Panorama-cinéma is back at TIFF after a four-year absence! Our columnist Mike Hoolboom, one of the most famous and lovely experimental filmmakers in the country, will share his thoughts about some films from the Festival lineup. Don't miss this chance to attend the event by proxy, but mostly to bask in Mike's unique and rousing verve, which will undoubtedly manage to fill your mind with images both inspiring and horrendous, as if you were attending the crowded Lightbox screenings in person.
— Olivier Thibodeau, editor Festivals section
:: Meteor (Atefeh Khademolreza, 2023) [Good Mesure Productions]
Every revolution is a living meme, an irresistible force, tugged forward by bodies and pictures. Most are not “complete,” they don’t succeed in bringing down a State, or changing the minds and bodies of everyone who live inside its borders. But each gesture is another Sisyphean step towards imagining a new way of life, new forms of seeing and touching.
In the most recent edition of TIFF, a short movie takes up the challenge to turn resistance and reinvention into pictures. Atefeh Khademolreza’s Meteor is a 9.5-minute animated dream flow that recounts the story of her secret crush, Amin, a young gay man who lives with the threat that queer sex is not only illegal in Iran, but punishable by death. Using a fantastical digital rotoscoping technique—tracing over photographs and clips, then adding supernatural colours, startling overlays and flowing edges—the artist intertwines the story of the Women, Life, Freedom movement with her own. The movie is driven by the artist’s voice-over narrating a letter to her dead friend. It is a voice haunted by ghosts and a fathomless interiority; it knows too well the cost of speaking.
Every frame overflows with beauty, vibrancy, action and life. As if the containers of State had been lifted, and the hopes of a new generation could at last be realized. Before opening the frame of the movie to embrace the entire State, the artist begins with her own worried face on the subway. Deliriously reconfigured via animation, every edge is frayed and shimmering, while delicate rainbow lines mark trails across her face. Protester footage, police brutalities and demonstrations are similarly revisited, part of a rapidly paced and irresistible flow, often breaking the frame into multiple perspectives, as the artist redraws cell phone footage, secret arrests and escapes, women taking off their hijabs, hands raised in solidarity.
The oldest question of solidarity: How to make what is far away feel close? How to bridge the distance between the place that used to be home, and this new place where reflection is possible? Atefeh does it in two ways. Firstly, she embodies these faraway vantages by redrawing them. Animation is not a special effect here, it is a way of touching every picture, of bringing them inside her body, allowing them to become part of her. Secondly, she tells the story of her queer friend, who she secretly falls in love with. She leaves the country without telling him, it seems their culture has turned everyone into a master of secrets. He tells her that he’s met a man, and describes to her the new bodies they have invented together. He is afraid to tell his parents, even his friends, worried he will lose them. This secret binds them together, even as it breaks her heart. The images offer momentary glimpses of a hand searching inside a sheet, facial fragments blended together, as if they were both in search, trying to find a way to separate their desires from the desires of the State.
Gaseous clouds of colour turn into intergalactic glimpses; the artist is not afraid to plunge into abstraction, and then surround her figures with these conjured nether worlds. Perhaps science fiction is never far when a regime attempts to school its subjects in the art of dreaming. The screen fills with solar flares and the smoke of a thousand fires, illustrating the moment when he becomes HIV positive. Soft cells multiply and shift colours, turn into planets that house a single blinking eye. Atefeh paints a rainbow flag on her chest as she muses on those who, “like us, have been deprived of their right to be themselves.”
:: Meteor [Good Mesure Productions]
How to live in a body that has already been reframed by the State? Especially when desire has been rerouted, detoured, through the chambers of law and government. The artist conjures the lived cost of theocracy in a world where secrets are the rules, even between friends and inside families. In the closest places, there is distance. And as this waterfall of invention makes clear, these distances can be fatal.
One day the regime will fall, crippled by its own certainty. How many will dedicate their lives to the great push? Most will remain unnamed and unrecognized, except to their beloveds. Their faces will never appear on public statuary. But as the revolution continues in its fitful and unscripted fashion, there will be markers along the way like this one, that will tell the storyless story of how new lives were already being tested, new desires tasted, new bodies tried on and lived in.
How to tell a single story as if it is the story of a whole country, a whole world?
Mike Hoolboom began making movies in 1980. Making as practice, a daily application. Ongoing remixology. Since 2000 there has been a steady drip of found footage bio docs. The animating question of community: how can I help you? Interviews with media artists for 3 decades. Monographs and books, written, edited, co-edited. Local ecologies. Volunteerism. Opening the door.
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