• Ron Mann gives us Flak
Indie icon Ron Mann gives us Flak – and don’t call him a filmmaker By NORMAN WILNER
Does revisiting Flak three decades later constitute its own kind of historical preservation? I’m just really happy that Hot Docs was able to program that film because I got to revive it. It’s the same movie, but I think it’s more accessible for today’s audiences. I’ve reordered a couple of things, dropped a few scenes, added some music. You can do that now on the computer. For a movie made in 1975, its story – about a bunch of friends dealing with the industrial plant polluting their neighbourhood – seems awfully up-to-date. I didn’t set out to make an environmentally conscious film, but looking back, I’m really happy with the 16-year-old who made that movie, who was already thinking progressively about it. It was impossible to be in that house without breathing in the exhaust from the gypsum factory. Those are friends of mine; they experienced that. Some of those guys are going to the screening. It’s a pretty different world now, especially for indie filmmakers. There’s been a terrible consolidation of the broadcast industry – CHUM funded all of my films, and they don’t exist any more. I’d walk in to pitch Jay Switzer and 10 minutes later I’d walk out with a deal. That doesn’t exist any more. But costs have come down radically. I can go out to shoot a movie and edit it on my laptop. It could virtually cost nothing. 3 Hard to believe, but Ron Mann has never brought a film to Hot Docs before. The 2009 edition of the festival corrects this oversight by making him the subject of its annual Focus On retrospective, presenting seven of Mann’s films. It’s pegged to the rediscovery of his long-lost improvisational short Flak, shot when he was still in high school.
Just back from a weekend at the Coachella music festival, Mann took a break from finalizing Flak’s new sound mix to sit down for a cup of tea. Seriously? You’ve never been to Hot Docs before? Even to see someone else’s film? I live in the city, and I was completely oblivious to it, to tell you the truth. Only because I’m working all the time – I spend my life in a dark room, like a mushroom. I love it when I finish a film because I can actually go out and go to film festivals, and realize, oh yeah, there’s an audience that really wants to see these movies, that’s really interested in chatting and being social. And then I go back into my hole in a tree.
I’m not part of an industry. I don’t even see myself as a documentary filmmaker, really. I see myself as a cultural historian. When I go over the border, I don’t say “filmmaker.” I know I make films, but it’s not my primary occupation. I have to be inspired to make a film, I have to fall in love with something.
Director Ron Mann helped spark up the film world with Grass (left) and Twist.