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Film Fausto’s Andrea Bussmann, and the new rules of experimental Canadian cinema

Bussmann’s debut solo feature, the Goethe-riffing experimental film Fausto, will play the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto this week.

Xisela Franco

It is easy to say that Canadian filmmakers don’t play by the rules. A relative lack of resources and our distinct cultural sensibilities ensure such unorthodoxy. But director Andrea Bussmann has never even glanced at the rule book. Her layered, experimental short work – plus 2016′s Tales of Two Who Dreamt, her collaboration with husband Nicolas Pereda – weaves together myth and anthropology, truth and fiction, to create something both unclassifiable and exciting.

This week, Bussmann’s debut solo feature, the Goethe-riffing experimental film Fausto, will play the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto courtesy of the local indie-film collective MDFF. The screening represents a rare opportunity to see Bussmann’s work, or really any experimental Canadian film, on the big screen outside the insular environs of a film festival. Ahead of the event, Bussmann spoke with The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz about the precarious, but hopeful, future of experimental film.

How important is it for you to receive exposure outside something like TIFF’s Wavelengths program?

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It’s wonderful and also very unexpected. I think that when you make small – and I wouldn’t even say “independent” because this is quite small and experimental – you just do not think about a theatrical release. But it’s important because once you screen, you get access to more grants, in order to make more work. This film was made with with very little, and my own money – about $6,500 – and it’s hard to apply for grants. This is a way to get some funding, to make more films.

This film was shot in Mexico, and you split your time between there and New York. How much do you consider yourself a Canadian filmmaker?

I’m not even sure. A part of me identifies very much as a Canadian, and the next films I want to make, they can only be made in Canada and Mexico. At the same time, I haven’t lived in Canada for a number of years, and there’s always a distance when you leave a place. There’s a lot of hybridity, too. There are so many wonderful things about Canada, and so many things I’m critical about that maybe I wouldn’t be if I didn’t leave.

Such as?

It’s only natural when you spend a long time living somewhere else. Right now, I live in Mexico and you see certain things in contrast. Canadians feel multiculturalism is the best thing for a country, but it’s a country that doesn’t deal with race issues well. For example, I’m writing a film now about the neighbourhood I grew up in, Rexdale, a poor, working-class, migrant area in Toronto. I’m interested in looking at this case of a Somalian community, which is totally segregated from the rest of the city.

Do you feel this is a perspective shared by others in the Canadian filmmaking community right now? As in, a curiosity or eagerness to examine our multiculturalism?

Canada is so funny because it’s such a big country, and we filmmakers are so few. It’s radically different across the board. I’ll be honest in that I’m very narrow-minded in the kinds of cinema I like. I don’t have an idea of what is going on in commercial Canadian cinema because it doesn’t interest me. I do know a lot of Toronto-based filmmakers, though, and they themselves are all over the place in what interests them. There’s so much variety in terms of the content being produced, the aesthetics.

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What is your current take on the experimental-cinema landscape in Canada, if there’s enough of a landscape to even consider?

The thing about Canadian experimental cinema is that there is a history there, which continues. Also, Canadians have a strong documentary history. I think strangely enough Canadians have been making a lot of experimental films for many years, and we have many important figures, even if those figures are quite old now. But when I think of Toronto and Montreal, there are small but thriving experimental-film communities. If anything, they’re just isolated. Whether that’s socially, as they don’t spend their nights out with other types of filmmakers, or the places that their work can be shown. This is coming back to the question of exhibiting your work, which makes a big difference in terms of getting funding, engaging with young filmmakers and showing audiences there’s a world outside the mainstream.

Does the funding model need to change?

There’s a lot more money here compared to the U.S., in terms of government funding, but for experimental filmmakers to access that is much more difficult. It’s not like you’re going to go to the [National Film Board] and pitch an experimental doc and get money. Telefilm is only for a very particular kind of film as well. For myself, Telefilm feels like the most impossible place to get funding. We’re just not on their radar, and they’re not interested in our work regardless of how successful it is on the festival circuit. So that leaves the Canada Council, or provincial or city artist grants. Even then, there’s a desire to fund more issue- or narrative-based work. So it’s difficult, but it’s still there. There is the Images Festival [in Toronto], there are little festivals hanging on trying to show the work of Canada’s experimental filmmakers.

I don’t want to put the situation into a binary, but are you hopeful or pessimistic?

I think I’m always kind of a hopeful person. Experimental films are not going to be in Cineplexes. But when I went to York University for my MFA, I saw a lot of filmmakers starting there who thought they’d be fiction filmmakers. Then they fell in love with the teaching of Phil Hoffman, who explored experimental films. That says to me there’s a desire to do this – it’s just a matter of exposure. So long as there are spaces in universities and cinematheques, places that allow young people to see things they normally wouldn’t have access to, then yeah, I’m hopeful. It’s hanging on, maybe by a thread, but it’s still there.

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Fausto opens April 11 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto (tiff.net), kicking off this seasons’s run of the MDFF Presents screening series (mdff.ca).

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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