Heidi Phillips makes experimental films and videos. Take her 2010 short Spin. What in anyone else's hands would look like a home movie - footage of toddlers playing in a backyard - becomes a kinetic whirl of youth, joy and curiosity. Or Revival (2009), in which weird found footage of helicopters becomes a metaphor for transcendent yearning.
Winner of the 2011 Manitoba Film Hothouse Award, the Winnipeg artist will be honoured at Cinematheque on July 29th with a retrospective showing of her work, ranging from a 1999 student piece to a premiere of her latest project. Like many avant-garde filmmakers, Phillips uses dark and light, sound and rhythm to examine the nature of her medium, but she also creates amazingly evocative spaces for feeling and thought.
Phillips has been gaining a national and international reputation lately (at Toronto's Images Festival, Montreal's International Festival of Films on Art, the European Media Arts Festival in Germany), but there's something stubbornly Winnipeggy about her work. She favours low-fi technologies - her films are filled with images of old radios and televisions - and a DIY approach. Her three-minute short Tribute to Scissors is just that: a tribute to scissors and the cool things you can do with them (like making cut-out snowflakes or paper-doll chains).
Phillips also loves the bargain-hunting Value Village vibe that's seen in so much of our city's art. She makes use of scavenged footage that she finds at thrift stores, auction houses and people's basements. Phillips then manipulates the footage, scratching, scuffing, burning, bleaching and otherwise roughing it up to give it a tough, gritty beauty.
The Last Harvest (2010), kind of an art-house ghost story, embodies the common Winnipeg fascination with the overlooked and the discarded. A young man walks through an abandoned prairie farmhouse, its once hardworking rooms silted up with grey decay and melancholy layers of memory.
One recurring and deeply personal strain in Phillips's work is her examination of religious faith. In Directions (2005), interview subjects give street directions for the routes they take to church, at the same time suggesting the unexpected turnings of their spiritual paths. Skydive (2011) combines grainy footage of parachute drops with voiceover narratives describing leaps of faith.
Phillips herself continues to jump into the unknown, which is why it will be interesting to see what she does with her Hothouse creative development money.
Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer