Mixing things up at TIFF

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By Samantha Saunders

Peter Mettler, a Ryerson film graduate, mixed things up at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival with a new approach to art.

Image mixing, a technique which involves placing layers of images on a screen, is Mettler’s way of combining pictures and music in a unique way to create a “cinematic experience.” Last Friday night, a sparkling disco ball hung from the ceiling of Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The crew beneath it busily attached electrical cords and moved gigantic speakers, with only twelve hours left to transform the former place of worship into an all-night party.

Elsewhere, an eight-hour performance party, allowed Mettler to take on the role of a disc jockey, playing variations of classical, jazz and electronica music, matching the music with the moods depicted in the pictures.

“It’s more like musicians jamming,” explains Mettler, while calmly directing his crew as they set up the sound system for his show. “It’s contemplation to action.

“I think that it’s largely a social experience. And if it gives anybody an epiphany, that’s a bonus.”

Mettler, who is known for his thought-provoking imagery, mixed images alongside local and European artists. The show ended with a series of dance beats, meant to provide the audience with an opportunity to dance while reacting to his images.

The critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker and former Ryerson film student is in town to be honoured by the Toronto Film Festival Group.

This year, nine of Mettler’s films, including Scissere (1982), his Ryerson thesis film, were showcased in the Canadian Retrospective. The group also published Of This Place and Elsewhere: The Films and Photography of Peter Mettler, a book by Jerry White.

Mettler took a year off in 1981 to spend time as an observer at a heroin rehabilitation centre in Neuchatel, Switzerland. This experience inspired the experimental narrative, Scissere, before graduating in 1982. The documentary is the first-ever student film to be showcased at the TIFF.

After directing Scissere, Mettler went on to make Eastern Avenue (1985), The Top of His Head (1989), Tectonic Plates (1992), Picture of Light (1994), Balifilm (1997), and Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002), which won a Genie Award for Best Documentary. His most recent film is Manufactured Landscapes (2006).

Mettler has also worked extensively as a composer, actor, producer, writer, editor and cinematographer on his own films and countless others, while living between Canada and Switzerland.

Born to Swiss parents in 1958, Mettler, a Toronto native, decided to pursue film from an early age.

“I knew it was something I would like to do as a way to explore and live my life, and work with image and sound,” says Mettler, while standing on the church’s wooden stage, light shining down on him through the stained glass windows.

In 1977, Mettler decided that Ryerson’s film program was for him because of its focus on production.

“I wasn’t really interested in studying the theory of film and watching films,” explains Mettler. “I was interested in making them.”

And so he did.

Mettler appreciated having access to the equipment and new films that Ryerson provided, which helped him create films without experiencing the pressures of the film industry.

“You are removed from the pressures of the real industrialized world, so you can really explore things and learn things.”

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