Artist and filmmaker Jem Cohen's We Have an Anchor is a hybrid, interdisciplinary project inspired by his infatuation with Cape Breton and a blending of film, live music, poetry and folklore. (TIFF)Jem Cohen doesn't call We Have an Anchor a film, but it's certainly one of the most intriguing cinematic experiences I've had in a while. A multi-screen film project accompanied by a live rock band, Anchor is an epic tone poem -- an ode to Cape Breton and Nova Scotia by an American filmmaker who fell in love with the place.
Sonically, it reminds me of Music Inspired by the Group of Seven, the concept album by The Rheostatics. Visually, Cohen's work has elements and the same abstract qualities of The National Parks Project. Like both of these examples, Anchor requires patience and an open mind.
The work is an abstract, meandering meditation on land, sea and time. It's a film filled with rustling trees, winter drives and a black dog running against white snow. There are also snatches of humour, bits of science and even poetry.
What makes Anchor a unique experience -- more installation than film -- is the presence of live accompanists. Featuring members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Fugazi, the musicians dip in and out, in a sonic wave. Sometimes, they appear to be watching the film; at other times, watching each other. It's easy to forget there's a live band in the room, given how the violins vibrate so perfectly to the blades grass dancing on the screen.
Cohen, a director who has worked with REM and other musicians, says he edits "by instinct" and likes to leave the room to allow the audience to soak up score and "go with the flow."
What he delivers is a river of music and images, something worth getting carried away by.
We Have an Anchor, which Cohen previously staged in New York, has its final screening at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox Wednesday (tonight!) at 8 pm. Fingers crossed his singular creation will be picked up by other venues across Canada.
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