Sound of Space

The Sound of Space in Canadian Filmmaker Phil Hoffman’s

Experimental Documentary All Fall Down

Darrell Varga

 

Philip Hoffman is a leading practitioner of the diary film, combining an intense journey into memory and personal experience with a sweeping visual exploration of landscape and the quotidian rhythms of everyday life. This filmmaker’s work contributes to the recasting of contemporary documentary away from instrumental truth claims and toward an associative process where meaning is sought amongst the ruins of history and in the interstitional spaces and places of everyday life. All Fall Down (2009) weaves together the history of a 19th century farmhouse in the rich central Canadian farmland of southern Ontario, and the question of history and narrative attached to this land and its original aboriginal inhabitants. We enter into complex questions of place, property and legitimacy through the story of Nahneebahweequa, a nineteenth century aboriginal woman and land rights activist. This presence from two hundred years ago is juxtaposed with a glimpse into the life of a contemporary figure, a writer and drifter named George Lachlan Brown who is also the biological father of Hoffman’s step-daughter. The two hundred years of colonial history between Nahneebahweequa’s struggles and the troubled final years of Brown’s life are brought together in an exploration of landscape, archival material, diaries, the aboriginal paintings of Paul Kane, maps, lost graveyards, bad historical films and affectionate home video, along with trenchant telephone messages. Much of the soundtrack consists of Brown’s increasingly erratic phone messages threatening, condemning, and pleading conspiracy in recordings at once dealing with his political philosophy, conflicts with authority and related to child custody disputes. In this rich and diffuse narrative, Hoffman explores questions of legitimacy, landscape and fatherhood; happiness, love and childhood; memory, suffering and place. We only occasionally glimpse Brown in some of the home video footage, but his voice functions dialectically with the spaces and places of the film. Like many of the film’s images, the voice recordings are scratchy artifacts, found objects, palimpsests covered over with the rigor of time. In this paper I want to examine the complex forces of power and powerlessness present on the soundtrack and consider how the mostly unseen presence of this figure draws us into new ways of seeing space and landscape.

 

Darrell Varga is a filmmaker and Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada. Research areas include documentary film and questions of time and space, regionalism and globalization, Canadian cinema, culture and political economy. Co-editor of Working on Screen: Representations of the Working Class in Canadian Cinema, Editor of Rain/Drizzle/Fog: Film and Television in Atlantic Canada and author of the forthcoming: Eastern Passages, Filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic and is currently working on The Margin is Where I Stand: John Walker and the Documentary Film.

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