writings

The below text is an excerpt from: Projections of Beauty: Made in Canada (Winnipeg Cinematheque, 2011)

1. Franci Duran: Poetry of Exile
She arrived in Canada on the first plane of refugees after the CIA-backed assassination of Chile’s democratically elected Salvador Allende. In Chile this day is remembered as 9-11. This primal wound and displacement lies at the heart of Duran’s making, whether it means lifting a camera to see a rainy street, a mountain or the face of her young boy as if she’d never seen before, or taking aim at the dictator who has ruled Chile in the years of her maturity. Roughly speaking, her work may be divided into three central areas of interest, the first is an extension of the home movie, looking at the birth of her first born, or her own childhood. The second looks at Chile under the rule of Pinochet’s dictatorship. While the third is more broadly interested in questions of the archive and historical records and technologies. Hegel wrote: History is what man does with death. But there is a last flicker before the end, call it magic hour, the epitaph, the closing song, and the fragile beauty of this passing draws this artist toward it again and again.

Boy 5 minutes 2005
What does it look like at the beginning? The first time he ever saw a table, the large foot of an adult stepping towards him, a window opening like a heart. Duran offers us rainy moments of Vancouver as an accompaniment to the birth of her first child. A slowly moving hail of abstract nights lights precedes a slow motion birth, recoloured and rephotographed from a TV screen. The artist’s voice offers up a series of dates along with the facts that accompany them, her son’s favourite book, animal and word (No). Each instance of looking arrives in fragments, there is no story to pull it all together, unless it is the story of memory itself, with its necessary omissions, its shorn away pieces and left-overs. The formal experimentalisms and material fetishes that inform this movie appear here as an analogue for memory itself, an inheritance of seeing in the dark. It makes me wonder: is every film the mother of its audience?

Cuentos de Mi Ninez (Tales from My Childhood) 9 minutes 1991
Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile in 1970 and began a series of reforms that included government control of education and health care, the nationalization of copper mining and banking, and a continuation of land redistribution to peasant farmers. His government was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup on the orders of American president Richard Nixon in 1973, and was replaced by the army general Augusto Pinochet. This harsh authoritarian rule resulted in thousands of death and systematic torture (including women and children). Duran recounts the historical record against pictures of the childhood she had and never had, the innocence lost and found, and her refugee flight to the safety of far away Canada.

Dominion 2:48 minutes 2004
Princess Diana flickers back into life again against a hazy video palette in images drawn from a CNN tribute entitled “The People’s Princess.”

Retrato Oficial (Official Portrait) 1 minute 2003
“My focus on the artifact is linked to my own early childhood and my family’s exile. I came to Canada as a refugee at the age of six, but have very few tangible memories of that time. Since 2003 I have been working on a film series entitled Retrato Oficial (Official Portrait) which deals with the historical reach of the now-deceased military dictator Augusto Pinochet.”

In the first (and shortest) movie in this ongoing series, Duran offers us images of the Chilean dictator shortly after arriving back in his home country. He was indicted for human rights violations in 1998 by Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón and arrested in London. It was the first time that several European judges applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws. After having been placed under house arrest in Britain and initiating a judicial and public relations battle, Pinochet was eventually released in March 2000 on medical grounds by Home Secretary Jack Straw without facing trial. When he arrived back home in Chile, shortly after leaving the airplane, he got up out of his wheelchair and walked, demonstrating to one and all that claims of his ill health were at least premature.

Retrato Oficial (Official Portrait) 4:10 minutes 2009
Duran begins with a political fable: imagine a country which permits only a single picture: a full length portrait of its ruler. Copies can be made, details enlarged, but no deviations are permitted. As Benjamin famously remarked, facism aestheticizes politics, while communism politicizes aesthetics. Duran’s surveillance myth of a picture that looks back from each artist’s hand resolves in the first broadcast of Pinochet immediately following the coup, in which he suspends the parliament and the courts. Duran’s material concerns seem to wrestle with the dictator that lives inside her fingers, as if the body and the body politic were the same somehow, as if it were necessary to oppose the decades-long military occupation in Chile on every level, including the level of the material signifier, the film itself, newly grown and luxurious in her careful treatments.

Mr. Edison’s Ear 32 minutes 2008
The artist’s longest and most complex movie to date, Mr. Edison’s Ear is part Edison biography, part technology essay, turning around the deaf inventor of the phonograph. It is punctuated by multi-screen animations, moving text displays, and Edison’s own short subject movies that offer a rich tableau of circus performers, staged battle scenes and a child born away by a great black bird. These carefully excised moments are punctuated with interview briefs by a trio of media historians and archivists. Lisa Gitelman offers up this observation: “I think of the spoken voice in that period as the standard of ephemerality. It was the thing you couldn’t keep. Sure, you could have a newspaper reporter or stenographer try and write down what somebody said but there was really no keeping the voice. And with the phonograph there is. I don’t think people made a direct connection, that may have, on some deep symbolic level, offered a level of compensatory stability in a period of profound change. Amidst all the loss involved in social changes, cultural changes, and economic changes, here is one moment that offers a preserve-ability, something to cling to.”