Exhibitionists·In Residence

When this Winnipeg artist left her hometown it completely transformed her art

Guy Maddin has called her experimental films "brilliant and gorgeous." Meet this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, Leslie Supnet.

Watch the films of Leslie Supnet and you'll see Winnipeg and Toronto couldn't be more different.

Leslie Supnet. Still from "Sun Moon Stars Rain," 2009. (Leslie Supnet)

There's a sequence in Leslie Supnet's short filmSecond Sun that sure looks a lot like the CBC logo. Given that you're reading this on CBC Arts, I admit I'm going to be a little bit brainwashed on that point, but for anyone who grew up without cable, just watch the film below and you'll see what I mean, as the sun splits like a cell undergoing some celestial form of mitosis — or the CBC gem in an old network promo.

"That might have been subliminal or something subconscious," Supnet laughs. "You know, I did watch a lot back in the day. Didn't the CBC always play NFB shorts? Maybe it's in there somehow." Subliminal slip or not, it's the perfect detail for a film that's airing on CBC Arts' Exhibitionists this Sunday.

We'll be sharing an eclectic selection of the artist's work, but Second Sun is a great example of what she's making right now. Abstract and mysterious, stacked with images suggesting the occult and unknown, and pulsing with the sound of thunderous drums (care of Supnet's collaborator, Clint Enns), the piece just played at Calgary's $100 Film Festival — an institution among Super 8 filmmakers, which we happened to cover on CBC Arts last month.

Stylistically, it's a huge shift for Supnet. After establishing a distinct style as an animator, bringing films like this one, A Time Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, to festivals including TIFF, she's left her charmingly hand-drawn paper puppets behind.

And it happened when she moved from Winnipeg to Toronto. Supnet told CBC Arts all about it…

Her Winnipeg

One of the films we're airing Sunday, Hang In There, will give you an idea of where Supnet was with her storytelling just a few years ago.

"Most of my character-based work I made in Winnipeg. Hang in There, I made in Winnipeg," Supnet explains.

"My character-based stuff was about feelings of isolation and place and kind of having to fight constantly, which is what living in Winnipeg is like," she says.

For an artist, there's a wonderful side to her hometown, too, and she's quick to praise it. Organizations like Video Pool and the Winnipeg Film Group are where she first learned her craft, and it's where she found an animation mentor in another local filmmaker, Mike Maryniuk.

"I didn't go to art school, so that was my formal education," she says. "The Winnipeg Film Group, along with Video Pool, was a really influential hub for me." And Winnipeg can be a supportive community. Hometown hero Guy Maddin's a fan of Supnet, and praised her black-and-white fantasy First Sun on her Vimeo page, calling it "brilliant and gorgeous."

"That's a great thing about Winnipeg that I miss, it's so small that you can be in touch with someone like Guy Maddin and get feedback," she says of the acclaimed filmmaker, whose latest feature, The Forbidden Room, is a best picture nominee at the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards.

"But it's a tough town," she says. "It's not easy to see international artwork, or great programmes in terms of cinema. You know, it's an isolated place. So a lot of my work that I made there reflected that."

New city, new style

"When I moved on to Toronto I just couldn't make that work anymore, I couldn't make that character-based stuff any more," says Supnet, who recently finished her MFA at York University. "Now that I'm no longer dealing with that sense of isolation I felt in Winnipeg, I just kind of imagine something other than the metropolis."

As a result, her films have become even more experimental — situated, like First Sun and Second Sun, in total fantasy. They're abstract takes on "a post-apocalyptic world."

"My earlier work was more representational, however these stories are still very much based on personal experience," she says, "these short films are very poetic, fragmented reflections on personal themes," topics including loss and trauma and change.

Moving backwards in time

Supnet's swapped her old style for an old form of animation.  First Sun and Second Sun are created by drawing directly on frames of celluloid, Super 8 or 16 mm film.

"I guess I just didn't want to be in front of a computer anymore!" Supnet laughs, and she'll be teaching the technique at Toronto's OCAD University this spring. "I wanted the materials in my hands. I wanted to get in touch with a lost technique, you know?"

"There's a real simplicity to shooting something on film, getting it developed, getting it back, and that's it," she says. "I'm going backwards in time in terms of animation technology… and it's fun! I'm finding a lot of joy in doing it."

Want more from Leslie Supnet? Find her on Vimeo and watch Exhibitionists online or Sunday at 4:30 (5pm NT) on CBC Television.

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