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Photo courtesy of Windows Collective

“The City as a Canvas:” Windows Collective’s Underpass Films

By Alejandro Bustos on August 24, 2012

On a beautiful summer night, with the tranquil waters of the Rideau Canal rippling nearby, six local film makers transformed a downtown passageway into a dreamlike movie theatre.

Beginning at dusk on the evening of August 15, the six-person Windows Collective gathered at the Plaza Bridge Underpass for a one-night-only experimental film screening.

Projecting six separate short films simultaneously in different spots, the show created a gallery of moving images on the walls of the underpass, which is located between the National Arts Centre and the Bytown Museum.

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Bustos

“We use the city as a canvas,” explains Pixie Cram, a member of the collective who has been making experimental films since 2000.

By projecting films onto urban spaces, the collective can create a new form of transient art akin to moving graffiti art, says Cram.

For Ottawa residents, the moving images allow them to discover new ways of using city infrastructure, while for the artists, the outdoor exhibit is an innovative way to showcase their films.

“We use [urban] space as an alternative to the gallery because we want our art to be featured outside of traditional institutions.” says Cram, who presented a film of herself at her kitchen table.

Strolling through the show, which had a good turnout, the public was able to observe each film as if it were a separate painting.

Paul Gordon, an independent filmmaker and film conservator for Library and Archives Canada, presented a short piece on the history of cinema in Ottawa. For those who don’t know, and I certainly didn’t, the first film projection screening in Canada took place in Ottawa in 1896.

Using the then revolutionary Vitascope projector, brothers Andrew and George Holland staged the landmark screening in West End Park, which in 1896 straddled Holland Avenue between Ruskin Avenue and the present Queensway.

The hit of that show was a shot of a man kissing a woman, which as Gordon pointed out was very risqué for Victorian times. The brothers’ memory lives on in Holland Avenue in Hintonburg, a street named after their family.

Further down the underpass, award-winning film maker Bridget Farr, whose films have been screened at over 100 international film festivals and events around the world, showed a very touching and poignant tribute to a close relative, who passed away mere days before the show.

To honour her relative’s memory, Farr replaced her previously planned film with a new short movie that she produced in 12-hours on the same day as the show.

“The movie is called, ‘If we had one more day,’” said Farr, as she explained how the film’s images reflected her memories — shots of yellow roses that her relative liked, pictures of footsteps to symbolize a love of travel, scenes of a swing set to honour a playful personality.

Photo courtesy of Windows Collective

In front of Farr, on the opposing wall, Ainsley Walton used a baby stroller to support her film projector.  Using a scalpel and colour markers, she carefully scratched the film negatives as they spun through the projector. The result was a series of hypnotic lines that appeared on the movie images projected on the wall.

Further away, near the centre of the underpass, Dave Johnson presented a slideshow that studied the decay of 35 millimetre film trailers. By using several techniques, such as burying film in a planter, or wearing it out by sprinkling it with salt, icing sugar and even cat litter, Johnson produced a series of still images splattered with colour. The result reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting.

Finally, film artist Roger Wilson showed a film based on a recent family trip to Cape Breton.

“When we think of the ocean we think of a beach,” said Wilson, as he described the impact of seeing the ocean for the first time in his 42-year-life. “But it’s a different environment, a whole new ecosystem.”

Inspired by this thought, Wilson’s film explored his feelings on how to view the sea, while in a particularly cool touch, used a record player to spool the film.


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