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For the past two decades, local treasure Kelly O’Brien has been making documentary shorts, usually shot on super 8, remapping its typical home movie subjects to include first person missives on bad habits, gender and heartbreak. The work is driven by her intelligent and compassionate voice, and carries an unflinching emotional wallop. In recent years, she has art-hacked Facebook, posting luminous family snaps with accompanying texts that are part philosophical aside, part family-stand up. Please join us for a mini-retro of the artist’s movies along with a brand new Facebook performance.
Kelly 0’Brien is a mother of three and an independent filmmaker living in Toronto. Her short diary films have screened internationally. She co-founded the super 8 film festival Splice This! in Toronto and received a MFA in film production at York University.
Stars 2.5 minutes 2005
“This is the first super 8 footage I ever shot,” says the filmmaker, opening her memory vault to recover a moment of friendship with Laura Cowell and Christina Zeidler. She remaps the “burn burn burn” of Kerouac’s On the Road onto a kid’s playground with her very own dynamic duo just gassing around. Every frame assures us that memory lives in the bodies of our pals, if they leave us, they take with them our former selves.
Suck 4 minutes 2000
Made for a themed program at the Splice This! fest, the film is divided into ten brief segments, each offering an incisive punch line. While the artist begins with her own experience of thumb sucking and nail biting, this quickly widens to include a voice-over narration that describes shoplifting, eating disorders, self image, and the construction of femininity. The work is rooted in the artist’s face, shot up close to fill the frame by her pal Gillian. Insistently cross-cut with nail salon signage, it is hard not to read the artist’s face as another territory of signs. This face is also a construction zone, a symptom, the question mark of gender meeting the camera again and again, wondering why.
In the Trees 1.5 minutes
A lyric short, set on a forest of a sidewalk. The shadows speak in the voices of the artist’s two young daughters, reciting a poem, in refrained lines, call and echo, by Canadian poet John Terpstra.
High School Senior 2.45 minutes
Part of a longer work about the American poet of intimate family life, Sharon Olds, the camera grazes over flowers and dreamy imaginings, as the artist and her daughter Emma recite a poem of generational parting, as if rehearsing for the moment when they too will have to say good-bye, like all of the others.
Walk With Me 4.5 minutes 2016
Nicki Campbell is a special needs teacher in Toronto’s Beverley Public School. Among her many charges is the artist’s son Teddy, whose endless good humour and easygoing patience is accompanied by severe brain damage. Nicki’s out on a stroll with her fellow teachers and a half dozen of Teddy’s comrades. She brushes away commonplace assumptions about mentally challenged kids as a line of strollers re-marks the neighbourhood. Photographed in 16mm by John Price.
Don’t Leave Me 18.5 minutes 2011
In this hybrid anti-war doc, the artist mashes up interviews with (American) Iraq war resisters (and their families) with the august recollections of A-bomb scientist Joseph Rotblatt (the Noble Peace prize-winning scientist who left the Manhattan Project). Cindy Sheehan (“the peace mom”), speaks movingly about her son Casey who died needlessly in Iraq, Jill Hart joined her husband in Canada after he fled the army, Christopher Magaoay and Darrell Anderson also went AWOL and came to Canada. They testify to war crimes committed in Iraq, debunk the myth that began the war (weapons of mass destruction) and reminds us just how young these drafted state killers are. In place of war zones the artist deploys home movies from the Prelinger Archives and a swoon of electronica. It’s her first and (so far) only found footage movie. “I never saw an enemy to shoot at.” A carefully composed, thoughtfully edited song of protest.
From Three to Five 3 minutes 2017
Based on philosopher-daughter Willow’s questions which reliably puncture and transform reality.
Postings From Home (performance) 30 minutes 2017
This will be the artist’s third iteration of her performance for projected stills and live voice narrations. Snapping pics from the most personal moments of her life, Kelly began posting them on Facebook as “a sketchbook of my life.” But like her movies, these pictures asked for the accompaniment of words. She began the work of narration by recounting conversations with her witty smartful kids, who are also her most frequent subjects. Amply furnished with quotes from her deep readings into contemporary feminism and eco-philosophy, these everyday encounters form an ongoing investigation that is humorous, strange and deeply moving.
Kelly O’Brien: “I never referred to it as an art project. It was more of a daily experiment, a way to make sense of what was happening around me, share a little beauty, some poignant bits of conversation.
This Facebook project has had some interesting side effects. I notice the world around me more. I pay more attention to things my kids, friends and strangers say. I look for nature in the city in ways that I didn’t before. Facebook has given me a creative life that I never could’ve anticipated. It’s been like my art school.” (interview with Leah Collins)
Postings From Home
Postings From Home
Postings From Home