CRITIPEG: Body Language

WNDX presents a program of somatic shorts on Sept. 21 at Cinematheque

In its 13th year, WNDX Festival of Moving Image is still making waves in the world of experimental film.

Body Language, the third of five curated open-call programs, features nine short and intense corporeal experiences, and four of them are from Manitoba-based female filmmakers.

Skin comes alive in the world premiere of Alison Davis’ hand-painted short My Flesh Crawls (2018). Animated musings on a human’s outer shell, scenes are filled with palpations in a delicate examination of our largest organ. Varying her palate and stroke in each frame, Davis invokes a hyper-iridescence in the surface of each epidermis.

Kelsey Braun’s sensitive sound design triggers sympathetic frissons on arms and legs, in hair. Between vignettes, a collection of fricative drones give a satisfying scratch to the insides of the ears.

Natalie Baird and Jillian Groening’s collaborative work Ode (2017) examines dementia in tight focus. Zoomed into an elderly man’s brow as though the echoes of thought could be heard if they could only get close enough, the pair paint a picture of what they imagine to be inside his head.

Baird’s extreme closeups of Groening’s movements through a pale and empty room lyrically contextualize the irregular rhythms of an unfurling mind. Underpinned by a deep, mechanical hum, fragments of unintelligible speech and ringing overtones float in a shimmery sonic aspic.

A sensitive and beautiful effort, the work’s lucidity pleads for empathy.

Emerge (2018) offers an invitation into Flin Flon filmmaker Kristy Janvier's search for connectedness.

Shedding superficial layers that shield her from the cold, Janvier resigns to a snowy wood bisected by a dark creek. Her rigidity thaws into a fluid ritual, bathing in the icy air insulated only by her underthings and her resolve.

In a vulnerable moment, this human finds primal solidarity with water (in all its states) as a generator of life. Though the work feels technically primitive, the narrative Janvier gently weaves is direct and honest.

Heidi Phillips serves a funhouse of experimental techniques in another world premiere on the program: Mind Unseen (2018).

Four panels of self-documentation layered with accounts of bipolar episodes and coping strategies illustrate an overwhelming push to be understood. It is impossible to fully absorb the initial barrage of content, but perhaps that’s the point.

Through a slideshow of overlapped and ornamented outdoor images, Phillips’ splintered streams of consciousness converge and calm. Her thoughts quiet in the following chapter, cycling through distorted footage of powerlifting and colourful mechanical clanging.

A reassurance her journey has inspired growth and balance precedes a vague and comically unpolished shadow-puppet vignette beginning with a soundtrack to match. The denouement, in which Phillips appreciates an archetypal Manitoba winter scene with her grandmother accompanied by the sound of wind chimes, leaves a syrupy aftertaste behind.

Mind Unseen is a patchworked self-portrait. Its elusiveness and unsettling moments are exonerated by Phillips’ lifelong struggle to feel understood in her bipolarity. She is duly proud to continue on this cathartic endeavour to educate and encourage compassion and empathy.

Published in Volume 73, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 13, 2018)

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