Elder is an upcoming documentary essay about phenomenology, genealogy, Vikings, and superstition. To be completed for my Masters of Fine Arts thesis, Elder will consist of a film in multiple parts, structured in chapters using the ancient alphabet of the Vikings.
I will be travelling to Scandinavia this fall to research and shoot, and will be completing production over the winter. I will be working with digital rotoscoping, surrealist techniques, and an array of hand-processing techniques (including organic developer made from elderberry juice) to compose the various portions of this work.
The work is in a state of flux and is currently under development. It will be a personal document in which I navigate my crisis of offspring, settlement, and having a place in the world.
Elder is supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, the Roberto Ariganello Memorial Award, and an in-kind grant by Technicolour.
from my OGS application
Drawing from the rich tradition of autobiographical experimental narratives made canonical by Jonas Mekas, Su Friedrich and Chris Marker, my MFA thesis film Elder will investigate the cultural history of my family, regional biographies and histories, genetic research, and settlement narratives that stretch across continents. I will study how the genetic traits of the Vikings became entwined with a significant portion of the people of North America and Europe, and how other cultures became cross-pollinated with Viking aspects of superstition, folklore and religion. Missing portions of genealogical records allow for the creation of cultural histories that are reflexive, elastic and porous – inviting constant interrogation into the speculative nature of a civilization and its people. This permeable, fertile territory of what could be argued as “imagined history” forms the thrust of my research for Elder.
I will use autobiographical analysis to explore how these traditions continue to influence current time and place within my family and beyond. I will ground this research in the theme of botanical superstition and heritage: the heirloom genetics of plant species directly relate to the concepts of genetics, mortality and lineage in human beings. Throughout the film, I will question the importance associated with concepts of collective memory and heritage. This examination is crucial and supports my broader objective of expanding cultural understanding around heritage and lineage, and proposes that genetics and physicality may not be the only indicators of descendant qualities.
The crisis motivating Elder began when my sister quite suddenly considered having children after her treatment for thyroid cancer, never having previously discussed it with our family. I began considering my future as a queer adult and the dwindling likelihood of ever having biological offspring of my own. Will anything that makes up my identity remain in the world after I die? Are intellectual achievements something that we can consider heritage? I will explore my family’s history in Ireland and Scandinavia, drawing on the extensive records archived by my grandmother. This inquiry will be complemented by my study of Viking cultural civilization and settlement. From this research, the narratives of the project will emerge and I will survey these topics in a personal film essay. Exploring these overarching themes with interviews and family members, historians, and curators will further elaborate these overarching themes, and will invoke reflection on identity formation in relation to genetics and heritage. As well, I will weave together current-day travelogue and other real-world visual material to form a flow of images and sound that presents and questions the concepts I uncover in my research. This experimental footage accesses the metaphors present in the piece.
Due to the physical nature of my film practice (I hand-process 16mm celluloid), the material that composes Elder will be carefully considered. The title, Elder, is a reference to an elder tree and the source of much superstition in Scandinavian culture, and I will be processing footage with a photographic developer I make from hand-harvested elderberry extracts. This connectivity of material and metaphor is crucial to the total form of the completed work. My goal is to further develop the style I have been building in my previous work. I will be exploring the interplay of disparate techniques, invoking films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March, in which these filmmakers navigate through real-time observation and experimental, abstract footage to form cohesive structures. These techniques will amplify my current style, which uses a variety of methods to create metaphorical relationships between abstract imagery and linear narratives.
I will employ careful organization of the broad concepts within Elder, drawing from Su Friedrich’s alphabetical chaptering in Sink or Swim. Elaborating on this structure, I will arrange information into ‘conceptual chapters’ using the ancient Viking alphabet as an ordering principle. Each of the letters also represents a concept or item, disseminating the academic narratives of culture and heritage within a publicly accessible form immediately familiar to any viewer. Elder explores these narratives not only with autobiographical analysis, but synthesizes broadly researched concepts into a cultivated structure to interrogate the very notion of heritage.