Filmmaker Katia Shannon on “How I Watch Films as a Film Director”

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A few years ago, during an undergraduate film studies class viewing of Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967), I was struggling to find anything positive about the 40-minute imperceptibly slow zoom we were watching unfold. After reconsidering the value of my student loan, and whether or not people would notice if I took a quick nap, something great happened.

I dove into a contemplation of the nuances between entertainment, appreciation, and enjoyment. Who doesn’t love being entertained? That’s an easy one, and those films should exist and will always find their audience. To me, appreciation is more intellectual. It doesn’t come with immediate gratification, but it lingers somehow. As a burgeoning director, I need to work at appreciating things I don’t initially enjoy, to truly grasp the power of independent cinema.

During my studies at Concordia University, Professor John Locke would not provide us with lengthy life-altering explanations about the films he showed us (though I’m convinced they exist). His go-to critical commentary was blunt and giddy. ‘’See, that’s great!,’’ he would exclaim. And that was the point. We learned through actively watching and wondering for ourselves where the lesson laid. Why was this great? What am I seeing? What am I not seeing?

Professor Locke pointed us in the direction of historical contexts, such as new technologies that opened creative options. However, it was our responsibility to infer and find the real value of what we saw. It wasn’t just that the filmmakers were exploring new tools and creating aesthetic markers in time. It was also about the space these works left for us to ponder upon, in search of a redeeming quality. Maybe, to let go of our expectation that entertainment was the single measure of value.

Recently at the Whistler Film Festival, a guest sparked a discussion at an industry panel about Best Practices for Equity and Inclusion. Her question was: should audiences meet a film’s demand, or should filmmakers create work they know their audiences will love? Who leads the dance?

I like to think audiences can grow into appreciation and therefore create demand for more author-driven cinema. Just as we learn to read, write, and decode basic literary techniques in school, perhaps a few visual-media tenets are the key to broaden our tastes. If books are a good example, the demand for quality writing isn’t going away. In Quebec, the most lucrative creative industry is still literature over cinema, theatre, and music. Perhaps the same education can be applied to cinema?

As a director, I’m in the business of having opinions. It takes effort to slow down that analytical process (and it doesn’t always work), but I often think of Wavelength, almost a decade later. That’s taught me a valuable lesson, let the work speak for itself.

Montage of stills from Wavelength

As Wavelength’s never-ending zoom reached its pinnacle and the 35mm credits rolled up, I had created a little mental checklist to consider before writing off a film as uninteresting.

  • Watch now, decide later: Avoid casting judgment about anything until I’ve left the screening. Maybe its goal isn’t to capture the imagination but will make sense because of the ideas it generated.
  • Will I remember the mood of this film?
  • What does this tell me about what I don’t yet know?

And perhaps, I have now learned to enjoy what was previously only appreciated.

ABOUT KATIA SHANNON: Determined to take her family to Walt Disney World, Katia took her first plunge into film aged 9. Targeting the grand prize of 500$, she wrote the winning script for a national contest run by the CBC (Radio-Canada). Produced in 35 mm, Un accident inoubliable opened the Carrousel international du film de Rimouski. Katia later graduated from Concordia University in Montréal with a BFA in Film Production and an award for outstanding achievement in filmmaking. Fuelled by a love for passionate stories of human endeavour and inspired by the worlds of photography, painting and dance; Katia’s films, have been selected at numerous festivals including the Calgary International Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival, Air Canada EnRoute Film Festival and Fastnet Film Festival. Standstill is her latest short film currently on the festival circuit.

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