ELLIE EPP    web worksite film pages  CV   email
Mind and land: vision and intuition in the open air - Grande Prairie Regional College Special Speaker Series - September 24, 2008 at 7:30 pm - Lecture Theatre D208

Ellie Epp is a Peace River Country native: born in Sexsmith and raised on a farm outside La Glace. She studied psychology, philosophy and English at Queen's University, and film at the Slade School of University College London. Her films have become classics of Canadian experimental cinema. She has also worked in video, photography, experimental writing, garden design, digital graphics, and the web. The emergence of cognitive science in the late 1980s took her back to school, and she has a recent PhD in the philosophy of neuroscience. Her web book, Being about: perceiving, imagining, representing, thinking was written to work out a body-based philosophical platform for her own and others' work in art. She teaches embodiment studies at a small progressive college in the US and is experimenting with high definition digital video.

In the late 1970s Epp returned to her home territory with a Canada Council grant for a project about place. She lived in an old farmhouse near Valhalla Centre for parts of several years. The art she made during that time has taken images of the Peace River Country to many parts of the world. A two-hour show of slides and writing called Notes in Origin has been performed in Melbourne, Toronto, San Francisco, Montreal, and at Canada House in London. A film also called Notes in Origin was screened as part of the celebrations for the opening of the new National Gallery of Art in Ottawa. It has toured in Japan and France and is studied in film courses in art colleges across Canada.

Her talk in the Special Speaker Series will be illustrated with slides from Notes in Origin and will show how new findings in neuroscience support our native intuition that deep contact with natural landscape is vital to whole and lively minds.

Artist's statement:

I was born in Sexsmith and grew up on a farm fifteen miles west of there. When I was eighteen I was in a hurry to leave. I went away and studied and worked in a lot of different places. Now I'm sixty-three years old, have a reputation in experimental film and a PhD in neurophilosophy, and work in the US - but I'm still the Epp girl from La Glace.Where I come from has been important in everything I've done.

Coming back to speak to people from my own country is a wonderful occasion for me and I want to accomplish it in the most true way I can, so I have been thinking about what it is that I really want to say. Some years ago I was invited to speak at a symposium on land, relationship and community, and I gave a talk called Leaving the land: perception and fantasy. The talk was based on the experience of growing up in a small Mennonite family on a farm and it described how mystified I had been that people could live amid the fantastic beauty of the countryside and not seem to feel it, not care about it. I went on to talk about how recent neuroscience supports the idea of connection with land rather than religious or philosophical or scientific alienation.

I thought at first that I'd give that talk again at Grande Prairie Regional College, but I changed my mind, partly because that talk is already made; it's online if you want to see it. Mainly though it's because there's another story I'd rather tell you now. It is the story of what it was like to come back to the land as an artist for parts of three years in the late 1970s.

It's an illustrated story because I want to show you some of the slides I took during that time. I want to show the slides because I have always wanted to give these images back to the place that gave them to me; I used to dream of making prints and sending a set of them to every school in the county, so that kids seeing them in the corridor could feel confirmed in some secret love they feel for the bush and the fields. I also want to show them because I want to be able to talk specifically about some of the ways I was seeing, and some of what had gone into learning to see in those ways.

So this talk is about being with the land and not knowing it ­ and then going away and learning how to focus and see and feel ­ and then coming back and making images ­ and then going away and working with those materials I'd made and found ­ and now thinking about how all of that fits together.


"My films are documentaries, in the sense that they want to see and show some real thing. What they want to show is the qualities of natural motion, and then, beyond that, the experience of how much can be seen. A state of speechless seeing.

"Both my films and the landscape are full of things to see, but they must be met with a concentrated spatial attention. There is not a lot to be said about them.

"The film, notes in origin, stakes itself on the bare presence of a mind in a landscape. Images are given as separated takes so that it will be clear that their connections occur behind the scenes, in the landscape itself.

"A swan left behind on the ice turns her head. The moon rises into the frame at its own speed. A field stands evaporating at spring break-up. A sheet of ice amplifies the filmmaker's heartbeat. Heat rising from a cookstove throws tenuous shadow onto some cold flies. A cloud traveling toward the camera dazzles by the complexity of its reshaping motion. An invisible nettle is intercepted by porch rails. Small changes of light can be seen to be driven by the same wind that bends the nettle.

"What I like in film is precision, slightness, economy of means, delight, inference, and a kind of motion that can be followed but not tagged, and makes seeing intelligent."


 Critical comment:

Suffice it to say that amidst the unearned emotion, facile ideas, undigested cultural tradition and slavish derivativeness of much of the work I saw, Epp's films stood out as works of bracing, resolute intelligence and purity. - James Quandt

Recognized but rarely discussed by experimental film critics, the name of ... Ellie Epp tends to slip onto the artistic honour roll of Canadian structural filmmakers somewhere behind Michael Snow. This is understandable, for in the dozen years between her first released film, Trapline (1976), and ... Notes in origin (1988), Epp has made only one other film, Current (1983). The total screening time of the Epp film canon is about half an hour. This modest output and long hiatus in production have kept interest in Epp's films rather quiet. Nonetheless, the situation is deceptive, for within her rigorously defined arena, Epp is a remarkably complete film artist. The elegance of her style and extreme economy of means characterizes how thoroughly she has worked through her minimalist project in cinema, and the closer and more attentive to her films one becomes, the purer and more intricate they are. - Bart Testa in Recent Work from the Canadian Avant-garde.

Though she made few films, Ellie Epp's Trapline (1976) maps another way out of structural film toward a cinema of delicate implication, while her notes in origin (1987) is the most deceptively modest landscape film made in Canada after Sailboat. - Bart Testa in the Experimental Film entry of the Canadian Encyclopedia online


Trapline 1976, 16mm film, 18 min, color and sound

Several filmmakers continue to explore space and landscape on film. [...] Ellie Epp's Trapline (1976) is the most cooly beautiful of all: filmed in the Silchester Road Public Baths, London, it sets a sequence of geometrically organized shots, outwardly but gently alive with light changes, ripples and reflections, within the continuous, distantly reverberant sound space of the entire building. - Tony Reif in Self Portrait: Essays on the Canadian and Quebec Cinemas

Trapline is a filmic essay in composition, color and the process of narrative. With much craft and elegance, Epp discloses a fractured location - a swimming pool. Largely using long-held static shots she presents images of light on trembling water, reflections on glassy surfaces, and now and then, the momentary invasion of the frame by swimming children. The film is structured by dividing scenes with leader. A soundtrack of echoing voices implies a narrative always refused. A beautiful and superbly shot film of power and elegance. - Michael O'Pray, curation notes for Independent means: Canadian experimental films at the Co-op


Notes in origin 1988, 16mm film, 15 min, color, silent - available in SD DVD

Shot in northern Alberta, where the artist grew up, the film consists of ten long-take shots of various lengths divided by black leader bearing a number for each successive shot. Like Trapline, Notes in Origin can be divided into series, three in this instance, and they can be labelled 'landscapes' (shots 1-5), 'interiors' (shots 6-8), and 'the porch' (shots 9 and 10). But instead of a theme and variation structure, Notes in origin develops a loose progression from static long view (shot 1 looks like a still slide until it is almost over) to an intimate gaze at elements in delicate emotion. Perhaps the most fascinating is the 'interior' series that, like parts of Trapline, play off reflection and transmission of light. Although a slighter and less intricately woven film than Trapline, Notes in origin realizes the subtle lyricism that appears in the last image of its predecessor. Here Epp intimates a mysteriously shared and personal complicity of artist and viewer without, however, abandoning that purity and extraordinary elegance that mark Epp as one of the most accomplished of film artists. - Bart Testa in Recent Work from the Canadian Avant-garde.

I was fortunate to be able to see her most recent work during my lecture tour in Victoria and Vancouver last January, the short film Current and the complex but powerfully pure film Notes in Origin. The latter film moved me so much that I immediately booked it for my lecture on Canadian film-making in Regina, where it aesthetically held its own in company with masterful film-making by Arthur Lipsett, Jack Chambers, among many. Notes in Origin is absolutely unique in its simplicity of technique which evolves an extraordinary power of quietude through spartan visual means. - Stan Brakhage, support letter 1988

... the whole thing is somehow imbued with that sense of absolute persona, desperately needing to see and to see in such a way that's unique, that's honest. - Brakhage at Concordia January 2001

Notes in origin ... was my favorite because of Epp's playfulness and superb grasp of time and timing. At the end of each 'note' I hoped there would be another, until I fell into Epp's rhythm and understood how many notes there would be. The length of each note was perfect, and her punctuation at the end of the film was direct without taking the audience out of the film. - Julianna Yau reviewing Double vision Berlin/Toronto


Bright and dark 1996, 16mm film, 3 min, color, sound

This film is devoid of images and is comprised of a series of bright and dark screens. Ellie Epp's incarnation of intuition is entirely pleasing. It lulled me back into a state where I was uncertain whether or not I was inside or outside my own mind. This lull brings the viewer into an embryonic lightness, with the kind of subtle awareness one might see as intuition. It's the kind of awareness that "cuts through all my bones and all my veins." Bright & dark is "an experimental film exploring the magical chemistry sensed inside us like light dancing in sealed dark places," and will provoke all six of your senses. - Clea Ainsworth reviewing the Coming to her senses omnibus, The Peak, vol 95(11) March 17, 1997