by Margaux Williamson
(I went to two screenings this week. One was at Ontario Place (an artificial island of amusements jutting out over a small section of Toronto’s waterfront). There, on the island’s Cinesphere, I saw a section of “Wild Ocean”. The other screening was an evening of short works curated by Jon Davies (including scientific and novelty films and contemporary art videos). It was called “Animal Drag Kingdom” and was screened at night outside in a downtown Toronto courtyard.)
At the water park in Ontario Place, there are only three rides and really no place to swim (the fences keep you out of the lake). So after we went down all of the rides, my boyfriend and I walked around the made-for-human-amusement island. The island has beer stands and donut tents, an exhibit on cute animals and an extensive and confusingly obvious exhibit on “The Weather”. The attendants at the most promising amusement, the Cinesphere, at first didn’t let us in because we only had bathing suits on, but we wore them down.
We walked into the spherical theatre maybe 20 minutes in to “Wild Ocean”. The screen, filled up with the ocean, was enormous. It was a little disorienting to suddenly see dolphins, sharks, humans, penguins and sardines running wild. It was like the opposite of an aquarium. The movie’s narrative was about how the dolphins, sharks, humans and penguins were after the sardines.
I went alone to the “Animal Drag Kingdom” because I like animals. I sat in a folding chair 3 rows back from the free standing screen. There were about 9 videos. It was a really beautiful night.
Movies always involve seeing things through someone else’s eyes.. unless you make the movie yourself. It is very effective to see something through someone else’s eyes – even though it is always hard to tell how great or how little someone else’s eyes are connecting with your brain – or how successfully someone else’s brain is connecting with your eyes.
In “Animal Drag Kingdom”, we run through a lot of eyes very quickly. We move from being an animated pig in a bonnet mourning the random hit and run of our trench-coat clad neighbour chicken – that chicken went down as tragically as Meryl Streep would have, we think (Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’ animation “When the Day Breaks”) / to looking at 1960s black and white film footage of families at zoos with our 1960s professor who is doing his best to find platonic meaning in the gestures of the universal family man. If you don’t know what the hell is going on, we think, you might as well start at the zoo (experimental anthroplogical lecture “Microcultural Incidents in Ten Zoos”) / to being the humorously clunky or painfully indifferent camera stuck in the woman-who-is-afraid-to-die’s apartment. We cannot run away when the cat vomits in front of us and the woman is talking to the psychic on the psychic hot-line because we have no legs (Kathy High’s “Everyday Problems of the Living”)/ to watching a family play-act a surgical procedure that turns their little girl into a cheetah. Then we are a little girl walking around her house with her new cheetah eyes. We think, things look different now that we are a little girl-cheetah waking up from play-acting surgery (Kristen Lucas’s “Smaller and Easier to Handle”) / to thinking we are watching an art video of a man filming himself and a crow, a crow that is tied to a tree branch, then realizing we are a director filming an animal trainer train a crow, then realizing we are watching a director train an animal trainer to train his crow, and finally realizing we are our ordinary selves and the crow is gone and there is only one man training another man, and we feel for the other man like we first felt for that crow. When the human gets the directions from his trainer wrong here, we think, we love that human’s nature as much as we love that animal’s nature (Guy Ben-Ner’s “Second Nature”).
The further we wade into shifting perspectives, appropriation and increasing instincts towards empathy, the more likely it is that we’ll get things amazingly wrong. We are sometimes warned away from an empathy that extends beyond the loyalty of our families and communities and radiates to foreign communities and onward towards animal kingdoms and plant kingdoms – and we are sometimes encouraged towards it. In any case, moving towards empathy and moving away from it is the thing that makes us most human.
And, in any case, I am bound to get a family member’s feelings as wrong as I would a dolphin’s, but that doesn’t mean that I should stop trying.
We didn’t stay for long in the Cinesphere (because we promised the attendants that we wouldn’t) but from my limited time and specific perspective, I think “Wild Ocean” was about freedom.