The four concerts in the “Brahms and the Art of Film” week are the opportunity for the OSM to present four new creations: three works for orchestra, commissioned to three different composers – Blair Thomson, Zosha Di Castri and Régis Campo –, and a film created by the young filmmaker Mathias Arroyo-Bégin. The musicologist Gabriel Paquin-Buki conducted interviews with each of the creators.
Gabriel Paquin-Buki’s interview with the filmmaker Mathias Arroyo-Bégin, conducted in Montreal, January 8, 2019.
The film entitled Vogue la rivière was chosen among many other films by graduate students at Concordia University. The assignment given by the OSM to its filmmaker was to use the same material to create a new version inspired by a selected musical work.
You had to choose between several musical works as a starting point for your short film and you selected Iris, composed in 2017 by Jordan Pal. Why?
It was difficult for me to determine which piece I would choose because many of them interested me. It was Iris, however, that allowed me to really bring to life the power of water and its fragility too. Iris also seemed to provide me with more ease in introducing a human presence in my film. After much thought, I chose this work by Jordan Pal.
The OSM wanted to unite two arts that are often associated but rarely based on creating a short film inspired by existing music. How did the filmmaking experience turn out for you?
It’s quite complicated to describe such a creation process… To be honest, after I had chosen Iris, I let a bit of time pass so I could distance myself from my initial interpretation of it while rethinking my film. When ideas started to germinate, I listened to the music and watched Vogue la rivière once more, then let things simmer again. That is the way I managed to appropriate the musical work and my own images. Vogue la rivière is a film that employs a great quantity of images; at the outset, I had made an eight-and-a-half-minute film out of more than ten hours of images. Many of these could not be used in my original version, which was more concise, but in making this new adaptation to the music, I was able to harvest many images I had not succeeded in using in that initial process.
For me, Vogue la rivière is a vehicle for showing the relationship between human beings and their environment. I have the impression that in Montreal, people are not aware they are living on an island. Of course, they know this rationally … yes, we cross a bridge to get in and out of the city, but that might often be the only contact we have with the river. I think this is a pity because, having grown up in Verdun, I was close to the St. Lawrence River. I met friends there, I cried, swam, surfed, and kayaked there. You might even say I grew up through the river. After everything the river has given to me, to make a film that shows the relationship between human beings and the river is a way of thanking the St. Lawrence.
Is there a narrative behind the title Vogue la rivière?
When I was little, my mother showed me the film Vogue à la mer (1966) by Bill Mason, produced by the NFB, where my grandparents worked. This film made a deep impression on me because in it you could see people from different cultures and diverse landscapes, and I thought it was incredible that the St. Lawrence River was the thing that tied all these people together. This struck me at one point, and I said to myself: “Vogue la rivière”.
What techniques do you propose for the synchronization between the orchestra and the film?
While working on adapting the film, I always kept the time codes in mind, or key moments where the image and the sound must be synchronized. If at those moments the image does not occur at the same time as the desired music, the message I am trying to convey will not be clear. The tool that Maestro Nagano will have at his disposal will be those time codes. Obviously, I am far from wanting things to be constrained, to emulate a video one might watch on internet or a film at the movie house. If I impose too many measurements, liberty of interpretation disappears. This is a live performance, after all, and to elicit expression I must impose the least restrictions possible. There are about ten key moments in my film, and between some of them, as much as three minutes can go by without a key moment happening, as in the scene where we are submerged under water for several minutes. We go from drowning to a moment of resilience and this is all open to interpretation. For example, I don’t require that the image of one air bubble happens at the same time as this or that bow stroke at the violin. By allowing room for the Orchestra, something quite fantastic can happen and I am eager to experience it.
In closing, is there anything you would like to add?
At first, when I was told that the film was going to be screened in the same concert that featured a work by Brahms, I was happy but unsure that my film would stand up to the music of this great composer. Then, my grandmother called me to read a passage on Brahms from a book by William Henry Hadow, who had this to say about the composer: “In him converge all previous streams of tendency not as into a pool, stagnant, passive, motionless, but as into a noble river that receives its tributary waters and bears them onward in larger and statelier volumes.” This quote gave me the conviction that I could meet this challenge.