The hoarfrost was perched beautifully on the trees the other day as Tom and I drove to Red Deer. Everything was crystalline and precious in the delicate cold of the encroaching winter. We were sent to film a construction site. As usual, we set about finding the beauty in its quotidian brutality. This is not hard for us. We see the beauty of collective pride and skill, of unwashed work clothes and soiled hands. We see the careful tragedy in the way the low sun pours through the large bay doors and is held in the air by all of the particulates collectively taking years off the workers’ lives. This is not hard.
“‘It wasn’t Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here. It was a whole bunch of people made into one big crawling beast. And I was the head. It was westering and westering. Every man wanted something for himself, but the big beast that was of them wanted only westering. I was the leader, but if I hadn’t been there, someone else would’ve been the head. The thing had to have a head.
Under the little bushes the shadows were black at white noonday. When we saw the mountains at last, we cried – all of us. But it wasn’t getting here that mattered, it was movement and westering.
We carried life out here and set it down the way those ants carry eggs. And I was the leader. The westering was big as God, and the slow steps that made the movement piled up and piled up until the continent was crossed. Then we came down to the sea, and it was done.’ He stopped and wiped his eyes until the rims were red. ‘That’s what I should be telling instead of stories.’
When Jody spoke, Grandfather started and looked down at him. ‘Maybe I could lead the people some day,’ Jody said.
The old man smiled. ‘There’s no place to go. There’s the ocean to stop you. There’s a line of old men along the shore hating the ocean because it stopped them.'”
It is the night of November 8th, 2016 and Tom and I are driving to Calgary for work. When we leave Edmonton the world is one way, and by the time we get to Calgary it is another. We wonder if we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and mistakenly travelled back in time. We generally agree that this world we’ve constructed is often greedy, desperate, painful, and cruel, but that overall most people are trying every day to do the absolute best they can with the information they have available to them. But what we hear on the radio challenges us. It makes us think that maybe what people want more than anything is to hate. We stay up much later than we should in our disturbingly safe, comfy hotel room, watching people argue on television.
The next day we slink through our work. Everyone else seems to do the same. Nothing seems to matter. We joke that it should be a national day of mourning, in that revealing way people joke when they are saying something true. It seems like ignorance and fear have been propped up again, insurmountable obstacles in the face of difficult things that artists tend to want, like beauty. And for that day, we are complicit in this fear-induced regression the world is experiencing, because this is exactly the wrong attitude to have, this feeling of hopelessness. But we are afraid. Afraid that our voices, our work, will never have meaning, that this election result is indicative of a self-centred and ugly populism that we can never hope to swing. That we will never be able to turn someone’s head away from the narrow tunnel of their life to look at someone else’s and say: “that’s beautiful, the way you do that. I had no idea.”
This fear that we are letting in is as destructive as the fear that brought us here. This fear will keep you from opening up a book and seeing into the heart and the mind of a person who sees the world differently than you do. This fear will keep you from saying what you didn’t know was the perfect something for someone to hear. As I turn off the television that night, I tell myself: “if you believed in that power yesterday, you should believe in it tenfold today.”
People do not want to hate. It is just that they are afraid of being erased. Long ago there were people who walked around and said that the way to handle this fear of erasure is to love. And these people became priests. But to love someone without knowing them is a very hard thing to do and it requires a lot of time to think, and people did not have this time because they were too busy intermittently destroying and building to show their children what they could not say: that they loved them. And the priests saw that it was much easier to tell people to hate, because it required much less time to think, and there was never any time. The priests watched as people’s hate grew and grew until they were erasing each other by the tens or hundreds of thousands over disagreements about words they didn’t even know, and somehow this seemed simpler to people than sharing a loaf of bread or laughing at the lazy innocence of a pet. So it is that even now when people feel this fear of meaninglessness, of erasure, they are programmed to hate because that is all anyone has ever told them. It is easy for them to hate because they believe that they are hated in return, which of course is true, for they become the subject of others’ fear-avoidance. The priests meanwhile feel very clever, because they are drunk with power over creating so much hate. They sit far away from it all. Who knows what they think about. It won’t matter for very much longer anyway. Because, see: nobody puts much stock in the opinions of priests these days. It is a painful time, because we are struggling to find a replacement for the priests. For now we are trying out the businessmen, who look different from the priests but are their disciples. But the right replacement will come. Never fear.
DRH: So what’s the impetus to move on to another one? Boredom?
NEIGHBOUR: I guess I call it finished when I feel in my gut that it is as best as it can be. Like if I do anymore I will wreck it. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It is tricky. But definitely not all my paintings are ones I’m happy with. Lots of failures.
DRH: Do you still put perceived failures out into the world, or is there like a dump pile that never sees the light of day? Have you learned to concede that a perceived failure to you may be of profound value to someone else? I think I envy the inability to remove paint from a canvas. With a film, you can undo the entire thing if you want to, start from scratch. I think this is considerably more curse than blessing.
NEIGHBOUR: The failures don’t see the public eye usually. I may paint over some of them someday. Yes sometimes someone wants to buy a perceived failure because it is special to them. And that is alright sometimes but generally I don’t want a perceived failure to get out into the world and live on its own. I would hate for that painting I’m less than happy with to represent my career in an art history book sometime after I’m dead.
DRH: What does it matter? You’re dead, and someone might really like that page in that art history book.
I’ve gotten a chance to direct a few local music videos through my friend Blake’s company: Back Road Productions. That’s how this one came to me. I met with the guys from Norell at Empress, sweaty after a basketball game. They told me their idea. I liked the idea of pairing the energy of the song with the story of a contemporary dancer. My favourite part of the video is that the guys agreed to film the performance section at a dance studio and all go barefoot. The mural in the background is by my neighbour Tim Rechner and it’s my second favourite part. My third favourite part is my friend Kelsey’s choreography, which she performed with relentless dedication. And of course none of it would’ve been possible without Tom’s time and talent.
Considering it was just Tom and me on this one, I’m pretty proud of what we were able to do. Hope you dig.
Well okay, playing a bit of catch-up here. But it’s better than letting the “series” go unfinished, no?
We wrapped the shoot on Friday night. Lizzie seemed to gain more confidence with every passing day. It’ll be a hell of an edit (we shot about 500GB worth of ProRes for a probably 8-10 minute film), but I think there’s a really nice movie in there and I’m really proud of the images that Tom, Jenna, and I collaborated on.
The best part about making this movie was the family we created there in that weird dorm at the bible college. Ashleigh’s oldest running around harassing us, trying to stick his fingers in our ears or grabbing ahold of our legs and making us drag him around; Ashleigh’s youngest waving his arms in pure elation in front of the laptop screen, celebrating video game victories; meals prepared cooperatively and enjoyed graciously; vulnerably honest conversations going late into the night over tea and bourbon. Truth be told I think it was tough for Lizzie and me to go back to our comparatively quiet apartment. Fortunately Tom lives downstairs and it happened to be his birthday the night we all got back. We drank whisky and ended up watching the convenience store scene from No Country For Old Men. At some point Lizzie realized we had left all the empty beer cans under the sink at our dorm, the dorm at which alcohol is strictly forbidden. So maybe we might not get called back to visit Caronport any time soon. But I think if you ask Lizzie, she’d say that this film, and the process of making it, might have finally expunged any need to revisit those old ghosts. Anytime soon, at least.
This week I’m down in Waterton with my dad and my brother on a bit of a vacation that’s been a long time coming for us. We’re going to spend the week hiking and reading and talking and I’m going to take some photos and maybe even make it back home in time to play my basketball game on Thursday night. We’ve already been to the top of a tiny mountain and the wind was so strong that if you jumped straight up you’d sail about five feet forwards. We laughed and laughed and somehow managed not to loose a single hat.
Long day. Mosquitos in Caronport continue to be an existential threat to humanity, but we are persevering. See the problem is that if you want to make a nice movie in the prairies, you have to shoot in a wheat field at dusk. And it is at this very time, dear reader, that mosquitos are at their most murderous.
Moose Jaw is surprisingly awesome. Everything moves at a much slower pace in Saskatchewan. We dress our sets and buy groceries for the crew. Tom, Jenna, Ashleigh, and the kids arrive in Caronport around nine-thirty despite getting a flat outside Llyodminster. Tomorrow we start shooting this thing.
Drove to Saskatchewan today. Tomorrow we scout and prep, then on Wednesday we start shooting the script that in many ways brought Lizzie and I together. Will share more about that when the movie’s a little further along. In the meantime, here are some photos I took with my new A7r.
Tasy is in love and barely looks away from her phone even as the majestic Rockies pass by. Every few minutes she checks to see if she’s somehow missed something, even though she knows it’s impossible: the phone’s been sitting on her lap the entire time. I resist the urge to make fun of her for being so smitten. I also resist the urge to insist that she not text and drive, at least through the mountains. I figure if we go down, at least it’ll be in the service of love/art.
In Vancouver, we stay just a few minutes’ drive from where I used to live. Walking the same streets all these years later, I see them very differently. I’m surprised and relieved to see that my old video store still exists, maybe the last independent video store in Western Canada. I think about what it would be like to live in this neighbourhood again, now that I have a lot less fear. It’s interesting how fear of the unknown manifests itself in these petty, pathetic ways, as simple as not trusting food that doesn’t come from one of the larger brand-name grocery stores you grew up with. “It would be great to give this another chance at some point,” I find myself thinking for the first time since moving back to Edmonton six years ago. After breakfast I text Lizzie: “Delicious eggs and toast and coffee for under ten dollars; we need to move to a real city.”
I meant that text as a joke when I sent it, but looking at it now isn’t there some truth to that? Maybe part of what makes a city “real” is being able to go out for breakfast and be around other people, and have this be not in any way elitist but just matter-of-fact. Does the fact that it’s very near impossible to get a sit-down breakfast in Edmonton for under 15 dollars inevitably create this dichotomy, with alienating Tim Hortons lineups followed by further alienating vehicle-based consumption on the one hand, contrasted by brunch-obsessed nimbyistic bureaucrats on the other? As I watch swaths of interesting-looking humans get in line at the cafe in East Van, I start to feel like back home I really am little more than a denizen of a glorified work camp.
We move along to Victoria. Maybe there’s a bit of a novelty to that ferry ride that inevitably wears off if you have to do it with any degree of regularity, but for all of us I think there’s still something very romantic about the whole thing.
A few notes about my companions:
Tasy is enigmatically quiet. I think she likes to let her music speak for her, as corny and awful as that sounds. When she does talk, it’s usually something heartbreakingly endearing, followed by a delighted laugh. As far as I can tell, she can play every “rock band” kind of instrument better than most people can play only one. She’s probably one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, and I’m really excited to see what kind of sounds she’s making in ten years, or twenty. I think she’ll get to do this for a while.
Louis is one of the most jovial people I’ve ever been around. He laughs easily, and you feel instantly happier when he’s around. I find Louis so charming and affable that sometimes I’m too distracted to fully appreciate just how perfectly his guitar playing compliments Tasy’s music.
Aidan oscillates between stern seriousness and utter absurdity, and I enjoy both sides equally. He loves music and takes a tremendous amount of pride in understanding it like a craft, a trade. He’ll notoriously write out the drum parts he’s learning for all the different bands he plays in (the only pop drummer I’ve ever seen do this). Of the four of us, he seems to be the only one collecting Pokemon.
Victoria is beautiful and kind of sleepy and filled with tourists. I fantasize briefly about getting a job at a hotel out here and living with a much greater degree of simplicity. I’m in Victoria for a total of twelve hours before I’m on a plane back to Edmonton so I can be back in time to catch Peter Gabriel and Sting, a concert my mom has been excited about since the day it was announced and has been preparing for like a religious ceremony (which it basically is, it turns out).
Tasy is moving away now and no one is quite sure what exactly will happen with the band, but the few days that I was privileged enough to get to spend with these fine humans have catapulted to the forefront of whatever puzzling subsection of neurons and electricity comprises our happiest memories.