Archive for October, 2010

Mise-en-abîme 1: Ghost Movies: Experimental shorts from the Aro Valley Digital Cinema 1997-2007

Posted in Uncategorized on October 24, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

These are the programme notes for tonight’s screening at the Frederick Street Light and Sound Exploration Society in Wellington, a retrospective of short experimental films from artists associated with the Aro Valley Digital Cinema curated by myself, and featuring one new film by myself… and one to be discussed later…

The Uncomfortable Film Club presents


<placing into infinity…an infinite reproduction of a sequence>

< to put into the centre>

A regularly irregular series of screenings based around buried cinemas of expansion and contraction.

First screening 24/10/10

Ghost Movies: Experimental shorts from the Aro Valley digital cinema 1997-2007

Frederick Street Light and Sound Exploration Society

Frederick St


“The future of cinematography belongs to a new race of solitaries who will shoot films by putting their last cent into it and not let themselves be taken in by the material routines of the trade.” -Robert Bresson

The “minimal realist” feature films of the Aro Valley Digital Cinema are now well documented. Less screened and known is a lively parallel/ related scene producing a large amount of similarly singular work in a short experimental vein.

This is a lively, diverse set of work – mostly previously unseen – emphasising strands of adventurous and lateral responses to the notion of a personal cinema of poverty. All produced for essentially zero funding, by set of individualistic stylists sharing an engagement with the idea of manifesting the caméra-stylo in personal ways, these films make use of a variety of techniques and aesthetic perspectives that will surprise those used to the less expressive and varied palettes of the Aro feature films.

The films:

Haircut (Diane McAllen, 2003, 4 mins)

Usually better known as the producing member of the original Gordon Productions collective, McAllens experimental video work from 1996’s Spirit Level to this series of works tends towards explorations of the textural possibilities of the medium in domestic, diaristic modes, or constructing experimental narratives around anxious or depressed female characters – usually played or referred to in the first person.

In both types of work, there’s a strong attention to the textural and lateral possibilities – characteristically of S-VHS – sometimes with ingeniously transparent variations on techniques like stop motion and painted animation.

Haircut features a variation on a frequent McAllen strategy, refilming – in this case a handheld refilming off a TV screen, of a fixed camera aimed at a mirror – behind the artist unsatisfactorily seeking comfort in a new haircut. Needless to say, even repeatedly re-applied makeup isn’t going to bring much comfort through all these screens…

Faded Memories (The tape is not damaged) (Diane McAllen, 2003, 4 mins)

…But everything else is in this aggressive reworking of a failed film about a failed relationship. Again McAllen is utilising the distinctive colour, grain and bleed of S-VHS refilming with other multiple layers of technological obsolescence to construct a bitter and baffling rejoinder to the hopes and aspirations of another of McAllen’s anxious heroines. Oh yeah, and it’s also a stop motion film that never stops… Perhaps the only way to get past all these memories of failure is just to keep glossing past them…?

Firecat (Nia Robyn, as Robyn V, 1997, 2 mins)

Robyn (also Phipps) is probably best known as the superb female lead in the Aro features Uncomfortable Comfortable, Why Can’t I Stop This Uncontrollable Dancing and Little Bits of Light, but was probably the first person involved with the Aro “scene” to actually start making films. Firecat is typical of the experimental poetics of her style: an enraptured study of the textures and shadows in dialectic of flickering flames and a cat jumping from a tree to a rooftop, set to a clattering soundtrack.

Vera (Colin Hodson, 2007, 6 mins)

The first part of Vera is pure visceral/ kinetic sensation, the joy of making films. Director Hodson and collaborator/ subject Vera play small games of hide and seek while spinning the camera around on a rope – No-one will ever lend Hodson a camera again after this! – in the middle of an nocturnal urban atmosphere.

For the second part, we shift to a static interior, a scene and a tone superficially familiar to those who know Hodson as the evasive lead in Shifter, On and Uncomfortable Comfortable. He and Vera are talking in the background, and it sounds like an intimate scene of disconnection from one of those films… Except here the play is with the expectations of the audience, here the characters are articulate and engaged… and the piece functions as a critique of the limitations of the drama of the other films.

I shot this one evening in late 2005. I wanted to get to know Vera more, and asking her to help me collaborate on a video project was a great way of getting us working together.

The second part of the video is actually a real-time erasing of the second video I wanted her to be in, shot immediately after the first part. For this video, I was wanting to capture non-English speakers talking to me in their native tongue. What I thought would be interesting is that these people would talk to me in a language I do not understand, but, because we have a friendship, there would be some sort of communication anyway – a physical one, demontrated through body language and facial expressions. After I recorded it, Vera was uncomfortable with what I was trying to do. (She states her confusion with my objective in the recording, as you hear). She asked me to erase the recording of her recounting any pets she has had spoken in Ukrainian. So what we see/hear in the second part is the overwriting of the tape, and of course, laying down a new recording in the process.” – Colin Hodson

Smoke (Colin Hodson, 2007, 5 mins)

A striking elegy for a new city about to be lost – more from the fertile series of short works Hodson made in Amsterdam in 2005.

The video camera in Smoke searches. Looking for someone to connect with. Looking in apartments across the road. Anywhere the lights are on. Nobody’s home. But it’s late 2am. So everyone’s asleep okay. Soon a few people wander by: a passing cyclist or some people at the end of the street, drinking done. But they don’t see me, don’t come close enough.

So the city itself offers me some company then, going about its stillness. Same stuff since medieval times. I’m just one person looking across the roofs late at night, but those roofs have been gazed on for hundreds of years. I can’t feel those gazes, connect to them, but I believe they must have existed. My memory of the city will be big, but the city won’t have noticed me. I’m too small.

The only thing I can see that suggests transience at the same scale as me is the blue wisp of steam curling out of that chimney over there. Smoke/steam. Steady. It keeps me company through the whole filming. And I’m filming cause I’m leaving. An accelerated year brought to a close. So the filmmaking is me hanging on. Trying to catch the feeling of the apartment I had, and the street, and neighbours you can’t see, but were there the whole time. You’ll see them, I caught them in other videos.

The sky glows, clouds fed by the light of the city. Light for who though? More people like me? Cause the light’s bleeding out of the city and bouncing off the clouds but there doesn’t seem to be any consciousness/thought behind those lights. The city’s asleep I mean.

Why the steam? What’s going on in that building? Is someone feeding that fire? Does it know about me too? That smoke, that steam, that’s what I can hang onto. It gives me something.” – Colin Hodson

Terminal (Andrew Chappell, 2004, 15 min)

A stranger who is diminished upon arrival at a dead end is played by free jazz saxophonist Rick Jensen with a stern, distant grace, and filmed with a rigour and patience that typifies the Aro features, combined with visual elegance and measured editing tones all its own by Andrew Chappell in this terse study of the tenuous gap between solitary self-possession and desolate loneliness. The emptiness of the city is the key motif here, in a film wholly attuned to the alienating rhythms Wellington can use to welcome visitors.

Chappell’s debut short – he works as a cinematographer both in film industry and on Aro films – famously made lousy genre filmmaker Greg Page say he felt like killing himself during it, a promise he should have been forcibly encouraged to keep. Any attuned audience will find it immediate and mesmerising.

Girl Yawning (Elric Kane, 2004, 6 mins)

Currently resident in L.A., but self identifying as an Aro filmmaker, Kane is probably best known for his feature collaborations with fellow U.S. resident/ lifelong friend Alexander Greenhough (Kissy Kissy, Murmurs, I Think I’m Going). On his own, though, he’s made a rich array of short experimental pieces, many like this one on Pixelvision.

Shot during a period of isolation in 2004, we’re again looking through the alienating effect of multiple frames, as the already garbled nature of online chat room videos is further visually degenerated and fragmented by Pixelvision… The attempted palliative of various and anonymous human contact thus becomes an even deeper, smaller isolation in between the requisite codes and gestures.

Live cinema. Soundtrack composed by Elric Kane and performed by Haulout Seal Orchestra.

Bardo Follies 2 – Burn Baby Burn (Dick Whyte, 10 mins, 2006)

Dick Whyte is definitively the most prolific of the Aro Valley digital filmmakers…

Since the late 90s he’s produced a dizzying amount of experimental film work, much of which remains unseen – although his most recent work is usually produced for and released online (see ). He’s also a theorist, poet, writer, musician and painter – among other things.

This is a sequel (NOT a remake) to Owen Land/George Landow’s classic avant-garde film “Bardo Follies” using an old 16mm projector (thanks Alex) and some film originally from the New Zealand Film Unit (thanks Toby and Melissa). Although the images are projected on 16mm, the film was made digitally by filming the wall.
I was interested in the idea of making sequels to avant-garde films to question the avant-garde’s reliance on the ideology of the “new.” In a postmodern world (where “everything has been done”) how can the avant-garde operate successfully? And why is the avant-garde classically afraid of revisiting ideas?” – Dick Whyte.

Live cinema performed by Dick Whyte.

Curator’s response:

A cinema retrospective is always an interaction with ghosts. With this one, even more so: themes of isolation, disconnection abound, ghosts of relationships, memories, failures bleed through all these works… The same thing is visually expressed through the play with multiple frames and low resolution formats breaking down the image resolution, accuracy, manifestation… and the singular and personal approaches constitute a kind of “ghost genre”, made in ways that are shadows of the traditional film-making apparatus, approximated responses to cinema history well and truly separated from the main lines – left to germinate, then break down in a quiet cul de sac suburb off the side of a small, self-deceiving city of bureaucrats and middle people…

But from here I like some of my ghosts, I don’t want to exorcise them all, they keep me company in my small house. The reason for bringing all these ghosts back tonight is to come to terms with them – to claim a place for them in the world. Isn’t that what a ghost really wants? To validate the death? Otherwise they can get too close.

But any time spent in such a town of damnation – that is, any town anywhere, for an underground artist – usually involves, by necessity, avoiding a too intimate contact…of course it’s not always as simple as that. So, to keep moving, walking around the streets in solitude, listening to the music of the place, is just a normal practice… but they’ll always catch up with you again.

Being alone and intimate with a ghost can provide for an uncertain relationship to solitude. Ghosts aren’t predictable, they don’t manifest in accordance with the laws of physics… Instead they switch on and off, dart from time to time, or place to place. Their physicality is not made manifest but remains perceptible, and obviously…. haunting…

You can’t ever quite capture and contain them, but the process of trying to do so can create something else just as meaningful, impactful. Hopefully.

With this is mind, here are two very different new films that constitute a curatorial response to this programme:

Town of Damnation

AABCD (Both Campbell Walker, 2010)

Mise en Abyme is curated by Campbell Walker, who wrote the notes unless otherwise credited. He can be contacted at, and these notes will be available on his film blog,

Thanks to all the filmmakers, Daniel Beban and Sally Ann McIntyre.


There is an Aro Valley digital group on vimeo:

Dick Whyte’s work can be found at

and at

Colin Hodson is at


Three Nights (1997)

Posted in Releases on October 11, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing

Courtesy of fellow Aro Valley filmmaker Elric Kane, online now is the first film I directed, Three Nights, made in 1997…

[Sadly I’ve had to take this link down for the time being]

When we made it, I had this idea about making a long film about the end of a relationship, and I wanted to develop it with actors, using a lot of improvisation, and a minimal, long take approach. I’d met Colin Hodson in the Victoria University of Wellington film classes we were both taking – he’d recently come back from a period in New York where he’d been working with people like the Wooster Group and Richard Foreman, and I think he was open to something a little more engaged with something new than he was seeing in Wellington’s fairly conservative theatre scene of the time – let alone the even more reserved film scene.  We’d talked about music more than anything, and he was into doing something improvised.

The actress Zoe had been in my then partner Diane McAllen’s experimental short Spirit Level (1996), so we knew her a bit, and she seemed interested then too – although not so much of an extremist in perspective, I think she liked the idea of working within improvisation as well.

So, part of my notion was to create a fictional failing relationship by workshopping and documenting different parts of how the relationship progressed. We had a couple of sessions at Zoe’s house in Newtown – the first time I just filmed them talking to each other, interacting as themselves, the second time, we decided to have a go at pulling together the way they “started out”, or “first got together”.

I really can’t remember if we’d written anything down at all about it, I think there was some plan discussed, but not too much of one. We shot the bedroom scene – there was some action before that, that I didn’t keep, but once it got to the scene that’s intact now, I knew that, firstly I should just keep rolling, and see how long it took Zoe and Colin to exhaust the possibilities… and then soon after, that these weren’t necessarily possibilities they were going to exhaust in a hurry, as long as they were free to respond in the ways they did.

So – this moment seems critical to my early practice now – the idea that the best way to get a good performance from an actor, was to allow them to be as close to a person as possible…

And the best way to do that was often to provide an environment where they could do that… and to trust the actor you chose to come up with a lot of the details of their character on their own. At this stage the easiest way to do that seemed to be to allow them to be as close to themselves as possible… And of all the films I made, Three Nights is probably the one that contains the least constructed performances – but they are still performances too, full of choices and variations, happening all the time – as always occurs in an improvised and open environment.

We all felt a bit excited after the night’s shoot – it felt like we were onto something! There was a student video awards at Vic coming up, so we decided to try and turn our night’s work into a short about the start of a relationship. After Diane and I did a paper edit, we went into Zoe’s partner Jake’s office and edited it from camera onto the S-VHS deck sitting there in about 2 or 3 hours. And, film made – I don’t think we spent much money at all on it, beyond an S-VHS tape for the master to complete on.

When we showed it at the student video things, it was pretty much ignored in favour of the usual hack-in-training dreck that works at such events… But hey we liked it, and as was the style of the times, showed it at the 1998 Fringe Film Fest [a phenomenon of the 90s,  that used to be a serious place you could show and talk to people engaged in making films before it got ruined by middlebrow industry producers who hated to hide their scorn for people making work they couldn’t understand and about which I can get really steamed up if you want to hear it]. We got a good evening slot, and a big crowd for our session… and here, people liked it! People laughed and responded, people liked the performances, the tone, the directness of it.

However one person who’d not found it a completely positive experience was actress Zoe. After seeing it, she decided she wasn’t up for doing a whole big film in this way… So we Diane, Colin and I regrouped, rethought, showed a few people this little short – one of them was Vic film lecturer/ historian Russell Campbell, who earlier that year had not let me into his Film Production course, which had been running at the same time as we were shooting. Russell later coined the notion of the Aro Valley group, and has been one of the main commentators on it.

In fact I insisted Russell let me show the film after class one day, and also watching was a filmmaker who had gotten into the course, Robyn Venables. She expressed a keenness for the film and in “working with Colin”, so she became our new lead actor… And remained an increasingly confident lead actor for the 3 first features I made, the second two as Nia Robyn. As she recalls:

“I freaking love this film. I remember the day I saw it. It was at the end of film crit class and it was the first day i really liked you CW. Before that you were that slightly annoying guy with the encyclopaedic knowledge of film that always dominated the class…”

Watching the film now… I notice a couple things I find interesting. One is the intrinsically New Zealand nature of these characters – All the films I’ve made have been about the way relationships function in NZ culture, and this is quite aggressively so… In ways that I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable about. I would then have feel very uncertain writing a character who says the things that Zoe does in the film about sexual politics, but they do seem very much in line with women I have known, and the way in which they are awkwardly articulated is even more so…

The other thing I notice is how aggressively unpolished it is! Obviously shot in one night, obviously artificial in structure,  there is no effort to disguise the minimal nature of it, you can hear me snickering, hear the power cable banging on the floor, the reframings are rough as hell and not cut out, they’re  wearing the same clothes for every night of it – But it partly works because of that – I’m in hindsight, really pleased to think this is the first film I made. It feels like  all the attention was put into getting the right things right, and none whatsoever to anything else – and more, for the angry young “enfant terrible of NZ filmmaking” I started getting lazily tagged as later on – all the choices were the opposite of  the ones people were making in the NZ films around us at the time, all so concerned with physical craft, process invisibility and script structure…

Drones for Marina 3

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2010 by uncontrollabledancing


Another film in the Drones series of experimental shorts.

This one is called Drones For Marina 3: Rethinking A Glib Gesture (an autofictional documentary).

In related news, there is now an Aro Valley Digital vimeo group at

Lots of work there – everything from here of course, but also film by Dick Whyte (who’s set the group up) and Elric Kane up  already – including Elric’s insider feature doco on  the Aro Valley digital movement, Campbell Walker is a Friend of Mine.