Images Conscious

John Torres, Lukas nino (Lukas the Strange), 2013, video, color, sound, 82 minutes.

GIVEN THAT IT FEATURES a character who may or may not be a half-man/half-horse creature known in Filipino folklore as a tikbalang, Lukas nino (Lukas the Strange) is bound to be one of the more mysterious films to surface this year. It’s all the more impressive that John Torres’s fifth feature can seem so ineffably and gloriously odd even when it’s situated amid the bounty of unpredictable live-music-and-movie matchups, doc-fiction hybrids, and other exercises in boundary blurring that fill Toronto’s Images Festival every year.

Though now prodigious and established enough to qualify as North America’s largest festival of experimental and independent moving-image culture, Images has maintained its ability to surprise, a challenge considering the swiftness with which one generation’s innovations and provocations become standard protocols for the next. Increasing its emphasis on live events that combine aspects of film, music, and performance is one thing the festival has done to shake off the rust (not to mention set itself apart from the dozens of other Toronto festivals striving to provide an alternative to the almighty TIFF). Having presented vintage films with live scores by Yo La Tengo and Fucked Up in recent editions, this year's Images presents a more strictly contemporary sort of sound-vision merger with an opening-night program that pairs the sumptuous drones of Montreal’s Tim Hecker with eerily stark views of flora and fauna by Boston filmmaker Robert Todd. On Images’s final night, the duo of Chicago drummer Hamid Drake and Toronto saxophonist David Mott promises to deliver a more thunderous accompaniment for Corredor, local filmmaker Alexandra Gelis’s inquiry into the colonial legacy and modern contradictions that surround the Panama Canal.

Though the ten-day schedule includes more performances than in years past as well as a generous array of installation works in local galleries, it’s the On Screen program of new film and video that often yields the festival’s most startling finds. Indeed, Torres’s Lukas nino rates as more marvelous than most, with its beautifully distressed imagery (shot on digital video and heavily treated 35 mm) and equally cryptic storytelling. The fragments of voice-over and text parse out details of a thirteen-year-old boy’s quest to discover the truth about his missing (and possibly half-equine) father amid the excitement caused by a film crew’s visit to his rural town. The result somehow synthesizes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s pastoral mysticism, the dissembling narratives of Nicolás Pereda, and a brand of kino delirium that’s pure Guy Maddin.

New entries by Adele Horne (Maintenance), Jesse McLean (The Invisible World), and Kevin Jerome Everson (represented by two new works) all make equally strong impressions. Arriving at Images fresh from its Turner Prize win in December, Elizabeth Price’s eighteen-minute video The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is startling for its wit and concision. Opening as a cheeky primer on the correlations between English cathedral design and the construction of pop songs like the Shangri-Las tune heard in ecstatic snatches on the sound track, it soon shifts into a darker-hued rumination on a fiery tragedy in late-1970s Manchester. As disparate as all three subjects may seem, Price’s ingenious film uncovers a veiled vernacular of words and gestures.

Jane Gillooly’s Suitcase of Love and Shame is a historical inquiry of another kind. The latest by the recent Guggenheim Fellowship recipient is a collagist work based on an unusual trove of photos and audio tapes that the filmmaker found in a suitcase purchased on eBay. The material documents an adulterous affair that took place in the US in the mid-’60s; the lovers conveyed their feelings to each other not by secret notes but by reel-to-reel recordings. Setting these sometimes shockingly intimate passages of real audio to her own images of lonely interiors and objects evoking the era (or at least a Lynchian version of it), Gillooly emphasizes the fraught and furtive notes we hear in those voices as desire gives way to desperation and despair.

The Images Festival runs April 11 to 20 in Toronto.