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Can You Hear That?

by Sarolta Jane Cump

The first time I met Deirdre was at the Independent Imaging Retreat in rural Ontario, yet another project in Canadian experimental filmmaking she is an integral part of. I was there for a week from San Francisco, sleeping in a tent without a fly on the outskirts of a golf course in a mobile home community. I had vastly underestimated the time it would take to walk the mile to Phil Hoffman’s farm for the morning workshops. I tried to hitchhike to no avail. A ‘farmhand’ finally had to come and pick me up. As I ambled sheepishly down to the Barn to join the handtinting workshop, Deirdre looked up and shouted “Hitch! You made it!” and smiled. She had stuck me with my required moniker for the week. Sometimes amidst the unknown, naming can be a surprisingly comforting thing.

A year passes, and more. I watch Deirdre’s movie Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes. These pieces hold a familiar resonance, something I can’t quite put my finger on. The pictures collide over and over again like the determined cyclists in Crash, preserved forever in their wrecking. “Did you hear that?” Deirdre asks in this tape. I hear Deirdre naming and unnaming with precision the struggle of the discourse in between.

Even depicted as a child in home movies, Deirdre is unblinking and faces the camera dead on. This occurred to me the other day while I was winding through the film archives at the CFMDC. I was inspecting for the many signs of damage that crop up as film stock slowly and inevitably decays. Sometimes you open a can and the sour smell of vinegar comes wafting out. Sometimes there are flecks of mold. Always you have to put the film on a split reel and inspect it, slowly turning the crank of the viewing station, watching as each frame passes. Watching for an aberration. Each moment fixed in time comes apart, as the optical soundtrack squiggles helplessly by. It is focused and tedious work yet an oddly relaxing practice.

Deirdre is volunteering on this project as well. Executive Director of the CFMDC, she stays after hours to examine the prints. She is unblinking and tireless, her face composed and smooth in intense concentration leaning over the viewing bench. Under the squeaking of reels, I wonder if I can hear her mind endlessly turning.

To the volunteers she tells the story of the demise of her fish aquarium. A hobby she started because she was told it is relaxing to watch fish in an aquarium. Ah yes relaxing. The daily anticipation of checking the tank for dead fish. The ordeal of moving with the fish: involving precise measurements of water temperatures, PH levels(is it too alkaline?), re-heating and cooling water, fish in bags, fish in buckets. Fish in toilet.

Deirdre finishes the story and goes back to buzzing about, making sure everyone has taken a break. And again with the naming thing. We haven’t chosen a name yet for this adhoc group of volunteer film inspectors though Deirdre is insistent on nicknames.

Onscreen, the shadow of a figure dances unselfconsciously while texts describe her interior states. Hands assembling and reassembling a tomato. Over and over. Deceptively simple and opposing actions. Why Always Instead of Just Sometimes is a document of the various incarnations of someone moving between the named and the act of unnaming.

“She looks like Golem”, my housemate says of Deirdre inEclipse. I am taken aback by this comment, but in her vulnerability Deirdre appears almost unrecognizable. She somehow appears unmasked in this mask of blue light. This is not a face I’ve ever seen before. But the balance of exposure and vulnerability that is present in Eclipse is balanced in a new way. Her wit still emerges, but something more has been revealed. Another deeper layer. The process has shifted, we are left without a ritual to name or contain the nakedness we are shown. This time, she is asking something more of us. Listen, can you hear it?

Sarolta Jane Cump documents the slow but inevitable decline of U.S. empire working in film, video and the hybrid bastard of the two. She is currently working on her M.F.A. at York University.