that the Funnel should be a cinematheque, and that’s what it was initially. The Funnel had grants, which was more than some groups had, and we only paid an honorarium that may have just covered plane fare.
Intellectual posturing and intimidation has often been a way to keep working-class people “in their place,” so I think there was a lot of wariness about any talk that smacked of academicism.
Anything it accomplished it did on the backs of staff and volunteers who worked so fucking hard, myself included.
I’d originally planned to make a birth film, but when the babies were born in such bad circumstances I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The idea was about certainty and knowledge being provisional tools at best, and ones which, when pushed to the limit, point us toward places that are uncertain and unknown.
There’s a way to say the phrase in English and in French, but there’s also this in-between place where the meaning exists without really being one or the other. But if you relax, it could be fun to watch all these little games the film contains going on and falling apart and then reappearing in a different way somewhere else.
There’s the old story about the “doppelganger,” that when you meet your double you disappear.
I find the off-screen space of phone calls in movies really interesting because it is so utterly virtual.
I intended it as a reminder that our place as viewers entails certain privileges, but also certain limitations.
It was a big collaborative effort that was just a lot of fun, and I think it’s fun for people to watch because of that. Structural film was accused of being co-opted by the world of cerebral, minimalist art — the colour-field painting crowd that was surrounded by lofty talk, big bucks, that kind of thing.
Tracing The Secret Garden back to its ritual antecedents in which women and beasts married before the beast’s slaughter, Gronau spins a delicate web of allusion that quietly permeate the film. Her uncle (Herbert Marshall) is an angry, unhappy man, his spooky home a direct reflection of his own dark memories. His American career never really flourished, and MGM put him in uncredited and background roles after his featured performance in Secret Garden. While she was helping so many others, she was also quietly developing a body of work all her own.
Then, when I went to the Ontario College of Art, I met Keith Lock and Jim Anderson, who were studying film at York University. The workshop was associated with the Funnel, a program run by CEAC, which had been holding biweekly experimental film screenings just down the street from Freud Signs. But after a while we started to get some production equipment — at first only super-8 cameras — that was clearly outside of the old Co-op’s mandate. Then the Censor Board made open screenings illegal because people who just showed up with their films couldn’t submit their work to the Board before they showed them. Another reason was probably a fear of discussions that could exacerbate our differences and cause rifts in our small community. When I was on staff in the early eighties my pay was $7,000 a year and I put in long hours — usually every day of the week.
In its last years it seemed to be digging itself deeper into a mess and I didn’t want that to be all that anyone remembered about it. You think, “What is what?” Not just “What’s the answer?” but “What’s the question?” A space opens up between the sign and its referent.
The passage from Bataille she reads is about how keeping certain objects is the only way the author can remember. I was thinking about the word “regard” — meaning respect, esteem, acknowledgement, but with visual overtones. And I think that’s true to the extent that when the myth of our integrity as unique and separate beings is threatened it can seem that non-existence, annihilation even, is just a step away.
All the quotes from First Nations sources are directed toward people of European descent, and are about European colonization and oppression of Native American cultures and societies. Out of the blue she asked if I wanted to collaborate on a film and I said “Yup!” She wanted to make a film that would address 1992 — the 500th anniversary of Columbus reaching the New World. Shelley and I both felt that too many political films don’t have a strong political effect.
A similar critique of that milieu was happening in the visual arts, which took the shift of direction in its stride.
In the hands of the Canadian film artist autobiography becomes a reflection on the possibilities of autobiography, and memory the darkened house where images consume the real. In her first scene M is shown asleep, finally awaking not with a kiss but the ring of a telephone. Servants are cold and distant, there are no other children to play with, and a series of gut-wrenching screams issue forth throughout the mansion at various times of day or night.
They hold onto the past as punishment, and children are, if you will forgive the turn of phrase, the future, and therefore to be shunned and hidden away lest they cause any joy to accidentally seep into their lives.
Roper had more luck in the UK, reprising his role as Dickon in the 1952 BBC miniseries of The Secret Garden and continuing to appear regularly in both film and TV.
She appears in all of her early work, though it is the structure of cognition rather than the narrating of personal experience that impels her concern. The Funnel was in the process of setting itself up as an independent organization and that’s when I became involved. The Co-op turned out to be in worse shape than we’d thought and eventually we had to declare bankruptcy and close it.
Our argument had always been that the law was wrong and dangerous, and the fact that it might not be enforced to the extent of its full insanity didn’t make things any better. But ultimately the inability to deal with difference was what enabled that garrison mentality to take hold.
To me, this temporary release of the hold between experience and interpretation allows for a different kind of relatedness, or maybe an interrelatedness, to be suggested. His other attempts to remember are blinded by the sun, his memory turns into a “vision of solar deliquescence.” I thought it was interesting that light may obscure rather than help vision, and that the writer claims he can’t trust what he sees in order to remember.
The book is objectionable on a great many levels from a contemporary perspective, but elements of the story appear in lots of children’s tales. Nevertheless, I think the emotional appeal of the film is the lure which that deeper ultimate meaningfulness always seems to hold out.
What they are really doing is teaching through humour, trying to get Shanna not to take herself too seriously and to enjoy and appreciate life. Shelley was particularly concerned that a lot of representations of Native people stress the depressing. Gronau’s extended prologue takes up this reflexivity in a mirror play of video monitors, lights meters and Arriflexes, chuckling on track as the crew is pictured framing the shots to follow.
The solitude that haunts her work is narrated in a succession of subtle and painful autobiographical moments — the ending of a relationship, the death of a friend’s child.

There was a wide range; some films were very conceptual, some were highly politicized, others more diaristic. Occasionally we got a write-up in one of the daily newspapers or in an art periodical, but that didn’t happen often. The law still gives the government power to infringe extensively on freedom of expression if and when they are so inclined. The group was pressured from within because non-white, women, and lesbian and gay members were in a minority, and there was resentment and defensiveness about that. I was also interested in the difference between looking at a text as something you can read and seeing it as an object.
It has roots in fairy tales like “Sleeping Beauty,” where a whole castle lies dormant after the princess’s “death” until there’s a rebirth. It would be about a young girl and her aunts who go on a kind of pilgrimage to Niagara Falls on New Year’s Eve. But her attitude was that there’s so much to celebrate, and many aspects of Native life have never been shown on film before. The following scene describes the classic encounter of the psychodrama, as M wakes only to speak with her double while great floating polar bears swim alongside. Many of her films suggest ways in which the self can interact with an outside world, negotiating the divide between inside and out, between self and Other. While I was studying painting and sculpture at art school the whole notion of “avant-garde” caught my interest. I think some filmmakers felt that the new board was simply trying to kill the Co-op and grab its funding. For example, we purchased a good super-8 projector which could also be used to record sound in sync with the image as it was projected.
The best and worst publicity we got — it was inevitable that this would come up in a discussion of the Funnel — was from the Ontario Censor Board. Today most “fringe” media is exhibited in an underground setting — without the Censor Board’s knowledge. Even without the more philosophical and political difficulties it was grappling with, the Funnel just didn’t have the economic base to go on like that. We received a bit of money and started building sets, making costumes and shooting backgrounds, still working on the script.
Her later work has taken up politics in a different register, often using dramatic elements to unwrap the layers of history that occlude relations in the present.
I understood it at the time in its relation to the military idea of an “advance guard” — leading the way.
His approach to filmmaking showed the sensibility of a painter and poet, so with my art background, it began to look like the Funnel would be a good place to be. We were the only place around showing non-narrative, independently made films, and a lot of people felt that the organization should be for them. You feel like you’re discovering so many clues there must be a meaning, even if you don’t know what it is.
My belief as a young art student was that avant-garde art would be taken up by people at large. But the fact that we resisted their interventions resulted in a lot of media attention and the Funnel became much better known.
It wasn’t like the visual arts, where you may get turned down by one gallery, but there’s another that would love to show your work. At any rate, I decided I wanted to make a film as a memorial to Ona and Rafiki, and a tribute to Eleanor. I had a great time discovering all these interconnecting bits and pieces of mythical stories. The phone calls set up M.’s relationship with the world, but keep it distant at the same time.
Chief Seattle was saying that his people were doomed now that their lands were lost and the reservations were being set up, but he also said that his people would never really leave this land they love, and even when the white man thinks they are all dead and gone they will still be present in all the places they used to travel and inhabit. He tells her not to feel guilty about living her life, helping her put things in perspective.
They were starting to say that art wasn’t enough — to change society you have to go out and shoot politicians.
At first, the Ontario Censor Board insisted that we send them every film we wanted to show a week in advance of the screening so they could classify it and mark the print with an embossed stamp.
I was amazed to find ancient tales about the marriage of a human woman to a not-quite-human bridegroom. And big institutions for both art and film still continue to treat experimental film as a marginal practice.
They also wanted us to advertise the film’s “rating.” Even if we hadn’t found the whole idea abhorrent ethically, it would have been impossible solely in practical terms.
And I do think that some of the other images I chose might have an archetypal resonance — images of snakes, and a lake in winter.
The earliest were pre-Greek, yet remnants of them are apparently still acted out in folk rituals in some parts of the world.
That scene is the first time the curtains in her room are open, so we can see something outside. My colonial heritage — the way non-Native North Americans tend to think — tends to treat a “place” as a commodity, a locus for the accumulation or representation of certain kinds of personal or corporate power. Together Shanna and her aunts do a musical number in their hotel room and a little New Year’s Eve ritual in front of the Falls. But now we’re in a more postmodern period, if you like, and divisions are breaking down all over the place. The cover showed a picture of Italian premier Aldo Moro, recently murdered by a political terrorist group called the Red Brigade. Filmmakers usually arrived with their work from out of town just a few hours before their screening. On the bright side, there may not have been an articulated “ideal,” but there was great excitement and enthusiasm surrounding and within the Funnel for a while. I wanted to suggest the value of recognizing a sense of space different from that colonial one. When I show my students really old films by Stan Brakhage or Kenneth Anger, they don’t think they’re outrageous at all (although they sometimes have trouble with films by Michael Snow). We protested and got all sorts of high-profile supporters to speak on our behalf, but the Censor Board refused to give up their right to preview and “rate” — and potentially ban from screening — all films we showed. Lots of outstanding work from all over the world was screened, including a lot of locally made films.
Eventually I realized that the only thing I could do was embrace the contradictions of these many stories and incorporate contradiction itself into the film. I used the quotations from Native spokespeople to get at these ideas, but the quotes represent a range of opinions rather than a homogeneous viewpoint.
But many of the visual investigations those filmmakers were doing have been appropriated and even developed in mainstream media — like music videos and commercials. The Sun declared its outrage about this on its front page, and all public monies to CEAC were quickly stopped. For a while they would even send someone down to the Funnel to watch films on our premises before the screening. For instance, in the opening scene, the camera glides up a laneway toward a house as the voice-over describes Mary’s approach to her new home.
Almost all film now has at least one fuzzy edge that blends with TV or video art and video technology.
Idealistically, I believed that the ghettoized, even despised, status of avant-garde film was only temporary.
We had a gallery for visual art there, for example, which made an important link with that community. But gradually it becomes apparent that the voice is describing a different house than the one onscreen. I wanted an audience to notice the question of land claims, for example, but I didn’t want to put closure on the issue in terms of wrapping it up nicely with a bunch of pat answers. As I remember it, avant-garde film wasn’t much different from alternative rock music in terms of the value that I and the people I knew felt it had.
But resistance began to grow because the Censor Board, having more or less stumbled upon the Funnel (as far as we could tell) suddenly realized they’d opened up a hornets’ nest. Younger people, just coming out of film school, were encouraged to pursue filmmaking because of the sense that a vibrant independent film scene existed at the Funnel. I don’t think they had any idea of all the independent film and video activity that was going on in Ontario. When I was doing the programming I did have a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to achieve. The situation of land claims isn’t solved yet in real life, and although I’m pretty clear about where my sympathies lie, I thought it would be false and less valuable to simply make another film that claims to have the answers for Native people — or for anyone else.
It’s been taken up by lesbian and gay communities or different racial groups to express identities that have been suppressed. David Poole from Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, Cyndra McDowell from Canadian Artists’ Representation, and I eventually became the board of a small organization that took on the Censor Board through the courts. That was certainly an “ideal.” I was interested in film as a kind of radical area between what was cutting edge and daring about visual art and what was powerful about the movies.
Sometimes films are avantgarde by default — just because their communities are small or marginalized.
Of course, as we know now, rock music did “go somewhere” — and avant-garde film went somewhere far less dazzling! In retrospect, that seems like it may have been cowardly, but CEAC wasn’t behaving very honourably, either. I liked the way visual art was inventive in its uses of materials and its incorporation of unexpected elements in order to say important things.
Still, I had high hopes for leading-edge filmmaking, although at the time I didn’t consider the problems of the notion of avant-garde, such as the way it assumes leadership and hierarchy. For a while there was a feeling that CEAC might try to seize the Funnel’s “assets.” In the end, we stored all the stuff — some chairs and tables and a projector — in someone’s basement and searched for another home for the new and separate Funnel. We took the offensive, and charged the Censor Board with being unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights. And I liked the way that movies get at you emotionally with their “realism.” I still had a lot of belief in the idea of the avant-garde. The Canadian Criminal Code stated that if material was made public and the public complained, charges could be laid and judged according to community standards. I was interested in the ideals of some of the new feminist films being made at the time, the “New Talkies” they were called, and I did some programming using and referring to them. But this was a hired board whose job was to decide for the public in advance what it could and couldn’t see.
However, it wasn’t enough for the organization to represent the ideals of one or two people.
Then there’s the trend in visual art to show film or other projected-image work in a gallery setting.
We had some legal victories, although we were obviously the underdog in terms of resources. It seems unfortunate to me that there isn’t more acknowledgement that the absence of that in the past was due to institutional policies, not to a lack of film that could qualify as art.
I think we won mainly in the sense that we revealed the ludicrous nature of many aspects of the current legislation.
To most people involved it rode on some hazy idea of being “alternative.” I see now that just wasn’t enough. By the time I left the Funnel, we had won a small amount of leeway: the Censors required only that we submit a written description of films we planned to screen.

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