Dawson shows eighth film at TIFF
NOT even Guy Maddin has been as frequent a guest at the Toronto International Film Festival as Deco Dawson, who presented his eighth work this year at the prestigious event.
Dawson joined Winnipegger Sean Garrity at the fest this year as the only two Winnipeg filmmakers, a repeat of the year 2001 when Dawson (already on his second visit) won a short film award for FILM(dzama), his celebrated portrait of artist Marcel Dzama.
Dawson’s 2012 entry Keep a Modest Head is similarly a portrait of a real artist — Jean Benoît, the last official member of the French Surrealist group, but filtered through Dawson’s own oft surreal sensibility.
“This is a different way to re-imagine a profile of an artist,” Dawson says in a phone interview from Toronto. “It’s not entirely biographical but this one is much more rooted in the biography of Jean Benoît than the Dzama picture was, but again, it’s very free and it plays loosely with the narrative.”
That’s putting it mildly. The film is also distinct among Dawson’s other films in that it is shot in colour and employs an unprecedented amount of visual effects to express the refracted views of Benoît as a child, recalling his sexually-charged memories of growing up in Quebec.
“We relied heavily on a visual palette that I hadn’t explored before, just daring myself to move in this other direction,” Dawson says, adding that he was indeed challenged by creating visual effects he never tried before.
“I taught myself all those tricks completely and it was like going from elementary school to a Ph.D. program in the course of 20 months,” Dawson says.
The actual time it took to complete the film, from the moment Dawson first met Benoît to its première in Toronto was more like eight and a half years. Benoît himself died in 2010 at the age of 88. Dawson is satisfied the film is an appropriate remembrance of the oft outrageous artist.
“He and (fellow surrealist) André Breton had been approached many times by filmmakers who wanted to shoot something and anything that was ever done was horribly conservative and uninspired,” Dawson says. “So he was very reluctant because he had been burned so many times, but after showing him select clips from certain of my movies, surreal moments, he said, ‘Deco, for you, OK.’
“As resistant as he was at the beginning, as soon as he signed over, he was game for anything.”
Keep a Modest Head will have its Winnipeg premiere at the WNDX film festival on Sept. 29. The Toronto International Film Festival wraps up Sunday.
Deco Dawson’s latest film will have its Winnipeg première on Sept. 29.