Phil Hoffman
Labyrinth of Memory

Film Screening, Friday, March 23th, KIAC Ballroom, 7 pm
(admission by donation)

Since his arrival on the Canadian experimental film scene in the late 1970s, Toronto based filmmaker Philip Hoffman has long been recognized as Canadas pre-eminent diary filmmaker. He has been using aspects of his own life to deconstruct the Griersonian legacy of documentary practice in Canada. Working directly upon the material of film, Hoffman pays careful attention to the way one perceives by foregrounding the image and its creation. Poetic, personal, provocative, and perceptive, the films of Philip Hoffman constitute one of the most important bodies of work in Canadian independent cinema.

All films screened in their original 16mm format.

Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion
6 min., 1984, sound: Mike Callich
The bus stopped on the Mexican highway, placing us in full view of a young boy, motionless, on the hot pavement. In this film, the incident is revealed through a poetic text, derived from my written journals. The poetry mixes primarily with Mexican streetscapes which compliment the text in a tonal sense. Most images are 28 seconds long, the breath of the 16mm Bolex camera. A lone saxophone (Mike Callich) weaves its way through the narrative, blending to make stronger the tones and accentuations of the images. (PH) Music by Mike Callich.

Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion is a handheld travelogue of North America, presented in the unbroken 28-second shots of [Hoffman's] spring-wind camera and the intertitles of a Mexican journey. Somewhere Between... is a Catholic drama of life and death played out in the streets of North America. Its gesture is a public circumstance: a horn band in Guadalajara, a Catholic procession in Toronto, distant passing traffic in Colorado. These scenes are presented, each in their turn, as separate and discrete events moving between titles describing a boy lying dead. They are a discourse that moves a geography of surface into concert with a transcendental history, a history of death." - Michael Hoolboom, Vanguard

In Mexico, during the collection of footage for what eventually became `Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion, 1984, a bus on which Philip Hoffman was riding stopped, and a woman came screaming across the field. Her little boy had been run over and killed by the bus. Phil watched from inside with camera in hand, trying to decide whether to film or not. He didnt. He can attest to the event, he says it happened, but he doesnt have evidence to back up his claim because he didnt turn the camera on. Later, at the Grierson Seminar, `Somewhere BetweenĶ is screened, an entire film structured around the death of a child and the absent image of it, and a news correspondent whod made a number of films about Vietnam approaches Hoffman: Phil, I really enjoyed the discussion, but you know when you were in the editing room, didnt you just wish you had the footage? I put the camera down. The film is a cinemato-poetic account of an event, of the experience of an event, the evidentiary image of which is missingĶ - Mike Cartmell, Landscape with Shipwreck


?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film)

23 min., 1986, Sound: Tucker Zimmerman

"Philip Hoffman's ?O,Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) uses a diary format to skirt along the edge of someone else's filmed narrative (Peter Greenaway's A Zed & Two Noughts), and to trace the anatomy of pure image-making. 'Pure' is both the right and the wrong word: Hoffman is a man addicted to the hermetic thisness of filmed images, and plagued by the suspicion that these images, far from being pure, are really scabs torn away from the sores of the world. Found footage shot by his grandfather (a newsreel cameraman) is the starting point for Hoffman's meditations on the illusion of visual purity, and on the distance between the 'neutral' image and the value-laden narrative that it can be made to serve. It is a moral distance, one that this filmmaker surveys with a wary fascination." - Robert Everett-Green

?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) is ostensibly about the making of Peter Greenaway's feature film, A Zed and Two Noughts, the production of which Phil Hoffman was invited to the Netherlands to observe. However, Hoffman's film actually concerns the terms and conditions under which it was itself made. In part, the film translates actuality and memory into invention and fiction in which the symbolic father is cast as a real ancestor. Hoffman rewrites the Canadian documentary tradition into a family memory and romance. - Blaine Allan, A Play of History

Philip Hoffman uses the pretext of shooting a documentary on the set of Peter Greenaways new film A Zed and Two Noughts to pursue his investigation of the medium. Hoffman continues the odyssey-diary he began in his earlier films of trying to assign coherence and meaning to the fragments of truth defined as experience. At the same time, he is deeply influenced by Greenaways approach to the documentary, which is to say, a cross between experimental and a near total rejection of the traditional form. ?O, Zoo! is a metaphor, the filming of the filming of a fiction film. It is also a puzzle, whose pieces, once together, lend themselves to reflect a picture of dissemblance. - Gary Evans, 1986 Grierson Seminar

Hoffman creates a documentary that is a fiction and a fiction that is a personal document. In so doing, he engages the viewer in a process, which seeks to understand the motivations behind the making of not only Greenaways film, but any film. For while Greenaway has no compulsion to harness his images to his structural premises, Hoffman echoes this lack of compunction by refusing to show the audience the footage of the elephant struggling to stand up. And while Greenaways flamingos scattered in disarray, behind the scenes find other resonance. For Hoffmans framing of the flamingos demonstrates not only the fiction of an order, but evokes a sense of beauty that is found in the chaos of flamingos unfettered by context, unrestrained by narrative. - Dot Tuer, Vanguard

The alternate title of ?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film)- is a key for tracing our changing relationship to the text as a documentary and/or fiction. ?O, Zoo! begins as a documentary, the alternate title at this point refers to Greenaways A Zed and Two Noughts as the fiction in the making. However, as Hoffmans film reveals the processes of its own construction, those discourse indigenous to the Canadian documentary tradition, ?0, Zoo! swings to the side of fiction. Here, (the making of a fiction film) refers not Greenaways film, but to itself. Yet the final sequence with the dying elephant forcefully restrains us from calling ?0, Zoo! purely fiction. Hoffmans film cannot be situated categorically as either documentary or fiction; ?O, Zoo! is a film about naming which itself resists being named. - Paul Matusek, The Independent Eye

NowĶ I guess it has to do with that dominant idea that the purpose of photography and film is that it is to tell us something about the past. I think that too narrow a view, and that, more importantly, photographs and films should be considered as devices, which help us through the present. In ?O, Zoo! the diarists voice-over relates how the image of the elephant suffering on the ground, trying to get up, is shot, and then the diarist puts the film in the refrigerator and doesnt develop itĶ In personal terms this event in the film relates back to my preoccupation with photography as a youth. I was the family photographer to one who took pictures of family events.

Well, in the old country there is a tradition to take pictures of the dead in the funeral home. So when my grandfather died - this is my German grandfather, my fathers father - an uncle of mine asked me to come to the funeral parlour to photograph my grandfather. I went on the last day, before everyone else, and took the pictures. Anyway, I just put the film in the freezer. I couldnt face the image I had made at that time. I developed it, finally, after I had finished ?O, Zoo! but I had stored the film in the freezer for about ten years. - Philip Hoffman


15 min., 1996, Sound: Tucker Zimmerman

Chimera is a patchwork picture of several places, peoples and spaces. The splayed visual documents inner fluctuations and explosive exteriors during the time of terrific change. Chimera is a multi-headed beast, a fish of remarkable appearance, illusion. Chimera is a collective chant.

The film consists of collected, diaristic images amassed through Hoffmans travels. Uluru,... Russian shoppers, a Cairo market, and day to day images from home and away.... make floating appearances. These have been gathered on the run, and then reconstituted with an uncanny ephemeral floating rhythm, a dance of light, and replaying, with commendable control, the idea of visual music, visual jazz. Though the method of collection may have had an air of arbitrariness about it, the meticulous construction and focus on rhythm in the finished piece suggest an artist who has learnt to master technique so as to let it speak for him about other things. - Dirk de Bruyn, Melbourne Film Festival Catalogue 1996

In 1989 I finished the film Kitchener-Berlin and put a close to a cycle of work which dealt directly with my-self, and how self is expressed/constructed cinematically. At the same time I took my old Super 8 camera out of the closet, and began collecting images, using the single-frame-zoom. Cubist in its visual delivery, the single-frame-zoom builds a splayed reality that brings together disparate vantage points, simultaneously, and serves as the glue that blends and bonds peoples, places and spaces in Chimera.

Chimera was shot during a time when I had the opportunity to travel, a time of tremendous change; between 1989 and 1992 in Leningrad, London, Egypt, Helsinki, Sydney and Uluru; was optically printed and edited in Helsinki in 1992; completed in Mount Forest in 1995.


passing through / torn formations
43 min., 1988, Sound: Tucker Zimmerman

passing through/torn formations extends from Eastern Europe and back again an unraveling tapestry of family relations that speak of migration and translation." - Marian McMahon

"Philip Hoffman's passing through/torn formations is a wide open ramble through the labyrinth of memory, considered primarily as a family affair. The film deals with the life and history of Hoffmans Czech-born mother and her family, as presented as a kind of polyphonic recitation of words, of images and of sounds. - Robert Everett-Green, Globe & Mail

passing through/torn formations accomplishes a multi-faceted experience for the viewer. It is a poetic document of family, for instance- but Philip Hoffmans editing throughout is true thought process, tracks visual theme as the mind tracks shape, makes melody of noise and words as the mind recalls sound. - Stan Brakhage

The film does not record the journey in a linear way. The elements of the journey are strained through out the mind, using the mechanics of memory and the imagination as a basis for the form. And this was the strategy I followed to construct characters as well throughout the film. Family members from Canada and relatives from Czechoslovakia are not easy to identify because their identities continually shift and slide. These characters are transferable throughout the film, for instance, you see an image or images of a certain person and there is a voice-over with this person. Later on in the film different voices are attached to the image of the person earlier seen. Its a way of avoiding the conventional approach to character construction whereby the characters identity gets pinned down and theres less work for the audience. I tried to make a form that allows the viewer to participate in the construction of the characters. As well, this method takes the emphasis off individuals, the family exists more as a whole, albeit a tumultuous whole. - Philip Hoffman, Cantrills Filmnotes

The films theme of reconciliation begins with deaths mediation- and moves its broken signifiers together in the films central image, the corner mirror, two mirrored rectangles stacked at right angles. This looking glass offers a true reflection- not the reversed image of the usual mirror, but the objectified stare of the other... Each figure in the film has a European double, as if the entry into the New World carried with it not only the inevitable burdens of translation (from the Latin translation - to bear across) but also the burden of all that could not be said or carried, to all that needed to be left behind. - Mike Hoolboom, Cinema Canada


For more info please see Phil's website.

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