The Image Before Us: A History of Film in British Columbia – Take 6
- Hommage à Kirk Tougas
- B.C. Film History
- August 10, 2022 7:00
Kirk Tougas, founding director of The Cinematheque and heartbeat of film culture in 1970s Vancouver, was a key contributor to the historic wave of avant-garde filmmaking that erupted out of our fair city at the turn of the ’70s. His heady work, like those of fellow West Coast experimentalists David Rimmer and Al Razutis (to name but two), could variously be described as structuralist, materialist, conceptual—the ontology, the very what-ness, of film, his subject par excellence. (McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is here a salient aphorism to invoke.) But it is his sterling career as a documentary cinematographer—one of Canada’s foremost—that Tougas is today probably best recognized for. His collaborations with directors Nettie Wild, Linda Ohama, Hugh Brody, and Sturla Gunnarsson have resulted in some of B.C.’s most celebrated, seminal achievements in nonfiction cinema, a distinction of note for this series.
Occasioned by our 50th anniversary, this “Image Before Us” hommage to The Cinematheque’s first torchbearer showcases his dual métier as avant-garde art maker and documentary cinematographer.
Letters from Vancouver
66 min. DCP
Newly restored and enjoying revival screenings globally, Letters from Vancouver twins two of Kirk Tougas’s most acclaimed and abrasive avant-garde films—The Politics of Perception and its companion, The Framing of Perception (originally titled Letter from Vancouver), both from 1973. The rigorous, unrelenting Politics repeats a 50-second trailer for vigilante thriller The Mechanic to the point of audiovisual oblivion, each loop accelerating the entropy of the film and the destruction of the “mechanic” (Charles Bronson), himself a destroyer. Legend has it when the film showed at Oregon State University, a student snapped and attacked the screen! Framing builds on Politics’s structuralist aesthetic and critique of mass-media culture, here through a caustic meeting of stock footage and counterpoint sloganeering, followed by a psychedelic strobe show that reduces film to its primal figure-ground binary.
This marvellous and historically important diptych reveals Kirk Tougas as an experiential cinema innovator. Each film has a unique narrative gambit that is full of tension, surprise, and finally joy. – Harry Killas
Advisory: Letters from Vancouver contains strobing effects that may affect photosensitive viewers.
Gerrie & Louise
75 min. DCP
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson (Air India 182) and shot by Kirk Tougas, this Emmy-winning documentary tells a harrowing, fascinating, and profoundly touching story. At its centre is a marriage that has to contend with staggering issues of betrayal and trust—a relationship that serves as a microcosm for the moral compromise holding peace together in post-apartheid South Africa. Colonel Gerrie Hugo, a seasoned veteran of covert wars, was brought back to South Africa for the Apartheid Government’s “Total Onslaught” against the African National Congress. Louise Flanagan, an acclaimed journalist, wrote stories about South Africa’s hit squads, and became the chief investigator of the Truth Commission in the Eastern Cape Province. Gunnarsson’s deeply insightful film helps us to examine the human beings behind covert operations against the ANC.
This potent documentary, full of complexities and contradictions that continue to resonate today, shows Kirk Tougas at the top of his game as a creative collaborator in documentary and cinematography, whose many films as cinematographer have threaded through this series since our first edition. – Harry Killas