One-on-one with visual and performing artist Jil Guyon, about her recent film Rouyn Noranda
Meet New York artist Jil Guyon. iFilmFestival had an exclusive one-on-one with her a few months ago, on her recent film "Rouyn Noranda", and her experience as an artist and filmmaker.
Jil Guyon is a multidisciplinary visual and performing artist. Her work has been described as “new, dramatic, beautifully executed” (Ms. Magazine) and “moving, an emotional labyrinth” (Die Presse, Vienna). Her productions have been presented at theaters, cinemas, museums, galleries, and concert halls worldwide, including Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, Queens Museum, Museum of the Moving Image, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. As part of the Toronto Urban Film Festival curated by filmmaker Guy Maddin, her performance-video, Widow, was seen throughout the Toronto mass transit system, averaging over 2 million riders/viewers per day. She has collaborated/performed with many notable artists, including video/performance pioneer Joan Jonas; choreographer Noemie Lafrance; and singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls). Jil is a Lumiere Prize nominee and a recipient of numerous awards in experimental film. She holds an MFA from Hunter College where she studied with sculptor Robert Morris and art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss.
iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.
JG: “My most important film is always the one I've just completed. At this time that film is Rouyn Noranda, commissioned by La Caravans De Phoebus and Cinedanse, and produced in residency with L'Annex-A, Quebec. Fittingly it will premiere in November at the Festival du Cinéma International en Abitibi-Témiscamingue in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, Canada—the town where it was shot. The film features a lone woman driven by unconscious forces into a sprawling industrial environment. That environment, the Horne metallurgical plant with its landmark twin chimneys and surrounding landscape of industrial detritus, functions as a reflection of the protagonist's interior world. My decision to use the name of the town as a title is linked to the controversy surrounding the arsenic emissions of the twin chimneys—referencing the dilemma of an individual trapped in a world of pollution and poison, both political and emotional.”
iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?
JG: “This film was shot in northern Canada in mid-winter. We selected 2 potential locations—train tracks near the Horne metallurgical plant and a courtyard with a strange freestanding ladder. On the day of the shoot we arrived at our first location—train tracks—only to find the trains parked on the tracks. The second location, with its freestanding staircase to nowhere, was suddenly void of the staircase. So we found a new site with an apocalyptic view of the twin chimneys. The temperature that day was around -20 C with the wind chill. And though I was wearing gloves, after several hours my fingers were showing early signs of frostbite. So back to the car to warm up and out again until the snow became too heavy to continue the shoot. Sometimes the elements dictate.”
iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?
JG: “Because we had only one day on location and were shooting under extreme weather conditions that cut our time short, I'm proud I had enough material to even create a complete film. However, I like to think the obstacles in finding a location spot, extreme cold, wind chill, and heavy snowfall gave birth to an intensity and ruthless beauty that might have otherwise been lacking.”
iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
JG: “About ten years ago I was in the process of completing a live solo movement-based performance I had been developing though the dance festival circuit in NYC. I was having difficulty securing a theater, and spoke to a colleague about my challenges. She suggested I make a dance-film instead. Her advice struck an chord and through the help of other friends and colleagues I found a cinematographer and got a residency. To my shock, that film premiered at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater with the "Dance on Camera" festival and went on to screen at other festivals world-wide. It was the beginning of a series of works based on the a live performance that couldn't find a theatrical home.”
iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?
JG: “This film is one in a collection of experimental shorts that features a nameless woman exploring the contours of grief and transcendence within a succession of varied environments. My next location of interest is the iconic, newly renovated TWA terminal at the JFK airport. The futuristic design and red interior compliments and contrasts the visual aesthetic of the character.”
iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?
JG: “Film festivals provide countless opportunities for screenings and the possibility to mingle with fellow filmmakers and audiences. Though I'm not always able to travel with my work (I like to say my films have more of a life than I do - LOL), I am nevertheless grateful to have the opportunity to communicate with audiences around the world through my creations. When I can travel or share in an online chat through a festival it's like frosting on the cake.”
iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?
JG: “Apply to as many festivals as possible and don't be discouraged by rejection. Rejection is inevitable. Be relentless, and continue to submit.”
iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?
JG: “I think filmic experiences that are more immersive and fully embodied will become more commonplace. But I also think flat media will continue to live just as radio continues to live. New developments in technology are offering more tools and possibilities, but not necessarily replacing former technologies (at least not in the near future.) In addition, I suspect technologies that allow viewer participation in the unfolding of a narrative will increasingly find their way into experimental forms as well as the mainstream.”
iFilmFestival: Which filmmaker do you admire and why?
JG: “There are many, of course. But most recently I've been inspired by Antonioni. His film, Red Desert, is, to my mind, one of the most underrated in film history. It's not part of the Alienation Trilogy, but could be. Eschewing traditional plot narrative, the film features Monica Vitti drifting through an industrial wasteland. The shots of a toxic factory world are both stunning and terrifying. One can sense that Antonioni, though recognizing the dangers of modern industry, also finds beauty in the man-made. This film was a point of reference for me in the making of Rouyn Noranda.”
iFilmFestival: What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?
JG: “I watched Tarkovsky's Mirror for the fourth time recently. It is a film I appreciate more each time I see it. With every viewing it is as though I'm watching it for the first time—new details and understandings emerge. Mirror epitomizes the type of film I'm most drawn to—one with a non-linear, meditative, dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness structure.”
iFilmFestival: Thank you Jil for answering our questions!
Interview by iFilmFestival on 18 Oct 2022.