An experimental or avant-garde film is a form of filmmaking that delves into alternative narratives and concepts, including fields such as poetry, literature, dance, and painting. In Canada, experimental film has been influenced by American and European avant-garde directors and the concept of camera being a technological or living entity.
In 1941, Norman McLaren was tasked with creating an animation department and is known for pioneering multiple areas of experimental filmmaking, from graphical sound and abstract film to visual music and drawn-on-film and hand-drawn animation. He created experimental shots such as Mosaic, Blinkity Blank, Begone Dull Care, and Fiddle De Dee. McLaren was awarded numerous awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film (1969) and the 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. His work, however, did not result in any further developments in the field of avant-garde filmmaking.
During the 1960s, avant-garde director and editor Arthur Lipsett created a series of collage films such as Fluxes (1967), Free Wall (1964), and Very Nice, Very Nice (1961). In the 70s, Vincent Grenier produced a number of lyrical experimental films, including Intérieur, Interiors, La Toile/Shade, and Window Wind Chimes: Part 1. In his own words, his films are inspired by contingencies like incongruous recordings, revealing details, asymmetrical compositions, unbalanced spaces, digressive moments, and unexpected associations between meaning and form. His work is influenced by English Canadian experimental filmmakers such as Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow.
Avant-Garde Films Today
A Canadian artist and filmmaker, Sarah Abbot produced a number of experimental films between 1991 and 2011. Her filmography includes titles such as This Time Last Winter (2010), Out in the Cold (2007), and Looking Back to See (2001). Abbot has been awarded multiple rewards, including the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award and the Arts and Business Award for Innovation in the Arts. Her films focus on Indigenous people, sexual and gender studies, and human rights and include voice overs, sounds, and imagery.
Dennis Cote is an independent producer and filmmaker whose avant-garde films have been presented at major festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival and Jeonju International Film Festival. Cote has been awarded numerous awards and accolades, including Ghost Town Anthology Best film in 2019 and Best experimental Feature Greenpoint Film Festival in 2012. He also produced a number of short films such as Les jouets, La sphatte, and Seconde valse.
Born in the U.S., Patricia Gruben is an avant-garde filmmaker teaching at the Simon Fraser University. Gruben also worked as a producer, set decorator, art director, assistant director, editor, and director. Her filmography includes shorts and films such as Deep Sleep, Low Visibility, and The Central Character. She was awarded the Teamsters 155 Woman of the Year Award in 2015.
A Canadian producer, director, writer, artist, and filmmaker, Annette Mangaard has directed and written over 20 installation projects and films, among which Fish Tale Soup, Broken Dreams, and Into the Night. She is the recipient of numerous awards such as the Film Production Grant, Canada Council Production Grant, and Chalmers Fellowship. Mangaard is also a co-founder of the Images Festival which is an annual event with a focus on media installation, new media, video art, and experimental film. This is the largest video and experimental film festival in North America which is held in Toronto since 1987.
Other renowned Canadian avant-garde filmmakers include Guy Maddin, Julie Tremble, David Rimmer, and Brenda Longfellow.