Spectres of Shortwave
The final day of the 36th Atlantic Film Festival was a good one after a great week. It’s the point where the long days start to catch up, but there is a burst of energy as you realize that you’re seeing the last of the films for this year. One of my goals this year has been to see more films directed by women, and on the final day of the festival all three of the films that I saw were directed by women.
First up was a documentary from the NFB called Angry Inuk. Written and directed byAlethea Arnaquq-Baril it’s a look at the role that the seal hunt plays in the lives of Inuit who live in the north. It’s an important perspective and a personal documentary that provides context as we follow the struggle to explain and resolve a complex issue. We meet people trying to make a living and how boycotts have had a detrimental effect on the economy of communities who rely on seals for food, clothing, and their economy.
The final film that was part of the 1KWAVEATLANTIC initiative films screening at the festival this year was Koumbie’s film Ariyah & Tristan’s Inevitable Breakup. A film that embraces constraints by relying on strong lead actors and clever use of a location, it’s a great story that captures the essence of a relationship from start to finish. With the script cowritten by the leads and with a crew that uses the confined space of an apartment as a challenge to tell the story in an interesting way, it doesn’t feel gimmicky and has some real heart of depth. While the charismatic leads could carry the story as a play, it’s the clever construction of the shots and the action that elevate the film even more. It’s a great example of how to make an interesting film by assembling a talented team and telling a story that feels grounded in the truth.
One of the films I had been anticipating the most and the film I chose to end the festival with as Amanda Dawn Christie’s experimental documentary Spectres of Shortwave. Right from the beginning it is intriguing with a crisp and mysterious sound design and gorgeous images shot on 35mm film. It explores the idea and place where 13 shortwave transmission towers stood on the Tantramar Marshes close to Sackville, New Brunswick. With the soundtrack simulcast to the airwaves on Wave Farm Radio while the film screened, it was a magical evening exploring a vanishing broadcast method.
The towers have always fascinated me and I was lucky to visit them when they were standing. My final visit to the towers was with Amanda Dawn Christie, years before decommissioning. In her documentary she assembles stories from those who worked and lived around the towers and the strange and wonderful things that connect with them. The images, sound, and interviews are all blended together in a mesmerizing way as you are immersed in a unique world. Using contact microphones that she built herself, Christie fills the soundtrack with the sounds created by the towers. It’s haunting and beautiful to have the voices of the towers accompany the images and it’s emotional and heartbreaking as we see the towers falling. It’s a powerful work of art that made me see that part of the world differently and transported me away from my concerns into a world between memory, history, and geography.
The festival is done for another year and I’m full of images and sounds from the films and conversations shared during the week. It’s a great filmmaking and film watching community that we have here and always so great to be surrounded by it for a week every September.