by Jason Whyte
"Mark" - At Victoria Film Festival
“”Mark” is a sidelong biography of my friend and long time editor Mark Karbusicky. Animal rights activist, political vegan, punk maestro, the life-partner of Mirha-Soleil Ross, a transsexual force of nature." Director Mike Hoolbloom on "Mark" which screens at this year's Victoria Film Festival.
Is this your first film at the Victoria Film Festival? Tell me about your festival experience, and if you plan to attend Victoria for the film’s screenings.
The festival has been very kind to me in the past; while I have never attended its luxurious outpourings, it has been a home for my work for many years.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to the industry.
I am industrious, but not part of any industry. There are no commissioning editors or producing agents requiring attention. Instead, my work comes from a personal place, it touches the people around me, and it takes shape as our encounters develop. Why is every hockey game lensed the same way, when each game is so different? Would you enjoy having the same conversation with each of your friends? The pictures I am interested in come from this necessary place of intimacy, which involves risk on both sides of the camera. While I try to remain, as Leonard Cohen put it more than once, “On the front line of my own life”, I am not an embedded reporter. There is no objectivity, and no objects. Instead: subjects, waiting for the right light, the right distance, in order to arrive in all their necessary loneliness.
How did this whole project come together?
The impossible happened, the thing that was never supposed to occur, the unimaginable event. My friend died. How could he die? That’s how the movie started. All of the important things in my life have happened by accident. I think as a filmmaker, learning to listen to your accidents is the most important quality. I didn’t begin making a movie right away; I came to his house so I could feed his cats and walk his dog. Every moment of that architecture was funerary, and I wanted to make a record of it; every bit of carpet, every photograph, every unwashed dish. That’s how it started. I wanted to build a small archive to shore up the ruin, to ease the pain of losing him.
Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
The movie was made up in the dark, conjured a moment at a time. At first it was moments of Mark’s apartment which fascinated, but then there were encounters which could no longer be put off. The maximum impact moment of our lives. How could the camera arrive at this place, with its mute digital stare, its ability to see almost nothing, no matter how long it was busy recording? How very busy many of us are producing what we imagine to be pictures, but which turn out, in the edit room, to be no pictures at all, but only placeholders. If only we had time to look, or look again. What I tried to learn, by steeping myself in the remnants of what Mark had left behind, was how to find the necessary distance between those who were willing to step forward and testify and their digital witness. What would they say? How would they appear? I had no way of knowing, and a lifetime of watching scratches accumulate on emulsion seemed inadequate preparation. I was blessed with the fortitude and rare articulation of some of his familiars, who were ready to hold forth, at length, even while language proved inadequate, our gestures already too small and faraway to measure up against the gravity of what had happened. And yet, They were determined to leave a trace, and I tried to be there when they did, and gather up the puddles, and let them drip into the lens.
Slowly, as the months crawled past, these began to accumulate. The way she sat on the couch, looking glamorous even through her tears. The way another presented before the radio station microphone, decomposing, and the way her candles lit up the most distant corners of her face. It was from these faraway places (the furthest flung geography of her own face) that she began to reel him back in, one word at a time, one memory following another. For instance, she tells me about the rescue. (But who will rescue the rescuer?) Mark had come to help Lorena bring in a posse of wild cats on night. What were they using to wrap up their charge, to bring them into safety? It was raining and one had chased itself away. Mark was over the brush in a flash, and returned several minutes later with the small scratching kitten held in one hand. He was interested only in the strays, the ones left behind, the discarded and unwanted. Perhaps because he himself felt… no, I don’t even need to say it.
Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?
The most difficult part of making the movie was its beginning. It was never supposed to happen. How to stay inside that place? How to live inside the impossible?
Who would you say are your biggest inspirations in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?
I marvel at the way Chantal Akerman shoots her movies. I imagine her arriving at the scene, at the border between Mexico and the United States, the line-up for bread in Moscow, the blinking lights of a hotel corridor. And there she waits. She might wait for a long time, at least long enough to imagine living in a place just like this. She waits for the light to come to her, for the scene to be birthed inside her again. Setting up the camera on its three-legged foundation is a way of staking out a position, it is finally a question of a moral authority. So when the film at last begins to roll through her machine of seeing she is prepared to let it run for a long time, and in the movie’s projection we are granted the luxury of her waiting, of the time she creates around her frames, her subjects, her shots. She shows us how to make this time in our own lives, and with our own subjects. It is exactly this time in which the small gestures that make love possible recur again and again.
How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? Do you have any interesting stories about how this film has screened before? What do you think you will expect at the film’s screenings at Victoria?
What could I expect? Fan mail? Flowers? Offers of undreamt pleasures? My arms are as open as my expectations.
I took the movie on a test drive in the fall to Montreal, Milwaukee, Chicago and Syracuse. Because of its personal nature, many approached me afterwards and shared their stories. I made further adjustments, and now it is having its second public life. Along with the screening in Victoria, it will have its international premiere in Rotterdam next week, then tour Mexico in February/March, Switzerland in April, and Toronto in May.
If you weren’t making movies, what other line or work do you feel you’d be in?
I think I would make a very good rich person. I would know which hands to fill, while encouraging unions of every kind. At a certain moment I would leave them the keys: here, take it, it’s all yours. On the other hand, the job I am haunted by is the one that Joey (or is it Pete?) works in “Goin’ Down the Road”. He sets up bowling pins by hand. I saw this movie when I was very young and thought: well, I guess that’s how adults spend their time.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
In the too-muchness of this moment, with information deluge arriving on personal tickers day and night, how else can a movie – most particularly those with modest means -- find an audience? If I were a novelist, my books would not be better because I spent a million dollars writing them, as well a painter, sculptor or dancer. In the movies, bigger is presumed better. Lack of money signals a lack of imagination. Besides, the gravity of making urges every maker to repeat. Making movies is like figuring out how to dress in high school, it is generally not done to communicate, or even to express a style, a point of view, an inclination. Instead, pictures are made to get along. The theme song of today’s movies is: please let me belong.
There has been a great levelling of film writing, which increasingly approaches the ideal of shopping. I want it, I don’t want it. Thumbs up or thumbs down. How could writing create light in order to see? From Christopher Sorrentino’s Trance: “There was a time when Alice thought it was possible that a poem or a song could save every faltering affair in the universe; there was a time when Alice thought she would use it, as she might an incantation, on a night when the TV finally ran out of things to say.”
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
The one it is playing in now.
If you could offer a nickel’s worth of free advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?
I am with Werner Herzog. Don’t go to film school, steal whatever you need, and take a long trip by foot. Go for a ten day silent vipassana retreat and change the world. Then get a camera and a laptop and change the world again.
What do you love the most about film and the filmmaking business?
I love that film is not a business at all. I love the way that one impossible moment, with that beautiful light, can reach across the infinitude of a cut and find another moment, so very distant, even unimaginable, and find new life inside that juxtaposition. In the new movie I am working on (working title is “Lacan’s Palestine”), philosopher genius Mike Cartmell dishes Harold Bloom’s theories on the anxiety of influence, and how it is necessary for the younger artist to re-write the strong work of their elder. What follows are moments from the Gaza checkpoints in Palestine. Could this budding nation rewrite the oppression that threatens to drown it at every turn?
A question that is easy for some but not for others and always gets a different response: what is your favourite film of all time?
My biologist friend assures me that constant cell replacement ensures that every seven years we are completely different people. This means that tastes change, and that the fiction I name as myself is in constant flux. My favourite movie used to be Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema, Steve Reinke’s The Hundred Videos, Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys from Berlin/1971, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Reassemblage. Today my favourite film is the view from my window.
This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit www.victoriafilmfestival.com.
Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2940
originally posted: 02/02/10 06:02:12