For nearly a decade this project sat in a box full of my old film school reels, and to be honest, no one was missing much. It was perhaps the very first thing my friend Dave and I ever shot on film, outside of a few tests maybe. At the very least it was the first assignment in the film program that required us to shoot and edit on 16mm.
What makes Silent City worth sharing is more than just the few seconds of grainy footage that we managed to capture. It isn't that there was some profound message behind our shots or that we had any intent of creating something epic to document how brilliant we were (although I wouldn't doubt that such things were said in jest at the time). The film was simply a start. It was a beginning to our film school careers, and in an unexpected and far more symbolic sense, it played a role as one of the ways that I said goodbye to Dave when he passed away last year.
The project was shot on an afternoon in Regina that consisted of us driving around downtown, Wascana park, and the university campus and randomly pointing the Bolex camera at things. As technical as I'm sure that sounds, I don't remember either of us being too concerned with what we shot, just as long as something actually developed when we got our film back.
The one scene that we actually put some thought into took place in Wascana park. It consisted of me shooting Dave as he walked across to the left side of the frame and then overexposing the shot as he walked back again. The idea, and how it ended up in the finished reel, is that we would cut the two shots together to contrast the exposures and motion between the takes. The result was like a ghostly apparition of Dave crossing paths with himself.
I really hadn't given the project much thought until Dave's passing in September 2011. Dave's girlfriend, Wendy asked me if I'd like to place anything in his casket and I suddenly felt there was a reason to dig out the reel again. I still had the envelope of raw 16mm clips that we'd spliced from this project when we had edited it on the giant Steenbeck late one night. After careful consideration I thought that nothing would be more fitting than to leave him with one of the first creative ventures we had shared in film school together. He'd have a piece of it, and I'd have the finished reel to remember what we made.
Up until February 2012, when I purchased myself a vintage 16mm projector, I still hadn't seen this project since we shot it back in 2003. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but the reality behind what had happened in just the last few months made each frame a bit more memorable, and even a bit haunting. It wasn't like watching a home video, the cold shots of the city and of Dave walking just seemed to echo a lot of the sadness behind losing a friend whom I'd shared so many memories like this with.
The reel of Silent City is simplistic, direct, and little more than a 16mm film test. And yet, it's become a project that I'll never forget or view the same way ever again.