Toronto
5 min

Deviant marriage of convenience

Inside Out makes a commitment to development

DEFLOWERED. In the Video Virgins program, theatre artist Clinton Walker (right) was partnered up with mentor Suzy Richter to direct his first-ever video "Stray Brides." Credit: Paula Wilson

If you’ve ever had the desire to make a video, but felt too intimidated or had no idea where to start, you can take comfort in the fact that there are several programs screening first-time works at Inside Out. In addition to the popular Queer Youth Digital Video Project, now in its sixth year, Inside Out offers two new programs – Video Virgins and the TAIS Cartoon Show – illustrating the festival’s commitment to development, for both new and established artists. These three programs alone contribute 28 world premieres to this year’s Inside Out.



Though you might expect watching someone’s first video project is akin to eating the first meal made by a five-year-old child, I find quite the opposite to be true. More often than not, such first-time screenings wind up being festival highlights. First-time works often lack both conventionality and pretension. This is a good thing. These new works have a sense of sincerity and energy that can dissipate with subsequent experience. They act as a jumping-off point for other aspiring videomakers, and help bring new people into the art world. Good or bad, interesting or dull, it is hard to deny the importance of such programs.



This year the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS; Aawn.com/tais), a nonprofit group dedicated to the production and promotion of animation, has produced the TAIS Queer Cartoon Show, a collection of 11 new animated videos from first-time animators. Curators and faciliatators Martha Newbigging and Almerinda Travassos kept things simple, demonstrating basic stop-motion animation techniques using digital video and computer software, rather than delving into the more complex world of film animation. After a few workshops, the artists and facilitators laboured away, solving problems as they came up.



Despite what the title might conjure up, these videos are not simple cartoons, but rather an eclectic group of animation that includes a perverted revision of Gumby and Pokey, dancing Timbits (yes, you read that right) and moving hair. In Lesbo, a collaboration between filmmakers Hope Thompson and Simone Jones, two animated rubber ducks re-enact the opening scene in Psycho. As Jones and Thompson put it, “The characters are discussing the restrictions on their relationship… this scene takes on a queer urgency when animated by female ducks.”



Stephen Andrews’ QuickTime Interruptus is about surfing for Internet porn and battling pop-up windows. Interruptus is made up of more than 200 full-colour drawings – at 10 drawings a day, it makes for a slow process. Though the intent is different, animation seems a logical extension of Andrews’ drawings and paintings, many of which are based on sources like filmstrips and newsreels. Rather than stopping motion with still drawings, this time out Andrews gets to create motion.



Eugenio Salas says his piece of animation, Snack Pack, is a “story of the evolutionary change” in the artist’s life since he came to Canada from Mexico. He uses animated Timbits to represent the cells in his body. “Working at Tim Hortons is a rite of passage for many immigrants to Canada,” says Salas, who sees the donut chain as a Canadian cultural icon.



In 2-4-7 Margaret Moores depicts the celebration of the May 24 party weekend as two women make their way through Group Of Seven-inspired landscapes. Moores studied the Group Of Seven in art college, where, she says, the paintings were considered sacrosanct – so she wanted to use their imagery in a different kind of way.



Overall, the animators in this program are an excited bunch, eager to return to their drawing boards and snack packs for more stop-motion frolicking.



Other participating artists include JP Hornick, Leslie Peters, Samuel Chow, Roy Mitchell, Richard Fung, Tim McCaskell, Susan Justin, Shannon Oliffe and Barb Taylor Coyle. Following the screening (at 7:30pm on Wed, May 26) there’s a Q & A session moderated by John Greyson.



On the other side of the screen, we have Video Virgins, a program that’s quite a bit more experimental than most at Inside Out (7pm on Thu, May 27). Good or bad, almost everyone can remember their first time, but certainly not everyone has been able to capture it on video. The idea behind the Video Virgins program was to pair up would-be videomakers with more (ahem) experienced artists to make collaborative videos. After meeting, these pairs were sent off to Trinity Square Video, a not-for-profit production house, where they were generously given use of equipment and editing suites.



Setting up imposed collaborations among a diverse range of 20 artists could have had potentially disastrous results, as not everyone’s first pairing is filled with magic. The project required a lot of management from its three curators: Patrick Borjal, Michael Vokins and Celina Virani. Each co-curator had a group of pairs to keep tabs on, to help with problem solving and to reinforce production schedules.



Pairings include first-timer Andil Gosine with veteran producer Robin Cass, Pierre Bonhomme with Stev’nn Hall, Helen McKnight with Gary Akenhead, Florence Heung with Mishann Lau and S Kate Moore with Alec Butler.



Borjal says arranging the couples took a lot of careful planning. The process “turned the project into a dating service,” he says, laughing. Next, they wanted to ensure that any conflict would be “fun.” There were to be no break ups. Borjal, Vokins and Virani all had to try and find common ground between what the first-timer had in mind to produce and what the mentor was hoping to get out of the project.



Borjal likens the production process to being in a romantic relationship where one partner often has more experience than the other. He also mentions the “heaviness” of first-time relationships and mentorship collaborations, saying that a person’s first time is often “immensely influential,” and can determine how, and if, they work on future projects.



For many, the experience of making a first video is profoundly moving. Theatre artist Clinton Walker says the experience made him feel like he was tasting fine wine for the first time. “I’m planning on pursuing video diligently from here on in,” he says; in fact, his second video is already underway. Walker, who is more at home on the stage than behind the camera, was paired up with veteran Super-8 filmmaker Suzy Richter.



The resulting video, Stray Brides, proved to be a learning experience for both. “I think it’s a really exciting program,” says Richter. “The people beginning, have a new moment – it is very inspiring for them. But it was also very inspiring for me as well.” Richter’s influence on the final project was more conceptual than technical. “Clinton had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do,” she says. “It was mostly a matter of fine tuning and bouncing ideas off of each other.”



Stray Brides is based on an idea that Walker had for years. He initially envisioned the project as a series of still photographs, but that all changed when the opportunity to make a video arose. Walker says Stray Brides is, in part, a response to all the recent hubbub about gay marriage. “It throws societal pressure to get married and find a soul mate back in its face.” In the video, a woman goes through her life rituals, from wandering the streets to sleeping and showering, the whole time wearing a wedding dress. Walker sees the wedding dress as symbolic of the social expectations on single people to pair up. The bride recognizes these influences for what they are, and goes through a journey of acceptance and self-love.



Perhaps Walker unknowingly sums up both of these programmes when he recalls that going to Inside Out and seeing his friends producing videos made him realize, “It doesn’t have to be a daunting process,” that anyone can make an interesting video if they work at it.



Whether your interests lie in animation or experimentation, Inside Out seems to have it all. And if you are still not ready to lose your virginity, you can always watch as these folks lose theirs.