BEYOND/ IN WESTERN NEW YORK 2005
“Kill Road by Christina Zeidler is the absurd tale of a dysfunctional family caring for a raccoon that they ran over. Shooting live action scenes with frame by frame animation, Kill Road creates a surreal atmosphere of Brechtian estrangement while at the same time, resonating with deeply felt emotion. Kill Road is that rare film that is at once ugly and beautiful, funny and sad, claustrophobic and revelatory.”
BEYOND THE FRINGE TAKE ONE, MARCH/JUNE 2004 by LARISSA FAN
COPYRIGHT 2004 Canadian Independent Film & Television Publishing Association COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group
TORONTO’S Christina Zeidler is an artist who is hard to pigeonhole. Zeidler uses a blend of styles for her films that defies easy categorization, combining formal experimentation and narrative elements, film and video, and often switching gears completely from piece to piece. Her work also displays a playfulness and sense of humour that is not often found in the solemn world of experimental film. While this combination may sometimes prevent her work from being taken seriously, that doesn’t seem to faze her, and it certainly isn’t slowing her down. She has produced a spate of films recently, ranging from an abstract formal exploration (Fartasia) to an experimental narrative (Kill Road) to a Web project (Bulk Bin).
ZEIDLER’S approach to film is low–budget, process-based and do-it-yourself, leaving room for play, lucky accidents and just plain kookiness. Her early works, such as Desire, Soulsucka and Galaxy Girls, are performance-based videos with women in the central roles. Galaxy Girls, for example, features a group of female aliens in a park whose movement is almost a dance. While the videos are fun and subversive, emotional depth isn’t their strength. Her breakthrough piece came in 2001 with Traces, a bittersweet autobiographical tale about the death of her dog, Mica, that delves into emotional territory not explored in her earlier work.
Her recent films, Kill Road (16 mm, 14 minutes, 2003) and Machine Guts (Super 8, 3 minutes, 2002), are her strongest to date and signal a maturing artist. Kill Road is the story of a dysfunctional family that runs into a raccoon while out for a drive. The parents are in denial about the moribund state of the animal–the father (Deirdre Logue) puts it to bed and reads to it, while the mother (Allyson Mitchell) is an energetic sort who thinks all it needs is a bit of fresh air and exercise. Meanwhile, both of them ignore their increasingly despondent daughter (Mi Soles), who eventually decides to take matters into her own hands. The surreal nature of the story is amplified by the fact that the raccoon is an actor in a fur hat and makeup, the father is played by a woman and the characters’ movements are pixilated through frame-by-frame animation. With its family melodrama, pastel colour scheme and dubbed voice work, it’s a bit like an old silent movie mixed with a NBC After School Special, and altogether unique.
Machine Guts came out of Zeidler’s Web project, Bulk Bin, which was produced at The Banff Centre’s Big Rock Candy Mountain Residency program. Zeidler made a video a day for a month and broadcast them on the Internet. The videos were necessarily limited by the constraints of the daily deadline and the broadcast medium, a process that forced her to “let go of the preciousness of film for public consumption” and produce quick and dirty works. Bulk Bin also involved an intense amount of collaboration, with Zeidler often enlisting the aid of other artists at the Centre. Machine Guts is the result of one such collaboration–artist Bill Burns provided the concept while Zeidler wrote the script. Cameron Bailey of Toronto’s weekly Now magazine called the result “the single weirdest film at this summer’s Splice This! Super 8 Festival.” Machine Guts features a deer in a business suit (or more accurately, a figure with the body of a human and the head of a deer) typing away at a computer in a dark room, while a voice-over narrates the story of Anne, a bored retail worker. It could be that the deer is narrating what it types, or it could be that the deer is in fact Anne. In either case, Machine Guts is weird, original and completely engrossing.
Christina Zeidler is reaping the benefits of her years of experimentation to develop works that are unique and entertaining, with a dark edge. She is, as they say, “one to watch.” Both Kill Road and Machine Guts will be screening at Toronto’s Images Festival of Independent Film and Video, April 15-24.
Larissa Fan is a Toronto-based filmmaker and liaison officer at the Canadian, Filmmakers Distribution Centre.
CAMERON BAILEY’S TOP 10 LOCAL FILMMAKERS by CAMERON BAILEY
NOW Magazine Online Edition, VOL. 23 NO. 17 Dec 25 – 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 NOW Communications Inc.
Christina Zeidler screened the single weirdest film in this summer’s Splice This! super-8 festival, which is never easy. Machine Guts is an eerie, arresting story conceived by a deer. Zeidler also completed the domestic breakdown short Kill Road this year, and teamed up with Allyson Mitchell in a collective called Freeshow Seymour . It’s named after a schoolyard dirty joke that I somehow missed. True to her bad self, Zeidler works in film, not video.
CHRISTINA ZEIDLER’S GOT GUTS.
LOCAL CROSS-POLLINATOR’S EXPERIMENTS IN EMOTIONAL HONESTY HIT HOME by WENDY BANKS
Cover Story NOW MAGAZINE | APR 15 – 21, 2004 | VOL. 23 NO. 33
MACHINE GUTS (2003), directed by Christina Zeidler, 3 minutes, part of the Trace Elements shorts program, Saturday (April 17), 7 pm; KILL ROAD (2003), directed by Zeidler, 14 minutes, part of the Ticklish Subject shorts program, April 24, 7 pm. Both at the Images Festival Of Independent Film And Video, Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex), through April 24. For this week’s complete schedule, see page 100. www.imagesfestival.com
Christina Zeidler is fascinated and outraged by roadkill. Her eyes are round, bright hazel-brown ” an intelligent-animal colour ” and direct as she bemoans the ways humans treat animals.
“Animals are like the garbage of our culture, and yet we have this strong connection to them. It’s a tension that’s really evident with pets. There’s this netherworld where people live with their pets in forbidden relationships that they can’t talk about in society.”
We’re perched on barstools in a sunny corner of the magnificent ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel, the family business where she works as property manager. We’re discussing her films, particularly the two being shown this week as part of the Images festival, Kill Road and Machine Guts.
In Guts, the shorter film, a deer (created by artist Bill Burns) narrates a story about an alienated mall worker in a deliriously deadpan voice as he types it into his laptop.
In Kill Road, a family run over and kill a raccoon, then pretend they haven’t. Its dreamy, stop-motion sepia look and banjo soundtrack combine with ludicrous characters and searing emotional honesty to make it absurd on the surface and weepy at the core.
Both films are playful, experimental in form and technique, but also accessible. They’ve got narratives, for starters, and are funny and explicit about at least some of their subtext, which doesn’t make them any less resonant emotionally. It’s almost like an indie rock aesthetic.
Zeidler sees the connection. “I have this politic that art is part of your everyday life. I make no distinctions about who’s an artist. I love the idea of cultures where the undertaker’s a poet. “That’s what’s compelling to me about zine culture, do-it-yourself culture, band culture. I love playing in a band, because I’m not a musician and I play a lot with people who are actually musicians. In the same way, I love working with people who haven’t got a clue about film. They’re going to bring things to it that I would never have thought of, and I can help them make it work. I want to free things up from the definitions of what makes you a filmmaker, what makes you a visual artist.” Don’t get the wrong impression ” DIY does not mean sloppy. “I’m very labour-intensive with my work. Otherwise, it’s too raw. I like to play with ideas and mould them. I’m a crafter. I have a fascination with the minute hands-on detail.”
Kill Road is probably the most fastidious piece of work she’s done. She shot it frame by frame, with the actors moving in slow motion. When she dubbed in the sound, it didn’t match up exactly, so she had to re-photograph the entire thing to make it fit. “It almost killed me to make that film,” she laughs. “I’d be sitting in the dark, with little tears squeezing out, asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Everyone else works in digital!’” The answer is, because she likes the control part. “I like being a master of it, learning all these processes. You never know what medium I’ve used. It’s manipulated ®¢ you can feel that my greasy fingers have been in there. But it also has to be seamless, because if it looks like it was difficult to make, you’re losing people to the technique. “I’m a control freak. That’s part of the existential crisis I have with my work. I am the master of this universe ®¢ but ultimately, I’m really not controlling anything.”
Relinquishing control is a major theme in her work, both on- and offscreen. It’s one of the main ideas she addresses in her masterpiece, Traces, the intensely moving eulogy for her dog, Mica. It’s also something she’s learning about in her collaborations with other artists. With her friend Allyson Mitchell, she’s been touring Freeshow Seymour, a collaborative retrospective. “We use it to explore the crush on film that we have. Both of us have had the experience of wanting to make art, and then doing it, getting involved, and that’s such an exciting transformative process.”
That inclusive, collaborative cross-pollination is also something she’s trying to encourage at the Gladstone, which, under Zeidler’s management, is becoming a hotbed of creativity. In the next two weeks, the hotel hosts artists from the Images festival, the Broken Pencil magazine launch, OCAD’s performance art program’s year-end presentation, and Lost, by New York artist Kathe Izzo, who will commit to falling in love with anyone for a day.
Christina took over the property management of the hotel from big sister Margie, who also runs the warren of galleries and arts businesses at 401 Richmond West. Her father, Eberhard, is an architect involved with the Toronto city planning board, and city planning guru Jane Jacobs is a friend of the family. “We grew up thinking about cities and what makes a city great. We sit around every Sunday and talk about urban planning issues. “I’ve always loved connecting people. I’m just as happy to see other people doing art as I am to do it myself, and that’s the orgy freakout of fun that is this place.” the end Local cross-pollinator’s experiments in emotional honesty hit home .