Larissa Fan never thought she’d be a filmmaker, much less one whose focus is the often-challenging (for both audiences and filmmakers) experimental genre. “I always liked art, and did still photography in high school, but being an artist never seemed like a viable option.” Says Fan. “After university I went to OCADU to study graphic design, thinking it would be a practical way to do something creative but still earn a living, but didn’t like the program and after taking a summer course in film, wound up taking film and video instead.”
Once that cinematic fire was lit, it seemed like a natural progression for Fan to combine all of her artistic interests in order to create projects that are meant to make audiences think about and feel for the subject matter in a wholly different manner than they’re used to. “My films are really based on observation of the world around me, and trying to capture an aspect of something that intrigues or moves me. Making a film for me is similar to doing a drawing or painting.”
Since 1994, Fan has made several short experimental films that have screened not only in Toronto (her latest The tide goes in, the tide goes out ““ a film showcasing the beauty of jellyfish – played as part of the closing night gala for this year’s Images Festival), but also as part of exhibitions all across Canada as well as in New York, Germany and Belgium.
But despite the call of other vibrant film landscapes around the globe, Fan remains proud to be a part of the Toronto film world: “There is an amazing experimental scene here. As a filmmaker, I’m really grateful for the existence of resources such as LIFT and Niagara Custom Lab. It would be difficult to make films without them. There are also really great opportunities for watching experimental film, such as The Images Festival, TIFF Free Screen, Early Monthly Segments and Pleasure Dome. There’s always something going on.”
She also has big love for Toronto-born filmmaker and artist Joyce Wieland: “Her films are so smart and playful and visually adventurous. Not many experimental filmmakers have a sense of humour, at least not one that they express in film, but she did. She was able to combine serious investigations of film structure with elements of narrative, humour and politics, at a time when that just wasn’t being done. Her films blow me away.” She particularly recommends Water Sark and A & B in Ontario (which immortalizes the Toronto Islands and other parts of the city) as an intro into Wieland’s work.
So would Fan ever make the leap into more mainstream films? ”I actually really like narrative film as an audience member, but I can’t imagine tackling one as a filmmaker. It seems like it would be really horrible and difficult.” She continues, “If I wasn’t an experimental filmmaker, I’d probably make documentaries. I’m really impressed with Jennifer Baichwal‘s films The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia and Manufactured Landscapes.”
Currently Fan is busy working on her own 30-minute tribute to Toronto in the form of a film about an often forgotten part of the city: the port lands, “It has a fascinating history but is a bit of a no-man’s land at the moment, so if I could immortalize the area by actually finishing the film, I’d be really happy.”
Zombies or Vampires? Vampires. They have better clothes.
Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? Harry Potter. Who doesn’t wish they could do magic spells?
David Cronenberg or David Lynch? David Cronenberg, specifically The Fly. So creepy.
Movie snack: sweet or savoury? Neither. It’s really difficult to eat during experimental film screenings – many of the films are either very quiet or silent, so popcorn crunching or rustling candy wrappers would be really disruptive. Unfortunately that can leave you hungry, and then you have to worry about the sound of your stomach growling. It’s a no-win situation.
Each month in 5 Questions, we talk to some of the Toronto film industry’s unsung heroes: the people slogging away behind the scenes to help make your life just a little more entertaining.