Search results: my father 's studio

A beautiful film : ‘My father’s studio’

6 May

Jennifer Alleyn with her dad Edmund.

Not long ago I had the chance to see ‘My father’s studio’, a beautiful film by Jennifer Alleyn produced by Jeannine Gagné at Amazone Films. The opening screening will be at ExCentris in French and at Cinéma du Parc in English starting May 9th. Excellent editing by Annie Jean. It’s one of those films one should see on a big screen. It won the award for best Canadian production at the Festival des films sur l’art (FIFA) in Montreal.

He was a great artist, Edmund Alleyn: a master colorist, very creative and original. We learn from Jennifer’s movie that her dad made many new departures during his career. Every time he had a real success, he let go of whatever style he’d been working in, and started again in a new uncertain adventure.

Creative, original, but not talkative. Jennifer did one interview with him which is placed right at the top of the film. What he sais is heartfelt and full of meaning, but she had to work really hard to get just a few sentences from him. He died not long after. The movie is a testimony about his life and his art.

Beyond the cinematic qualities of the film, I found myself in familiar territory, because my dad Arne is an artist. He lives in Sweden and he still painting and teaching at age 91. My uncle Torsten, who died one year ago, was a painter and sculptor. My sister Eva paints watercolours and does drawings. Watching Jennifer’s film, I almost could smell the oil paint of the artist studios of my childhood.

I am sure it was not easy for Jennifer to make a film about her dad, and I asked her some questions.

How came up the idea to make a movie about you’re dad?
I’ve been wanting to do a film about my father for a long time. His double identity intrigued me. Born to an English family in Quebec City, he liked to say he was “French to the skin, English to the bone”. I feel connected to that reality. I was born in Paris in May 1968 and we immigrated back to Quebec in 1971. His life span covers recent Quebec history.
But it took me years and his departure, to find the approach that would allow me to plunge into his universe, his imaginings, while remaining respectful of his privacy. Can we ever access the soul of another being? During the research, I discovered he was quite a free thinker, and a philosopher as well as a painter. But the film doesn’t resolve or explain anything. It offers images to the viewer’s own interpretation. One mustn’t forget it is a posthumous dialogue, taking place in the silence of painting..

What are, do you think, the big themes in the movie?
I was very inspired by his work & notes . The fact that I started filming while he was alive and persued the shoot in his absence, gave a particular tonality to the film. In a way, it gave me the opportunity to follow some of his privileged themes: movement and stillness.
Life and death coexist in the film. But it was a celebration of life that I wanted to put on the screen. The title of the film refers to the physical space in which he worked for 40 years, but also to the creator’s mind, constantly processing images, memories, ideas, hopes or unfinished projects.

It’s a really personal film, did you hesitate before starting the process?

I never hesitated, but I went to television to see if the subject could interest others. Surprisingly, the French CBC immediately agreed to the voyage I was proposing. I knew my father was not a celebrity in Quebec, like Jean-Paul Riopelle or Borduas. But his path was very inspiring. He was as free spirit. Now that the film is finished I wonder what will be the next project that will drive me with such strength. It was so dense and deep.

Could you have done the movie while you’re dad was still alive? Do you regret that you didn’t ?

My only regret is that he couln’t be at the premiere of the film!

But had he still been around, it would have been impossible to do this film . He was quite a director himself. He would have called the shots and hired me as his assistant! So I waited for my turn. After his departure, I could revisit his life, question his trajectory, search for the missing fragments. Inheriting his studio gave me a dramatic starting point. The idea of structuring the film according as a stream of consciousness imposed itself very soon. Knowing my father’s love for Virgina Woolf, I would’nt be surprised if she whispered from the darkness…

In the narration,you decided to talk to you’re dad. Is it mainly a choice you made to communicate with the public, or is it because you had things to tell him, to clear up between the two of you ?
During the scriptwriting process, I wrote short texts to my father. Like Haicu’s. Some of them were too personal, but some made their way to the final narration.Through this very intimate dialogue, the father-daughter relationship is offered up. I though people could enter more easily into this intimate space if it was raw. No detour, no mask. Bluntly intimate!. The father figure has always been one of knowledge for me. His absence made me realise I had to turn to other sources to find answers. I guess I had a few unanswered ones I needed to bounce at him. I hope people can interchange characters and address their own parent, in the anonymity of the cinema!

Dix fois dix, by Jennifer Alleyn

30 Nov

Danseuse - Otto Dix

I’ve always been fascinated by paintings and music from Germany’s inter-war Weimar period. My friend Jennifer Alleyn has created a film on one of the most representative artists of that period, Otto Dix. (View the trailer here.) The film came out earlier this month in Montreal and Quebec City (see original post – in French – here.)

Jennifer is the daughter of painter Edmund Alleyn, the subject of her excellent film, L’Atelier de mon père. In her latest film, Jennifer uses a Dix painting rediscovered in Montreal as a starting point to explore the artist’s work. Inspired by Nietzsche and his experiences as a soldier in the First World War, as well as the economic and political crisis that would lead to the rise of Nazism, Dix did not shy away from depicting harsh realities such as war and prostitution. In Jennifer’s words:

Jennifer Alleyn2

“After L’Atelier de mon père, I was looking for a compelling topic. I really wondered what I could work on next. I wanted to feel the same certainty, the same strong connection with a subject. In the world of Otto Dix, I found difficult realities that are still all-too present, but I also found elements of mystery that completely fascinated me.

“It was during an art history class that I discovered Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons, 1925, which is part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts collection. The painting had a strong effect on me. I found it at once unsettling and captivating. It was that paradoxical sense of horror and beauty, terror and attraction that made me want to explore further.

“I then found out that the MMFA was planning a major exhibition of Dix’s work. I figured if I got the go-ahead to film the paintings, the preparations for the exhibition and the hanging of his works, it would make for a dynamic and interesting introduction to a film. The project expanded beyond the exhibition when I decided to include episodes from Dix’s life, and visited the family home in Hemmenhoffen and a Berlin gallery.

FIFA - Peter Duschenes avec le portrait l’avocat Hugo Simons (1925)

“The story behind the Portrait of Lawyer Hugo Simons, 1925 was like something out of a novel: the Jewish lawyer’s trial and escape to Canada, his regular correspondence for more than 20 years with Otto Dix . . . I felt the work had a strong emotional charge. Like an archaeologist, I headed off in search of the fertile soil that gives works their aura of mystery, the layers of history and human life that are laid down over time.

“It was challenging to trace the path of a man who had killed (Dix was a soldier in 1914 and again in 1945). His work reflects traumatic experiences that were to haunt him for the rest of his life. I was attracted by his strength and courage. Branded a degenerate artist by the Nazis, he never stopped painting or portraying the horrors he’d witnessed. In my research, I came across this phrase by Nietzsche: “Art is given to us to prevent us dying of truth.” I knew that Dix was very fond of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and this phrase kept coming back to me, guiding my film. I believe it’s key to understanding Dix’s work.

“I think I needed to shift my focus, to experience a more raw and shocking type of painting.

ABOUT THE FILM: “It’s very powerful. Rhythmic. Unexpected. Profound. Moving. Surprising.” Nancy Huston