For 10 days, Edmonton filmmaker Kyle Armstrong sat under the frozen March sky of Churchill, Manitoba, staring into the ethereal curtain of the aurora borealis. Eight months later, on November 4, he watched the same aurora – the one he’d filmed – on a screen, premiering in Hollywood as part of the American Film Institute’s 2012 festival.
While Armstrong’s film, Magnetic Reconnection, has been labeled as an experimental documentary, the 12-minute short defies genrefication. “The film is not about the aurora,”says Armstrong, “but the aurora isa bit of a backdrop for it.”
Nine nights of pristine footage – a coincidence Armstrong describes as “divine” – yielded nearly 130,000 pictures that Armstrong pieced together to express something artistic, environmental and spiritual.
Armstrong poured bleach over some of the film cells, making the film appear well worn, scratched and stained, while the music, written by Grammy winner Jim O’Rourke, slows to become nothing more than sonic oscillations. Both effects explore the theme of decay through the film’s own deterioration. O’Rourke has worked with acclaimed acts such as Gastr del Sol and Sonic Youth in his career.
Armstrong then contrasts shots of wrecked tankers, rusted and stagnant, with the dynamic aurora, showing the difference between the impotence of human invention and the ever renewing vigour of nature.
And it’s all in less than half the time of a sitcom.
Despite the connotations of experimental film, Armstrong – the southern Alberta farm-raised father of two (with another one on the way) and part-time instructor of architectural technology at NAIT – shies away from pretension.
He just wants people to see the film, and Edmonton will have its chance on January 27, when the Art Gallery of Alberta plays it as part of its Biennial of Contemporary Art.
Should you see it, Armstrong asks that you approach the film with an open mind.
“Just experience it and don’t have any expectations,” says Armstrong. “And don’t be scared off by ‘experimental.’ If my wife likes it, it’s good.”