The Distance Between: an Icelandic experience at Nuit Blanche

During this years Nuit Blanche, Ryerson Artspace displayed  The Distance Between, an exhibition showcasing films from various filmmakers. It included projects from Ryerson’s School of Image Arts students who attended a Chang School workshop  in Iceland, during the summers of 2012 and 2014. The films were accompanied with music from Ensemble Polaris, a Canadian band that performs on traditional instruments from Asia, Scandinavia, Africa and the Middle East. Their blend of classical, world and folk music was the soundtrack for the films.

Located in a little nook of the Gladstone Hotel, the Ryerson Artspace provided a cozy, cinema-like experience. The main sources of light in the rectangular room came from the projector and a popcorn machine. At the back of the makeshift cinema, filmmakers and  professors Pierre Tremblay and Gerda Cammaer stood by as  Nuit Blanche attendees viewed their work.

Pierre Tremblay spoke with Ryerson Folio about the Iceland workshop and The Distance Between.

Why did you choose to go to Iceland for this project?

The Chang School of Continuing Education asked me if I would like to organize a workshop. It took a few years of contact with the consulate of Iceland in Toronto until we organized a workshop.

One of the things we thought about is how people travel more and more, and they film and then they dont do anything with their film. They arrive at home and they havent done anything, so we do a workshop. There are some workshops before [the trip] of learning Adobe After Effects and Premiere. While students are there, they will be filming, editing, and having classes for a week and two weekends. They all spend their last evening in Iceland with a screening of all the student films. And then, at the end of the summer, their second film is due and we do an exhibition with all their films. Everyone who went had a life experience, and the films are very beautiful. It is very exciting.

How did you end up collaborating with Ensemble Polaris and Nuit Blanche?

The consulate of Iceland contacted me and they have something called Nordic Nights. Nordic Nights is a film series by the consulate of Iceland and the consulate of Finland. Every month, its a film of Iceland, its a film of Finland, and they were looking for space to screen for an evening. And I thought, Oh, I can do that at Ryerson.And if we do that, we can show one or two films from the students from the Iceland workshop before the feature film.

Weve been doing Nordic Nights for four years and one person who was at Nordic Nights one time contacted me, and she was Allison from Ensemble Polaris. She said, “You know, your student films are interesting. Why dont we do a program of short films, and we can do original music.So they chose two student films, one of them by Alicia Harris, and the other by Liz Gibson. Gerda contacted people and said, You know, we have this great program, it would be nice to show it.And they contacted us and said, What about Nuit Blanche? That would be perfect.So we put together the films that were in the program, and there it is.

We also spoke with Alicia Harris and Lucas Ford whose films from Iceland were featured in The Distance Between.

Alicia Harris

Alicia Harris, a fourth-year film studies student at Ryerson, was part of the Iceland Workshop in 2014 where she shot her first experimental film, All Things But Forget. It was  featured  at the Underground Film Festival in Munich, Germany. It will also be featured at Startfest in Orlando, Florida next year.

What was your inspiration for your film All Things But Forget?

Well, it was kind of an accident. With the Iceland course, we had to make two films. So, the first one I made, I used all of my beautiful shots that I had taken. For the second one, I was like, Oh, I have no idea what Im gonna do now because I used all of my nice shots from the first film.Then there was this one shot that I had which was just me shooting outside of the van as we were driving. It was really shaky and rough and it wasnt fully in focus. So, I was like, Hmm, that looks kind of interesting, it looks kind of nicebecause the lighting from the sun somewhat setting looked really nice. I had a different shot of people walking across the other side of this place in Iceland where it used to be a volcano, so the inside of it was just water. On the other side, I was filming people walking across, and they were silhouetted. So, I didnt really have inspiration, I kind of just had those two shots. I layered the silhouette of the people on top of that moving shot from the car.

Its an experimental film, so its up for interpretation, but I see it as a film about somebody reflecting on a time where they had someone that is no longer with them anymore.

How did you grow as a filmmaker during your trip to Iceland?

This was my first experimental film. So that was definitely something new for me because Im more of a documentary filmmaker. We had to do two films and, like I said, I was really stuck after the first one because I used all of my nice shots. I was forced to develop my skills and be like, Ok, Ive never made an experimental film before, but Im gonna try.So, that would be something that I think helped me grow. Also, I dont shoot very much. so I definitely think I improved my shooting skills.

There were also 12 of us in Iceland shooting the same thing. It kind of forced you to not take the obvious shots. For example, when we were at the big crater with the water, everyone was shooting the water. I was shooting the people walking across from really far because I was really fascinated with how that looked.

Lucas Ford

Lucas Ford is a Ryerson film studies graduate and is now working for TIFF. He shot his film I Know Places for the Iceland Workshop in 2012 and plans to return to Iceland next year to get more involved in Nordic programming.

While filming in Iceland, did you have a sense of direction, or were you just rolling with the punches?

Definitely rolling with the punches. It just felt like such an incredible land that Ive never been to before. Theres this sense of discovery and I was just going with it. It was part of the documentary film I made too. I was just shooting as I go and discovering and finding this land that Ive never been to before.

How did you grow as a filmmaker during your trip to Iceland?

It was definitely eye-opening. I think one thing thats really important as a filmmaker is to have different experiences on your belt, seeing different things, seeing things with a different perspective. Thats one thing that Iceland definitely gave me was seeing the world in a different lens. I think that was one thing that really helped the film, and it was really rewarding coming back to Toronto after. Talking to friends, telling them the stories of Iceland. Something that most people dont know too much about.

So far the Iceland workshop mainly consists of Ryerson students. Tremblay plans on expanding their outreach this year by advertising all over Ryersons campus as well as other campuses. There will be an information night in November about the next workshop, which will be open to any students interested in filming in Iceland.

Featured image by Celina Gallardo

*Correction: This article originally stated the film series was called Nordic Night. It’s actually called Nordic Nights.