As filmmaker Jean-Pierre Marchant says in his essay below, "travelling on foot can prompt thoughts and emotions based on past memories, and it can arrest our attention with seemingly random and unmediated visuals". In "On Foot", the program he has curated for VUCAVU's #Geographies series, Marchant looks are how these five films use walking as a way to open up questions about mobility through space and place and explores how the act of walking relates to our humanity.
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We also acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.


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Jean-Pierre Marchant
Filmmaker
 

"On Foot"
Essay by: Jean-Pierre Marchant

Lethbridge-based Latino-Canadian artist Jean-Pierre (JP) Marchant is an emerging filmmaker whose current work combines analogue and digital filmmaking practices. After having worked for years in the defence and oil & gas industries in Ontario and Alberta he started making films in 2013, with a summer-long filmmaking workshop at The Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta (FAVA). JP’s past work has explored themes such as the malaise of white-collar modernity, local histories, landscapes, and myths. He is currently working on a series of short films about suburban dreams and nightmares.

Jean-Pierre has served on the board of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance Society (AMAAS) and is one of the founding members of the recently established the Lethbridge Independent Film Society (LIFS). His work has been programmed at FAVA (Edmonton), the Calgary International Film Festival, Anti-Matter (Victoria), WNDX (Winnipeg), WUFF, MUFF and TUFF (Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto), and was recently included in the Prairie Tales Redux 2017 program, among others. He lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, with his partner and their very old cat.

On Foot
by: Jean-Pierre Marchant

“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”

― Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking", 2001

American essayist Rebecca Solnits book Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2001) is less a history of perambulation than an exploration of the relationship between thinking, walking, and culture. The term “wanderlust” originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and lust (desire); wanderlust, therefore, literally means “a desire to hike.” Walking is a crucial part of the human experience. Whether walking an often-treaded route or a new one, perambulation shapes what we see in the world and how we see it. Travelling on foot can prompt thoughts and emotions based on past memories, and it can arrest our attention with seemingly random and unmediated visuals. The films I have selected for On Foot use walking as a way to open up questions about mobility through space and place, emotional geographies of attachment and loss, and movement between life and death.

Walking is a crucial part of the human experience. Whether walking an often-treaded route or a new one, perambulation shapes what we see in the world and how we see it.

Leslie Supnet’s spectroscopy (2011) was made on Super8 film for the WNDX Festival One Take Super 8 Event. The streets of Winnipeg supply the language of the film, and the formal elements of colour, form, and editing shape how Supnet speaks about this place. Supnet created the film through a series of shots of seemingly random objects she saw on her wanderings along a busy Winnipeg street. However, Supnet retains a firm grip on controlling what we see and how we see it. Rather than giving us a wide view of the street and allowing our eyes to wander to different objects within the frame, she directs our gaze to specific objects, picked for their formal qualities. This technique obliges the viewer to see the streets of Winnipeg in a very deliberate and stylized way. spectroscopy raises the question of whether pedestrians sense their surroundings in a similar way -- when out on a stroll, does one focus on and remember only certain objects and people amidst an avalanche of stimuli? At the end, we are left with only flashes of colour as the distilled formal elements of the objects themselves. spectroscopy brings the viewer’s attention to the varied range of colours and forms that surround us when we move through spaces, if we only stop and look.

At the end, we are left with only flashes of colour as the distilled formal elements of the objects themselves.

Margaret Rorison’s DER SPARZIERGANG (The Walk) (2013) uses the idea of walking in a similar yet more unmediated manner, in this case to speak about Berlin. The title of Rorison’s film references Swiss writer Robert Walser’s 1917 novella The Walk, in which the narrator, a poet, flees from his writing room, “or room of phantoms,” and goes out on a foot trek through his city. As Walser did nearly 100 years earlier, Rorison wanders through the streets of Berlin seemingly without purpose or goal. Her film, like Walser’s story, is an exploration of the chance encounters that can take place in public spaces only when one is on foot. Although DER SPARZIERGANG (The Walk) uses a film language similar to Supnet’s spectroscopy, Rorison gives our eyes more room to roam within the film frame. Moreover, Rorison appears to be more focused on the wandering itself and the places she encounters, as opposed to objects. The editing (all in-camera) is very quick and forces us to watch the film carefully to catch all of the things we are presented. Ultimately, the rapid edit offers us only little time to consciously process what we see, leaving us hard-pressed to describe with certainty anything that we have seen on the screen. Therein lies the attractiveness of this film: the ability to leave viewers with an impression of a place, rather than fully formed thoughts or concrete descriptions about it.

... the rapid edit offers us only little time to consciously process what we see, leaving us hard-pressed to describe with certainty anything that we have seen on the screen.
Still image from "1000 Feet", Gerda Cammear, 2000, CFMDC

Still image from "1000 Feet", Gerda Cammear, 2000, CFMDC

Gerda Cammaer’s “1000 Feet” (2000) is a poetic visual essay about the city of Maputo, Mozambique. The sights, sounds and rhythms of the city of Maputo comprise the main elements of the film, while Cammaer’s focus is on the people of Maputo rather than on the objects or architecture in those streets. Unlike the previous two films, in which people were not the focus, Cammaer is interested in how others react to her camera. As a result, she often brings attention to people who have become aware of her and her photographic equipment. Many of her subjects are impoverished street vendors selling their wares, highlighting the film’s themes of humanity and poverty, while shots of the names of historical socialist revolutionaries on street signs point to the director’s political mindfulness. The film’s soundtrack is much like the randomness of the people Cammaer comes across, with seemingly indiscriminate radio loops and ambient sounds of Maputo to contribute to an overall sense of unexpected encounters within the work.

 

... Cammaer is interested in how others react to her camera. As a result, she often brings attention to people who have become aware of her and her photographic equipment.
Still image from "Geriatrica", Peter Dudar, 2014, CFMDC

Still image from "Geriatrica", Peter Dudar, 2014, CFMDC

Peter Dudar’s Geriatrica (2014) is about walking on a very different scale and for very different reasons. If a city is a language, and walking through that space is the act of speaking that language, Geriatrica presents an older woman, Maria, in the twilight of her life struggling to navigate her surroundings and express herself in a coherent way. Dudar strapped a camera to his 90-year-old mother’s walker and then recorded her walks through the hallways of her nursing home. Because of the camera’s placement, we are placed literally in the shoes of a person whose spatial life has shrunk and whose physical and cognitive abilities have declined due to old age. Because of Maria’s memory loss, there appears to be nothing else about her existence -- nothing before or after the hallways. The audio is marked by the sounds of the institution where Maria lives and by conversation between her and the director, who walks nearby and tries to assure her that she is going to be alright. Their conversation is at times gut-wrenching, as Maria has dementia and often forgets where she is. The film is slow and measured which forces us to come down and see things from Maria’s diminished horizon.

... we are placed literally in the shoes of a person whose spatial life has shrunk and whose physical and cognitive abilities have declined due to old age.

Still image from "Spanky: To The Pier and Back", Guy Maddin, 2008, Winnipeg Film Group

In Guy Maddin’s Spanky: To the Pier and Back (2008) the focus is on a walk by the director and his four-legged friend. Shot in the town of Gimli, Manitoba, this film is centred around a walk that the Maddin and his beloved pug have presumably taken together many times before. When Maddin shows us Spanky, running to and fro, intercut with shots of the ebb and flow of the waves on the beach of Lake Winnipeg, he appears to be ascribing qualities of vibrancy, dynamism, and life to his beloved pet pug. The music throughout is slow and meditative, but an occasional minor key implies that all is not sunny on this walk. By the end of the film the music begins to sound like a dirge and we hear the sound of the lapping beach waves of Lake Winnipeg as the music reaches a crescendo of sorts. At the end, we are presented with a quick series of black screen shots for several seconds at a time, which provides an insight into why Maddin made this film. The film speaks about two themes: inter-species connections or relationships between a human and a dog, and the attachment

Shot in the town of Gimli, Manitoba, this film is centred around a walk that the Maddin and his beloved pug have presumably taken together many times before.