Hailing Hoffman

Philip Hoffman, one of Canada’s most critically respected filmmakers, is coming to Winnipeg to attend a retrospective of his short works and a screening of his first feature. Known for his distinctly personal approach, Hoffman has made over 18 short films, has had more than a dozen retrospectives of his work across the world, teaches film production at York University and is the founder of the Film Farm, an experimental filmmakers retreat. He will be screening his new film, All Fall Down, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to terrific reviews, at WNDX (Winnipeg’s festival of film and video art) this week.

All Fall Down is an ambitious work that combines multiple narratives, the chief two focusing on the rootless father of Hoffman’s stepdaughter and an aboriginal land rights activist. Hoffman, speaking over the phone from Toronto, said, “It was this thing of weaving two stories together. I found this stone house in Southern Ontario and I’ve been thinking about doing a film on it for a while. The stones of the house made me think about who had been living there when it was built, and I found out about the native woman who had owned the house. It made me think about the history of the land and how I was now a part of it.”

Indeed, as the project developed it began to adopt Hoffman’s signature personal approach. “I am a diarist filmmaker and at the same time I was starting a new family in this house, and the figure of my stepdaughter’s father was hovering over the farm,” Hoffman said. “Ultimately, it’s about how we’re all connected to the land and it’s history, and finding other ways of looking at the land other than as a commodity.”

Hoffman admits that it’s the kind of movie audiences “might not know how to approach,” but he was pleased with its premiere at TIFF, where people tried to engage it, recognizing it as “the kind of film that’s open to free association.”

When asked what he believes is the importance of an experimental film festival in Winnipeg, Hoffman was quick to reply.

“Isn’t Winnipeg the heart of Canadian experimental film, what with Guy Maddin and John Paizs?” he asked rhetorically. “The Winnipeg Film Group is kind of a wonderful place and so well-respected all over the world. It’s great that there’s a community for independent filmmakers, a place where they don’t need to feel that going commercial is the way up.”
That’s high praise for a humble prairie town. Especially from the founder of The Film Farm, the legendary not-for-profit retreat located in a rural Ontario barn that encourages an artisanal form of filmmaking.

“Participants come [to The Film Farm] with no script, and react to the place and people,” Hoffman said of his primary enterprise. “Then they learn how to hand process, tint and tone film. It’s a way for independent filmmakers to control the medium and affordably work with film.“

Hoffman will give WNDX patrons a rare glimpse into his film making process when he delivers a Master Lecture on Wednesday night. Ultimately, the festival is the kind invitation to artistic exchange that Hoffman relishes.

“There’s been a nice exchange between Winnipeg and The Film Farm.” Hoffman said, “I look forward to coming to Winnipeg to show my film and meet people.”

All Fall Down screens Saturday Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.. Poetic Passages : A Philip Hoffman Retrospective screens Wednesday Oct. 7 at 7 and 9 p.m.. A Master Lecture on Diary Cinema will take place on Thursday Oct. 8 at 5 p.m.. All events occur at Cinematheque, 100 Arthur Street.