Regina-based filmmaker Sarah Abbott got an unexpected call to come north in March.
Because a German filmmaker requiring hip surgery cancelled at the last minute, the position of artist in residence at Dawson City’s Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture had to be filled immediately.
So Abbott jumped at the chance.
She was looking for a place where she could just focus on her work and find new inspirations.
“I’ve never been to the Yukon and it was a chance to experience a place I know very little about,” said Abbott.
While in the Klondike, Abbott is working on a project entitled The Ascension of Billy, a hybrid documentary and fiction film.
It’s about a man who arrives in Saskatchewan in 1937, and has visions which lead him to New Mexico to witness the Trinity blast (the first explosion of an atomic bomb on July 16th, 1945).
The young filmmaker originally hails from Montreal but she has spent the last two years in Regina, Saskatchewan.
She graduated from Queen’s University in 1991 with an honours degree in drama and film studies.
Her thesis film, My Withered Tomato Friend, was included in the Toronto Film Festival.
She completed work on her MFA in art video from Syracuse University in 2003.
Abbott was inspired to make My Withered Tomato Friend when she heard the journal of a victim of domestic violence read aloud on the radio.
The film depicts a woman in a bathtub speaking about the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her partner.
At the end of the film the audience learns that the woman has been giving herself an abortion while in the tub.
“The personal is one of my palettes,” said Abbott. “It is important to talk about our experience because we are all human.”
It remained Abbott’s only political piece for a while, but she eventually found this theme creeping back into her work while in Syracuse.
Now her primary themes are physically political — the body in relation to technology, the body as a source of knowledge and memory, and the experience of being.
“The more things you do with your hands, the more knowledge comes into your body,” she said.
Film is more physical than video, she said. When working with video it is so easy “to just sit and stare at the screen.
“For me, that’s an impact on the health and strength of one’s body.”
Themes tend to become evident only after an artist has created a body of work and she has tried to create a different film each time because she enjoys exploring different ways of storytelling, said Abbott.
Despite her preference for working with film, Abbott’s most recent piece Tide Marks was shot digitally.
This film was created in Cape Town, South Africa.
While shooting with film usually requires a second person to record sound, Abbott was able to shoot the entire thing herself because video equipment is so compact.
Work on Tide Marks began in 2002, when Abbott was undertaking an internship in Cape Town with the Human Rights Media Centre.
She interviewed the friends she made there and shaped the film around what they had to say.
Before 1994 the global community was not really aware of what apartheid was because it had disappeared from the media, she said.
The film celebrates the grassroots fight against apartheid.
Tide Marks was completed in 2004, and then Abbott began teaching at the University of Regina.
For Abbott there are many rewards to being a filmmaker. It pushes her to go to places she wouldn’t normally go and do things she wouldn’t normally do to get a shot, she said.
The residency program was created to give artists time to develop and research projects, and introduce them to northern people and ways of living.
But it also gives to the community by keeping Yukoners up to date with new ideas and ways of thinking about art, and providing workshops and presentations in Dawson.
All of this makes the program a perfect fit for Abbott.
Residencies last anywhere from one to three months; Abbott will be residing in Dawson until the end of May.
Abbott participated in the Dawson City International Short Film Festival this month.
She will also be showing Tide Marks on May 11th at KIAC, and providing a three-night workshop for people who are interested in creating video art.