Phil Hoffman Interview by June Hodgson
and Mike White
published in Media News, Sheridan College, 1988)
amongst the best Canadian Independent filmmakers, Philip Hoffman has
ostensibly been classified as a documentary filmmaker. However, his unique
style transcends negative stereotypes once thought to be inescapable.
Speaking to Vox
Magazine in November of 1989, Hoffman said, "As someone born and raised in
the films that I saw when I was growing up were documentaries. However, I don't
want to make films in the same way that documentarians make films. On the other
hand, I can't pretend that it is not important to me or it hasn't affected me.
So, I work in a sort of blend of documentary and experimental."
teaching film in the Media Arts Program of Sheridan College, Hoffman is
entering his thirteenth year as a filmmaker. Born in Kitchener, Ontario,
Hoffman nurtured his youthful interest in photography and writing by building
his own darkroom. Receiving a Bachelor of Arts at Wilfrid
he then studied at Sheridan
with filmmaker Rick Hancox.
1978 film debut, On The Pond, runs
nine minutes and is largely a collection of black-and-white still photographs.
It is the first in what Hoffman calls a "cycle of films" - all of
them autobiographical and none of them derived from a script. To produce a film
without a script is a Hoffman trademark. Instead, he pieces together images
filmed over a period of time and connects them through a personal narrative.
For example, The Road Ended At The Beach,
finished in 1983, compiles events in Hoffman's life over eight years.
Remarkably, his films are cohesive and complete statements, in spite of his
seemingly undisciplined approach. Hoffman calls this "controlled
chaos". He carries a Super 8 camera with him always and what he films may
eventually become part of a future production. It is a slow, labourious
process. Hoffman believes it is the little things in everyday life which are
the most important and most worthy of being documented. "Filmmaking
becomes a process of things that happen in life," he says.
latest film, Kitchener Berlin, concludes the "cycle". Here he examines his father's
German heritage via comparisons of Kitchener, Ontario (named Berlin
prior to World War II), and Berlin,
Hoffman says, unlike his previous films, Kitchener Berlin has more to do with the times than with
people. It is less personal than passing
through/torn formations (1987). Completed in 1989, Kitchener Berlin was
produced with the help of Sheridan
graduates. Steadicam work was done by Colleen Graham and Bruce Johnson did the
sound. Prior to returning to Sheridan
in the fall of 1990, Hoffman took his films and Super 8 camera globe trotting.
He led a two-week-long workshop at Finland's Helsinki University of
Art and Design. Hoffman also attended screenings of his work in Germany, England,
and at Toronto's
Festival of Festivals. Of all of his excursions, Hoffman says Finland left
the most indelible mark. Not because the people there are similar to Canadians,
but because their primary struggle is similar to ours. "(Finnish) people
live in the shadow of the USSR,
dwarfed like Canadians are by the US. Finland's
history has been grappling with the USSR.
Disenchantment with the United States is a recurring topic
in conversation with Hoffman. He believes that young people do not see enough
shorts, experimental film and documentaries and he is disappointed by the
predominance of American television in Canadian homes. Hoffman predicts that
this situation may lend itself to creating a stronger film underground.
"When the voice is taken away, people will go underground.”
date, Hoffman does not need to work on an underground level. While he would
like the National Film Board to put more of its budget towards independent
filmmakers, he has managed to go from strength to strength over twelve years of
filmmaking and he shows no sign of losing interest.
Colleen Graham on Steadicam, and
Hoffman in Germany