Super 8 Filmmaker John Porter, Toronto, Canada
EVENTS | CINEZINE | PHOTOS | LINKS | CONTACT | ABOUT | SITE MAP
Dresden > Rotterdam > London > Leeds > Dublin > Groningen > Amsterdam
A Report in Three Installments
John's First Report from Europe
My first week on tour was the most hectic, with four days of travelling, and three screenings in two cities. Generally, my transportation, accommodation, venues, projectors and projectionists have been excellent. The trains are so efficient, and always passing, next to the tracks, wonderful upper-class hobo villages of miniature, one-room bungalows with porches, picture windows, vegetable gardens, beautiful landscaping, surveyed paths, and no cars! Perfect for a bicycle. They must be government sanctioned. That's where I want to live!
I was in and out of Dresden in 36 hours, during its only big snow fall so far this winter, so I saw nothing. I was just lucky to find time to grab a group photo of my busy hosts launching their festival, and a super 8 shot of the venue exterior. They provided my return train fare from Amsterdam (where I flew into), an apartment in the venue 2 nights, and an artist's fee of 150 Euros ($230 Cdn) cash, half of which I was glad to give back to Germany by buying a subscription to it's Magazine. It's editor Jürgen Lossau attended my screening, so I just gave him cash and my address.
My two screenings at the were beyond my expectations! Not just highly-attended by animated audiences (some people came to both of my identical shows), and technically smooth, but little did I know how big and prestigious the festival is. My screenings were attended by many established filmmakers, programmers and writers, some of whom I'd heard of, met on-line in the last year, or met in person many years ago, including some old friends who I haven't seen in a long time. I was told that more well-known film people were attending the festival this year than ever before, so I was very lucky. I got requests to do other shows in the future, including Sao Paola, Brazil and a return to Europe.
Also, I was asked to quickly write an article (with my
photos) days before I left Toronto, which was published in a festival
issue of Netherlands' independent film magazine
I didn't have time to see much other work or Rotterdam because I was visiting so much (talking myself hoarse), and I was also out shooting super 8. All the shorts programmes including mine were at the same venue - the historic where the festival had its humble beginnings throughout the 1970s. It has a great cafe/bar where early film royalty hung-out, so I hung-out there the whole time, avoiding the huge Film Market, but not tobacco smoke. My favourite show was , psychedelic, super 8 and 16mm multiple projections from the 1970s, and the old guy presenting it was a real character like me. He had seen my show and kept referring to and pointing to me during his talk!
My only disappointment with the continent was all the cigarette smoking everywhere. Even the legal weed or hash at the Sky High Coffee Shop around the corner was only available mixed with tobacco, which I can't smoke. I bought a splif anyway, just for the experience.
Now I'm in London (flew from Amsterdam in 45 minutes), with the first free time to write this report. My hosts here are Steven Ball and his wife Ooni. In 1994 I made a very rare exception for Steven and shipped three of my films, alone without me, to his KIOSK 8 festival in Australia. The UK is very expensive (I'm finally getting to spend some money) and I get no travel expenses or fee from the un-funded cogcollective, so to compensate, Steven and Ooni are letting me sleep on their comfy couch-bed in their main room for a whole week. My first night, we went to their local pub for a veggie & cheese pie dinner with extra-strong ciders and a fascinating, five-hour discussion of many topics!
My first day, yesterday, I walked to Trafalger Square to shoot super 8 of Canada House because Jim Anderson and I showed our films there in 1982. I also saw the London Eye (big wheel) up close, but tourist sites are always boring to me, compared to meeting film people and checking out their organizations.
Last night Steven, Ooni and I attended a 16mm film screening and discussion at the by Helene Martin, Jennifer Nightingale and Ruth Proctor - three young artists who did a residency at lab. I particularly liked Helene's film and I'll see her again in Amsterdam when we both show in Erwin's Starting From Scratch Festival there. No.w.here inherited all of the London Filmmakers Co-op's amazing film production equipment, including three printers and a processing machine, and we're going to check-out their space today.
My screening here is on Sunday afternoon. I'm competing with a huge event by well-known USA 16mm filmmaker Robert Beavers in discussion with famous film writer P. Adams Sitney at the . But I'm not worried. Even the respected organizer of that event said he would recommend my show after he saw it in Rotterdam. And I'm at the top of "Arts News" page including Edie Steiner's photo of me, so I'll get transplanted Canadians not interested in Robert Beavers, not to mention super 8 people, some of whom said they're coming from out-of-town for my show.
John's Second Report from Europe
My second day Steven and I received a tour of the film production co-op lab, conducted by its manager James Holcombe. James also projected some of his recent super 8 films for us, which were my favourite of all the work I've seen yet on this trip. He uses a variety of hand-manipulation techniques, including jamming junk between the camera gate and the film while shooting, which I've never heard of before, and for which he's found only one camera capable of doing it with. I was very inspired, but his films aren't available yet because he's too busy making films, running no.w.here, teaching workshops and generally helping other filmmakers. He's a new, local hero, and I'd like to see him do a residency in Toronto. He also lent me an amazing "found" super 8 sound film with which to test my screening's projector. It was a black & white record of a women wrestlers match in a crowded arena in Mexico in the 1950s, with live commentary! I watched it twice while I had it.
That night, Steven and I went to Guy Sherwin's and Lynn Loo's house for dinner and to test my screening's two projectors. Lynn is an active member of cogcollective which presented my screening. I used her & Guy's small, silent Bolex, and David Lester's big, sound Elmo GS-1200 with a 200 watt lamp! David is an important supplier of film equipment in London, but very sadly there was a fire in his building last year, seriously damaging much of his 16mm equipment which, being heavier, was stored on or close to the floor. His lighter super 8 equipment was stored higher and survived, but still, Lynn and I each had to give his Elmo projector very thorough, seperate, cleanings. Also, David ended up in hospital just before my visit, so please join us in praying for his full recovery.
Guy was working on a new 16mm multiple-projection performance for the collective (previously Side Cinema 2001-2005) in Newcastle a week later, so he was able to demonstrate for me his trial set-up and film loop in-progress, and I got a good photo of him with it in his work-room. I had met some Star and Shadow people when they came to one of my Rotterdam screenings and expressed interest in me doing a show in Newcastle sometime. I knew I'd seen Guy's films before, but when he greeted us at the door and I recognized him, I said a line that I've found myself saying several times on this trip - "Guy, I photographed you in the 1980s!" For example at the Robert Beavers series opening screening at the Tate Modern Gallery the next evening I met Steve Ferrar and I happened to be CARRYING my photo of he and Jo Comino in the London Filmmakers Co-op office in 1981! So this moment was very exciting for both of us.
My third day I checked out "films" by Margaret Salmon at gallery, which turned out to be videos, but Whitechapel does hold monthly open screenings, including on 16mm!. Then I made a pilgrimage to the site of the old London Filmmakers Co-op, 42 Gloucester Ave. (Chalk Farm) where I showed my films in 1981 and 1982. The building was torn down in 2000 (they had had to vacate it because it was unsafe, and the Co-op folded soon after), but I shot some super 8 and still photos anyway, of the street and new building. There's a nice at street level there now, so I sat in its window to get the old Film Co-op's view while having a "Film Co-op coffee" and I bought a big loaf of "Film Co-op bread" for my hosts Steven and Ooni.
On Saturday Steven and Ooni took me on their regular trip to the weekly (since 1756), under London Bridge, where we started by drinking hot, mulled, strong cider, and finished with coffee from the and beer (which everyone takes in their glass out onto the street!) from the . I also took a photo inside the wonderful Neal's Yard Dairy cheese shop to show to my mother.
On the way there we also visited the 9th floor observation deck of the strange, new, , nick-named "the onion" because it looks like a sliced onion. It was the only day it has ever been or will be open to the public, so I was very lucky. Up there, Steven took a great photo of me shooting super 8 of the strange, new (because it looks like a gherkin pickle) office building, with Tower Bridge in the background. The "gherkin" was on the front pages the next day because it had just been sold to Germans for 600 million pounds. We took the photo of me specifically for the current issue of which requested a rush photo of me to illustrate its short news item about my tour. That issue is out now, so some of you may have seen it already, but I haven't yet.
screening February 4 at was their best attended yet (50), among their
total of 8 screenings over the last year. As in Rotterdam, the audience
was very animated, and included Steven and Ooni, Guy and Lynn, James
Holcombe, Helene Martin whose wonderful 16mm film I saw earlier
at the Kingsgate Gallery (see my first report), David Curtis, Stuart
Pound who I photographed at The Funnel in the 1980s, Nicky Hamlyn
who came from out of town, and old Toronto super 8 friend Tracy Jenkins
and her partner Tom who both joined us for beers afterward and
for dinner the next day. After beers this evening, some of us went to
an all-you-can-eat Indian restaurant.
Also on that next day, my last in London, my old Halifax,
Canada friend Helen Bredin (now a videographer at BBC-TV)
took me for a classic, basic, English diner breakfast at her
favourite (in Piccadilly Circus) which
is actually very old and threatened by encroaching Starbucks' and rising
rents. She's trying to help it by patronizing it as much as possible.
After London I took the train to Leeds for just a 24 hour stay including my screening in film collective's small office. It seats only 35 so they took reservations and it was all booked a week before I left Toronto. But after they and I were telling other interested people for two weeks that it was sold out, some reservations cancelled, and others just didn't show up, so attendance was only 25. I suggested they demand payment-in-advance in the future. The audience was also extremely and unusually quiet, but never-the-less respectful and appreciative. One attendee was Giles Perkins of , who came from Manchester and interviewed me for his website. I also received a good fee from Lumen, and train fare from London.
My hosts in Leeds were Lumen's William Rose, his
wife Sarah, their months-old daughter Aida, and their
two cats whose names I don't remember and who disappointed me
by not visiting my bed while I was sleeping.
In spite of my short time in Leeds, William led me on two of the extra-curricular highlights of my trip so far. Just a block away from William's house where I stayed, we found the site of the old Lyceum Cinema (demolished) where Martin Heath (originally from Leeds, but now the Toronto film hero of CineCycle underground cinema & bicycle repair shop fame) attended a Leeds Film Society screening in 1962 and discovered art cinema. At the Leeds library we also found and copied some Film Society season programmes from that period, and at the local tourist shop I bought their last copy of the book Leeds Cinemas which includes old exterior and interior photos of the Lyceum and of the Hyde Park Picture House which is the last operating cinema among Leeds' many old cinemas, and which still uses on occasion, and which is also in William's neighbourhood.
But that wasn't all! William took me to the site of what is believed to be the first motion pictures ever taken. They were taken by in 1888, of the Leeds Bridge, so I shot super 8 of the same view, of his camera location and of the commemorative wall plaque. Altogether, I found way more than I was hoping to, thanks to William's help.
I was brought back down to earth by unhelpful check-in staff and incorrect display boards at Ryan Air (please boycott if possible) in Leeds, causing me to miss my flight to Dublin and to spend 9 more hours in the Leeds airport instead of in downtown Dublin!
But that's already in the past. Now I'm in Dublin and hanging out at where my nephew Anthony works as Senior Software Developer. He and his Irish partner Fiona recently moved to a beautiful house in the suburb Monkstown, so he drove me into work yesterday and today so I can see Dublin and use a computer here. I'm looking forward to meeting a Solus film collective member at the popular Solas bar (unrelated) tonight, then leaving tomorrow morning for a weekend drive and overnight stay with Anthony and Fiona to Anthony's and my ancestors' hometowns including Fivemiletown where we've already booked rooms in a beautiful manor house.
Yesterday I went downtown looking for evidence of the
Dublin experimental film collective ,
which I know of from its members Alan Lambert and Moira Tierney
on the avant-garde film, email discussion group, Frameworks.
The touristy Temple Bar area is crammed with film institutions
- Irish Film Institute, Irish Film Centre, Irish Film Archive, Irish
Film Academy, Irish Film & TV Network, filmbase, filmIreland, Jameson
Dublin International Film Festival, and more. I was walking around
in circles, asking a couple of people at each one, and being sent
on to the next one. Nobody had even HEARD of Solus or ANY experimental
filmmakers in Ireland including the one I'm most familiar with - Vivienne
Dick, who I photographed at The Funnel in Toronto in the 1980s.
It was a very frustrating but interesting experience. I'd heard
before from Moira that it's a sad situation here.
John's Third Report from Europe
My nephew Anthony and his Irish partner Fiona recently bought a house in the Dublin suburb of Monkstown, and on my first two days Anthony and I rose early and drove to his office where he works as Senior Software Developer. I had my own office with an online computer, and we went out to lunch together. Friday became a pub crawl with a pint of Guinness at each of four bars, starting with a great lunch of ham, cabbage and potatoes at Maguire's, Lower Boggot Street. After work, I went to the Solas Bar to meet Dennis Kenny of Dublin's experimental film collective (not related to Solas Bar). We had a short but promising exchange of info, ideas and contacts for the future.
Then Anthony and Fiona found me and took me to Jack Nealons Bar on Capel Street, which was his favourite pub when they lived nearby in their first house. For his 30th birthday party in 2005, he rented and packed the whole second floor and hired a DJ who was stationed next to his favourite spot in the corner between two windows, so this visit I had a photo taken of the three of us in his spot. Then we met some of their friends at the smoking patio of O'Donoghue's on Baggot Street, which was packed "cheek-by-jowl".
The next morning the three of us left on a weekend pilgrimage to three of Anthony's and my ancestors' home towns. The first day we drove to Kinawley, home of my mother's father's father William Johnston (I was carrying a copy of his baptism record), and to Newtowngore, home of her father's mother Isabella Thompson, and where Isabella and William were married (I was carrying a copy of their marriage certificate). Each stop included looking for the appropriate church cemetery, and shooting photos and super 8 of them and of the centre of town.
Those two towns are very close to one another but on opposite sides of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our final destination was also nearby in Northern Ireland - where William and Isabella moved to and had five children including my mother's father, Benson. It's so named because it's located five miles from each of the three nearest towns.
We stopped at the big, beautiful, new, B&B, a five minute walk from the centre of town. We had difficulty pulling ourselves away from the tea and scones served in the lounge with a roaring fireplace, in order to walk to town in the rain to have dinner at the hotel. Our B&B host was the elder Gretta Malone assisted by her daughter and son-in-law. They were delightful, and very helpful with our history questions. She showed us her copy of an illustrated history book of Fivemiletown and put us in touch with its local author Jack Johnston (not related) who then arranged for her to sell us her copy which he would replace for her later. He also offered to help me research our family history some more in the future.
Also with Gretta's help, the next morning during Sunday church service we met the elder church caretaker Ronnie Robertson whose father and grandfather were the caretakers before him. He led us around to the many Johnston graves, which I photographed, and thanks to Anthony's quick thinking I got a great super 8 shot of the children running out of the church. Anthony also gave Ronnie a nice big tip.
Anthony and Fiona were as fascinated with the town as I was, and with their invaluable assistance, I thoroughly documented the downtown, in the sunlight just before it started to rain. (I've had that luck a few times on this trip!) We had fun re-shooting the exact camera angles in four different photo postcards of Main Street shot in the 1930s and 1950s, which my grandfather had collected on return visits to his hometown, and which I had brought copies of.
On the way back to Dublin we visited some friends of Anthony and Fiona in Drogheda to watch an historic rugby match on TV, and on my last night in Dublin we tried an excellent Thai restaurant in their new neighbourhood, and Anthony and I phoned my mother to tell her about Fivemiletown. And Anthony is mailing my many rolls of exposed super 8 to me so there's less chance of them being fogged by airport security x-ray scanners.
The next morning I flew to Amsterdam, then took a train to Groningen where I was met by Erwin van 't Hart. He's a programmer/co-ordinator with the Festival which holds repeat screenings in three Netherlands cities - the Rotterdam Film Festival, Groningen, then Amsterdam - and Erwin gave me screenings in all three. Last October on his way to The International Experimental Film Exposition (TIE) in Denver, Colorado, he made a special stop in Toronto for a private preview of my live performance show. I rented CineCycle for it, so he and Martin Heath had a good meeting, and I invited some Toronto film friends. Then Erwin organized most of my tour for me, so thanks to him above all, for making all of this happen!
Erwin led me to my Groningen show's location, and my home for two days - , "Club for the International Popunderground" - a legendary, multi-disciplinary venue occupying a large, previously squatted building. It has hosted world-famous musicians for 30 years, including many when they were still unknown. I was their only guest this time, so their entire upstairs "hotel" dormitory was my own apartment, with big windows, cable TV, and my own keys. After hours, my private entrance was around the back, down a lane, and through a big, swinging metal gate. The basement bar was open to 2am, so until then each night I was using the computers in Vera's office while drinking free Grolsch and chatting with some of their volunteers, also working late. And I bought some pot and a pipe at the Glory Coffee Shop just around the corner, and was using my Dublin Porterhouse Brewery souvenir lighter.
Barbara, the pregnant mother of one son already and Vera Zienema's Co-ordinator, programmer and 35mm film projectionist, treated me and her volunteers like her own. She took me on a walking tour of Groningen and helped me re-live an old memory - buying and drinking vla (pudding) from the carton, which I did often when I was a hippie hitch-hiking through Groningen and Europe in 1970.
Vera is an arts co-operative run by a large staff and more than 200 volunteers who form the arts discipline "clubs" to programme and manage their concerts and screenings, design their posters, and design, write and publish their VeraKrant periodical, for which they have their own printing press and giant screen-printing shop. Their posters are popular and a big book, , on the history of Vera and it's posters is being launched there on March 11. I was glad to meet Yolanda who designed the beautiful Starting from Scratch poster, and Barbara is mailing a mint-condition copy of it in a mailing tube to me.
Everyone at Vera is eager and happy, and having a lot of fun. I had breakfasts in their large "Kemenade" meeting room and kitchen, used by staff, volunteers and guests. One morning it was packed with music club volunteers leaving on their annual "thankyou" from Vera - a two hour bus ride to the Grolsch brewery for a tour and free beer, then back to Amsterdam for a big restaurant dinner. I was taken out to dinner by University of Groningen professor and veteran Vera Zienema volunteer Rene Veenstra.
Vera Zienema screenings are mostly on 35mm and video so I gave Barbara and her volunteers-in-training, Brenda and Marjolein, a lesson in super 8 projection. I used Starting from Scratch's sound Beaulieu, and silent Eumig projectors for my Groningen and Amsterdam shows. They are the same as my own best super 8 projectors. My attendance was 30 in both cities, which is good for me, but everyone else was disappointed. Some Vera volunteers in my Groningen audience suggested I return.
My first night in Amsterdam I had dinner at Starting from Scratch co-organizer Pim Zwier's apartment with he, Erwin and fellow Canadian filmmaker and Frameworker Amanda Dawn Christie from Moncton and Vancouver, who's here showing her films in Starting from Scratch like I am, and travelling with her Vancouver friend Robin.
During my five days in Amsterdam I had the exclusive use of the apartment and bicycle of a film student friend of Starting from Scratch who was away at the Berlin Film Festival. Each day I bicycled 20 minutes across town from his apartment in the Oost.
Amsterdam is a bicyclist's dream, a labyrinth of winding and rolling roads, bike paths, walkways and canals, intermingling seamlessly using a combination of efficient signals, rules and outlaw yielding. The pace is startlingly slow, calm, and quiet for a city its size. Nobody wears a helmet, or rides mountain bikes or racers. They all ride the same upright Mary Poppins bicycles with lights, even the teen-boy gangs, some singing or shouting, and they're omnipresent. The weather was perfect and I treasured every moment I was bicycling. It was the most joyful experience of my trip, and the one I least wanted to end. Even getting lost while bicycling home late most nights was fun.
And no trip of mine would be complete without being stopped by the police, this time for following other illegal bicyclists onto a pedestrian and tram-only street. I was unfamiliar with some symbols so I often just followed other cyclists to avoid going the wrong way.
I shot super 8 of the location of AORTA squatters' gallery where Jim Anderson and I showed our films in 1982. Erwin was able to locate it for me because he remembered going there at age 16 in 1985 just before it closed. It was next to Dam Square on Spuistraat Centrum across from the University of Amsterdam's Bunge-Huis Building, and I used a student internet coffee shop on its block - Softland 1.
At the I was impressed to find two different group exhibits each of which included a different 16mm film loop installation, and a solo exhibit by New Yorker T.J. Wilcox consisting entirely of two 16mm loop projections with two stand-up, home-movie screens.
I met and photographed Johan Kalee at his incredible film shop and museum, and I bought a fresh roll of super 8 film and a movie film developing tank from him at very good prices. He's also involved with monthly screenings of found films on 16mm, 8mm and super 8 at the squatted ex-building of the Filmacademy. When I told him I projected my originals, he shook my hand and called me his friend.
The Starting from Scratch screenings were at Theatre and Cinema which chose my frame blow-up of my film to fill the front side of their glossy, colour, 20x20cm, monthly promo card. My face was literally looking up (at the camera looking down on me) from the stacks of cards on display counters in the lobbies of de Balie Cinema, the Netherlands Film Museum, and others!
is a wonderful annual experimental film festival with 16 different programmes scattered among three cities over four weeks, 11 of them in Amsterdam on this weekend, and many combining 35mm, 16mm, super 8 and video projection. Visiting artists this year included Amanda Dawn Christie, Sandra Davis, Eve Heller, Ben Rivers, Peter Tscherkassky, and Milena Gierke from Germany who makes edited-in-camera super 8 films and projects them herself - a highlight for me. Also to my delight, there's an annual screening by local artists, organized by Starting from Scratch founder Roos Geevers and Anita de Groot.
I was also able to hang out with Netherlands' king of super 8 Jaap Pieters, because like me he goes out to all such screenings in his town, taking notes too. The Film Bank has a touring programme of his work including four, 35mm blow-ups and a video documentary about him by Starting from Scratch regular Fred Pelon. Amanda and I want to bring him to Canada.
When the festival was over, after midnight Sunday, we all celebrated it and Erwin's birthday with drinks at the nearby Cafe de Spuyt, a film projectionists' bar where they hold regular "filmspuyt" screenings of recent feature-length movies projected on 16mm. At 3am I left to get lost on my bicycle one more time.
Thanks to Meg for suggesting I send reports so she could live my trip vicariously, they're written for her, and to Keith for suggesting I post them on Listserv for all to see. I'll collect them on my website soon, with photos.