Mar. 13, 2013 - Issue #908: In Your Face
It's this unique piece of hardware that allowed Armstrong to make Magnetic Reconnection. Or, at the very least, it's what let him capture its subject matter—the aurora borealis—with previously unseen clarity. Over its 12-minute runtime, fat ribbons of neon-green light swirl and tangle in a dance with an unbelievable clarity, while a voiceover by Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) and score by Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rourke illuminate the visuals in a more aural way.
Magnetic Reconnection is screening as part of the Alberta Biennial's short film program at Metro Cinema, included alongside Trevor Anderson's musical doc The Man That Got Away and Amanda Forbis's Wild Life, which was nominated for an Academy Award this year for best short.
Reconnection's inclusion in the Biennial screening is just one measure of the film's success; sitting with his hand over his coffee as he talks, Armstrong notes that there are some 60 – 70 screenings booked for this year, scattered across the continent. Too many to get out to himself, though he is trying for a couple (a few days after our chat, Armstong headed down to SXSW to screen it there.)
The idea for Reconnection began some 10 years ago, in a discussion with an auroral scientist Trond Trondsen. Three years ago, it got serious: funding came through, and after a couple of postponements, Armstrong and Trondsen went out to Churchill, Manitoba for 10 days to shoot the aurora.
"We had astonishing, almost divine luck on this project," he says, "Because we were there on 10 nights, and we captured footage on nine of those nights. [Trondsen had] been on many trips to study the aurora in a more scientific capacity, and on a 10-day trip, even with optimal conditions, you might see it three, maybe four nights. So to get nine nights is almost unprecedented. And he said the quality that we saw there—and he grew up in Norway, and [there] the aurora is like selling sand to the desert—but he said it's on par with some of the best he's ever seen. And you happen to have a camera pointed at it."
It's worth noting that Magnetic Reconnection shares a subject, shooting location and even sound design by O'Rourke with another flick, Peter Mettler's Picture of Light. Armstrong was aware of the film before setting out to make his—he'd seen it twice, actually—and did his best to excise Mettler's voice from his head when approaching it for his own.
In Armstrong's film, shots of the aurora are juxtaposed with abandoned or damaged man-made debris around Churchill. There are clips of the wreckage of a crashed C-46 aircraft, called Miss Piggy, that went down in 1979, as well as the Ithaca Four, a Greek steamship once owned by Mussolini. Armstrong isn't completely sure he knew he'd include that footage when he set out to make the doc, but when he was in Churchill, it naturally found a place.
"I've always been attracted to erosion and decay; I think it's very beautiful," he says. "And there were these modern remnants of the modern era that were left to rust; in most other situations, someone would come in and cart away a plane wreck or shipwreck, but they were just left there. And so we spent a lot of time shooting there, walking out to remote spots ... that was part of the plan. I think it was part of the plan. Like most projects that are a bit ambiguous, they can go through various stages of ebb and flow and they become malleable. I usually start projects with an idea but not a script; like an essay, but not something formally written out as a script, with storyboards. I tend to just capture what I see and what grabs my eye based on themes that I think about in my life."
Sun, Mar 17 (4 pm)
Part of the Alberta Biennial Films
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
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