Arts & Entertainment
2 min

American art in Canada’s capital

SAW hosts Red/White/Blue film festival

Michael Robinson describes his video work as "hallucinatory . . . funny nightmares." Credit: Source:
SAW Video is giving a shout-out to some of our more radical neighbours to the south.
A series of outdoor summer screenings, called Red/White/Blue: New American Fringe Film and Video, pays homage to the radical social commentary of contemporary American video artists and filmmakers, including Penny Lane, Jesse McLean and Michael Robinson. All three will be featured in solo screenings and will be in attendance at the event.
Robinson is a queer artist from West Danby, New York and describes his work as “hallucinatory . . . funny nightmares.”
“I’m showing a number of short films,” Robinson says. “My work tends to blur the line between appropriated imagery and original imagery that I’m using to pick apart the ways that our lives and our minds are shaped by media . . . These media artifacts lodged in the back of our memories, coming back to haunt us in new ways.”
The six acclaimed shorts that Robinson plans to show include These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (2010, 13 minutes), Light Is Waiting (2007, 11 minutes) and The General Returns from One Place to Another (2006, 10.5 minutes). While the work isn’t explicitly queer in theme, Robinson says it’s infused with a queer aesthetic.
“All the work has a pretty definite queer sensibility,” Robinson says. “That comes through more so in the atmosphere, with the music and the general twisting of mainstream culture. They celebrate and condemn the way we allow ourselves to be shaped and pushed around by media.”
On July 15, Robinson will be teaming up with Iowa City artist Jesse McLean to give an artist’s talk on the use of found footage and how it intersects with political and social commentary.
“I’m a big fan of Jesse McLean’s work, and I’m excited for her screening and for our artist’s talk on Sunday,” Robinson says. “I haven’t been to Ottawa since I was six or seven years old. That’ll be nice, too.”
A master’s class by Penny Lane on July 21 and a screening of work by young, emerging artists will round out the lineup. The final screening will be called Young Americans, after the David Bowie song, which includes a smattering of queer and trans artists.
Red/White/Blue was curated by Christopher Rohde, who says he has wanted to show the work of these American artists since he first started as SAW Video’s programmer in September 2010.
“[American work] is an under-seen aspect of experimental film and video art and media art,” Rohde says. “Every year, Vimeo has an awards festival where they give awards to best animation or best documentary. They also have an experimental category. Out of curiosity, I watched the one that won Best Experimental that year.”
It was a video by Chris Beckman called Oops, and it impressed Rohde immensely. The more Rohde searched, the more amazing work by American artists he found — work that wasn’t being seen or distributed nearly enough.
“[Beckman] expressed total surprise that his film had not only been nominated, but won. If I remember right, he said it was part of a class project. It was homework. I realized that there were probably many other young, emerging, up-and-coming filmmakers in similar situations. The work is of superior quality, but virtually none of the artists have ever been screened in Ottawa before.”
But, with such divergent themes, techniques and media being employed in the work of the 11 artists featured at Red/White/Blue, what ties it all together for Rohde?

“Exuberance. These are very energetic works. They’re youthful, exciting, colourful and extravagant. They’re just bursting with energy.”