Chris Kennedy


Chris Kennedy (Canada) is an independent filmmaker, film programmer, and writer based in Toronto. He received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and is currently Executive Director of the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto. He programmed for the Images Festival (2003-06), Pleasure Dome (2000-06), and TIFF Cinematheque’s The Free Screen/Wavelengths (2012-2019). He co-founded and co-programmed Early Monthly Segments (2009 to 2018). His films have screened at 100+ film festivals worldwide and have been featured in solo shows at the Canadian Film Institute, Los Angeles Film Forum, Nam June Paik Art Center, La Plata Semana del Film Experimental, and the Pacific Film Archive. He has also written extensively about film and music, including features on Akio Suzuki, Olivia Block, Metamkine, Ute Aurand, John Smith, and others. His film Watching the Detectives won the Ken Burns Award for the Best of the Festival at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (2018). His work as an artist and programmer operates in dialogue with the history of film as art, exploring the medium’s materiality in a contemporary context.


SCREENING DATES: December 2 – December 23, 2020

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: The Initiation Well, 3.5 min, 2020; the acrobat, 6 min, 2007; lay claim to an island, 13 min, 2009; 349 (for Sol LeWitt), 1 min, 2011; Towards a Vanishing Point, 8 min, 2012; Memo to Pic Desk, 6.5 min, 2006; Watching the Detectives, 36 min, 2018

The Initiation Well, 3.5 min, 2020

The Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal is a huge estate that has two wells for performing initiation ceremonies built into the ground. This film takes us into one of them. Sound design by Samuel La France.

the acrobat, 6 min, 2007

Inspired in part by a poem by Toronto poet Ryan Kamstra, the acrobat is a consideration of the relationship of gravity and politics—the beauty and necessity of rising up, but also, perhaps, the significance of allowing oneself to fall. If the force of gravity is in relation to both mass and proximity, how does the force of politics resonate across space and time?

lay claim to an island, 13 min, 2009

Texts from the 1969 American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz and letters from supporters propel an exploration of political yearning, emancipatory architecture, and failed utopias. What does it mean to claim land that has more value as a symbol than as a potential home? And how does that symbol function beyond the boundaries of its geographic limits?

349 (for Sol LeWitt), 1 min, 2011

A digitally animated version of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #349, which was commissioned by Toronto’s Mercer Union gallery in 1981. Recreating LeWitt’s geometric vocabulary and primary colour palette, 349 careens through emblazoned emblems, lifted from walls and transported into dialogue with LeWitt’s exploration of spatial systems and human emotion. – Andréa Picard

Towards a Vanishing Point, 8 min, 2012

Footage shot in Coba, Mexico and the Siwa Oasis in Egypt and a found film from California serve as inspiration for a series of sketches on the notion of the vanishing point.

Memo to Pic Desk, 6.5 min, 2006

An idiosyncratic look at staging in news photography, using materials from the archives of a Toronto daily. Moral codes, delinquency, and autonomy are pulled into an altered coherence, as vintage photos are examined next to their type-written paper trail.

Watching the Detectives, 36 min, 2018

Immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, amateur detectives took to the internet chat rooms to try and find the culprits. Users on reddit, 4chan and other gathering spots poured over photographs uploaded to the sites, looking for any detail that might point to the guilt of potential suspects. Using texts and jpegs culled from these investigations, Watching the Detectives narrates the process of crowd sourcing culpability.


Jordan Cronk: I was curious about your decision to utilize 16mm. Obviously all your other films have been shot on celluloid, but here you’re beginning with digital materials and transferring them to 16mm. Can you talk about the thought process behind that?

Chris Kennedy: There were actually three reasons: a political, a conceptual, and a formal reason. Politically I kind of just wanted to enforce the cinema. By making it on 16mm, I knew that would require a projector, and also require that people gather around to see the film. It would also work against the kind of atomistic behavior of the subjects, most of whom were probably typing from their parents’ basements, collaborating on a collective endeavor, yes, but doing it alone. So I wanted people to collaborate on a collective endeavor in a cinema, with each other, especially because it’s silent and you can hear one another’s reactions, and feel each other’s bodies. And I hope that keeps the viewer accountable to each other in some way and perhaps me accountable to them when there’s a personal appearance.

Formally, I wanted to create movement. When you’re watching a digital slide show, time disappears. It’s flat image after flat image. But adding a bit of grain adds a little bit of movement and propulsion to it. And that propulsion is amplified by the film print zipping through the projector from one reel to the next. You have this event—this screening—that you’re held by for thirty minutes or so—so you’re kind of in a state of anticipation and animation.

And conceptually, it‘s a film about how we surveil each other, so I thought it was important to strip away all the metadata. The 16mm film print is air-gapped. You can’t look at the image and know which camera shot it on what street corner, and under what lighting conditions. And you don’t have information like what program I edited it on, what computer, what make—all that metadata that’s inherent in our digital practices now. By transferring it to film I tore that away. It’s a bit of revolt against all that, a way to say, you know what, all this is so inherent to our lives, how our technology surveils us—why don’t we just strip all that away?

Full interview available to read in MoMI’s Reverse Shot.